We all try to start each day with a plan to increase productivity but soon find ourselves becoming distracted, focusing on low priority tasks and often procrastinating. So how can we regain control of our time and avoid procrastination?
The old school lists on how to increase productivity don’t work anymore, or at least not for everyone, so we’re going to outline productivity techniques that can be adapted to your personality and working style and will help to improve productivity.
Track and Limit
Regarding productivity in the workplace, time tracking provides context to help you stay productive and turn lists of project tasks into meaningful work. Once you know how long tasks will take you can estimate future tasks more effectively. If you manage a team in the workplace, using the same logic as above you can also see if your team is working according to the established productivity norm for a task. You’ll be able to better judge where there are too many people on a specific project and who may need more support.
By judging how your time is spread across tasks, you can track and limit the necessary from the unnecessary. Are you spending enough time on big tasks? Are low-value tasks taking too long? Could budget-draining tasks be downsized or outsourced? Are all the tasks even necessary? These are all the types of questions that you can answer once you track and limit your workload.
One way of doing this is to go old school. Keep a notebook or diary in which you take notes all day about assignments received, goals set, guidelines provided, intermediate and final deadlines established, as well as tasks to complete actions taken. Include tools such as checklists to guide you in the performance of your work.Refine your system to make it easier for you to keep track in writing.
If you prefer to keep track using electronic tools, all you need is a database and a scheduling program that allows you to create a record for each work matter. As soon as you receive a new assignment or a change to an existing assignment, enter the information into the electronic record.
Whether you use a notebook or an electronic tool, be sure to capture these key pieces of information:
- Expectations: Goals and requirements that were spelled out. Instructions given or to-do lists assigned. Standard operating procedures, rules or guidelines reviewed. Deadlines set and timelines established.
- Concrete Actions: Your actual work as you complete each to-do item, achieve each goal, fulfil each requirement and meet each deadline.
- Measurements: How your concrete actions are matching up against the expectations: Have you met or exceeded requirements? Did you follow instructions, standard operating procedures and rules? Did you meet the goals on time?
The human brain is designed to focus on one thing at a time. Bombarding the brain with information only slows it down and makes us less productive and encourages bad brain habits.
It has been reported multiple times that multitasking lowers your work quality and efficiency, making it harder to organize thoughts and filter out irrelevant information. A study at the University of London showed that people who multitasked while performing cognitive tasks experienced significant IQ drops – similar to people who have bad sleeping habits.
Multitasking has also been found to increase production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Having our brain constantly shift gears pumps up stress and tires us out, leaving us feeling mentally exhausted. So what can we do to control this? First, we need to look into the causes of multitasking and how to repair the damage that has already been done.
The biggest instigator of multitasking mayhem? Our inboxes. Some studies have shown that even the opportunity to multitask, such as knowledge of an unread email in your inbox, can reduce your effective IQ by 10 points! The constant thrill of a new bolded email in our inbox keeps us ever-distracted. A McKinsey Global Institute Study found that employees spend 28% of their workweek checking emails.
Protect yourself from the multitasking mental massacre by establishing an email checking schedule. Commit yourself to checking emails only three times a day. Turn off and unplug texting notifications and choose specific times to check your phone as well.
To the best of your ability, set up a work environment that encourages the performing of one task at a time. It’s probably not realistic to think that we can block off hours at a time for a single task, but even committing to monotask for five minutes can yield productivity benefits.
Here are a few small changes you can make:
Remove temptation: Actively resist the urge to check unrelated social media while you are working on a task. Some workers may need to go so far as to install anti-distraction programs like BlockSite, where blocking apps and access to the most addictive parts of the internet for specified periods are controlled.
Work on just one screen: Put away your cell phone and turn off your second monitor, this will help you focus your concentration on one specific task rather than multiple things on different screens that can cause confusion, diversion and procrastination.
Move: If you find yourself losing focus – reading the same sentence over and over or if your mind continually wanders off topic – get up and briefly walk around it should help you to stay focused.
Work in intervals: Set a timer for five or ten minutes and commit to focusing on your assignment for that amount of time. Then allow yourself a minute of distraction, as long as you get back on your task for another five or 10 minutes.
It’s part of the modern workplace, and it’s impossible to avoid. Whether it be open spaces, meetings, the instant messaging, the emails, or the conversations with colleagues on the way to the kitchen or the bathroom – it can be a challenge to minimize these interruptions let alone get rid of them for good.
Here are a few of our key suggestions for minimizing interruptions whilst at work;
If you work in open spaces, chances are high that you’re going to experience interruptions on a regular basis. So first things first, stop being surprised by them and plan for them. It’s usually pretty obvious when they’re going to happen so work that into your day. When establishing timelines, negotiating deadlines, or simply outlining your day, recognize that you’ll probably be thrown off course a few times. Give yourself a little leeway here and there to allow for it. If you schedule yourself so tight that you have no wiggle room, the tiniest interruption will throw a wrench into everything.
You are responsible for your time, so make sure you take matters into your own hands and create a system that works for you. If that means you need to limit apps such as turning off instant messenger, setting times when to check emails and setting your phone to call divert, do whatever it takes to maximise your day. There’s no reason you should be at the mercy of everyone else. Just be sure that you’re checking in regularly and getting back to people within a reasonable amount of time.
Don’t be afraid to use some kind of “do not disturb” sign to help deter in-person visitors too. It sounds awkward but, if you really need to focus your attention on a project, what’s wrong with providing a signal to others? The key to making this work is that you also have to have “open office hours”—specific times when you make yourself available for drop ins.
This one is obvious but we’ll say it anyway: If you don’t want people to interrupt you, don’t interrupt them. Show respect for others by asking, “Is now a good time to talk?” before simply launching into conversation. Be a role model for the kind of behavior you’d like to see from others. Don’t ping co-workers on IM with pointless chitchat if you don’t want them to do the same. You have the power to train others on how you want to interact with them, so make sure you set your own rules and boundaries in place to do this.
Proactive Not Reactive
Being proactive is a move you make towards the world. It requires an individual to accept responsibility for his situation and take the initiative to make things better. Instead of letting their conditions and circumstances be the driving force of their decision, proactive people allow their values to determine the choices they make. They act rather than being acted upon, they play the ball before it plays them.
If you put this into practice in the workplace whether it be reaction to situations or dealing with difficult people, you will improve your productivity.
Being proactive means you come up with multiple ways of viewing certain situations before reacting to them. You try and put yourself in a challenging person’s shoes, even if it’s just for a moment to try and understand. If you can’t make a decision, simply buy some time, when you encounter setbacks and failures, ask ‘what is the lesson here?’ ‘how can I learn from this?’ Why? Because that’s proactive and not reactive.
So there you have it, a roundup of how to be more productive in the workplace. By implementing some of these techniques, you’ll be sure to notice a difference in your productivity, time management and overall performance. Good luck!