There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to get everything done.
I’ll never get all this work finished in time.
I can’t motivate myself to finish this task, even though I’m on deadline.
We all experience a desire to be more productive at one time or another. But, despite our best intentions, even though we may work long hours, many of us spend some of our days being distracted (though we may not want to admit it), losing focus, and feeling scattered.
No one can be full of energy, speeding through their to-do list 24/7. It’s normal to hit lulls in your work pace, but being more effective in your productivity can often reduce the time you spend working on something.
It is key to note that being more productive does not mean working longer hours and burning yourself out.
Here are some simple changes you can make to your work habits and ultimately work smarter, not harder.
1. Take preparation seriously.
If you’ve got a busy day scheduled, start planning from the day before. Get the prep done before you finish work. Block out the last 15 minutes of your working day and write a to-do list you can tackle the next morning. That’s one task already completed.
2. Work when it works for you.
Protect your most productive hours. As more companies offer flexible working hours, it’s important to take advantage of it. Some people work best in the mornings, others later in the day. So, don’t force yourself to get up and work on your emails at 6 am if your body is begging you to stay in bed and get more rest.
3. Work in a space where you feel comfortable.
Everyone is different. Some people work best in total quiet, while others work best with some background noise. Find the best fit for you. If you’re in an environment that isn’t conducive to your working style, your output will suffer. A comfy chair with a desk, a spot in front of the window, a quiet pod at an office co-working space, a table at your local coffee shop, or a quiet library are all places you can choose to work where it feels best for you.
4. Use a ‘brain dump’ notepad.
Often, productivity stalls when we have too many thoughts in our heads. Keep an open notepad near you and write down new ideas that pop into your brain when you’re doing something else. Block out time to go through this list and act on any tasks.
5. Create a “small tasks” hour.
Do you ever put off tiny tasks because they seem unimportant, but then they mount up to something overwhelming? Instead, block time on your calendar to complete these small tasks that’ll take 5 minutes or less. Reply to that email; set up a meeting; schedule that social post; send some bullet points from a meeting follow-up; write the agenda for your next meeting. Get it done and off your mind.
6. Do something you enjoy in your day.
All work with no play does not make for a productive day. Studies show that unhappiness at work leads to poorer productivity, so keeping your wellbeing in check is essential. Use your lunch break to give yourself some joy. Work may not always be exciting and fun, but doing something that makes you smile will boost your energy levels.
7. Remember to eat.
While some days can be so busy that taking time out for lunch seems impossible, it shouldn’t be something you forget regularly. Nourishing foods aid brain power and concentration, so it might be worth prepping a healthy lunch the night before when you know there is a busy day ahead.
8. Learn to say “no.”
It’s all well and good to prioritize your workload each day, but unexpected tasks will come up sometimes. Before saying “yes,” think about how this might impact your day. Prioritize the work that must get done and set clear boundaries, so you know when it’s appropriate to turn something down.
9. Resist (or turn off!) those notifications.
A study by Deloitte in 2016 found that people check their phones nearly 50 times a day due to notifications. WhatsApp, news alerts, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn – there are countless ways you can be distracted when an alert beeps on your phone. Your productivity diminishes when your brain constantly shifts from what you’re working on to these pinging alerts. So, turn off the alerts that are not important (like social media), turn your phone over so you can’t see them pop onto your screen, or put the phone on silent and out of sight while you work on that project.
10. Stop multitasking.
It doesn’t work. The APA suggests it can dampen productivity by as much as 40% while also increasing stress. A helpful way to focus solely on one task at a time is to close all tabs related to other work, so there’s not even the temptation to multitask. But this is also about awareness. The more you catch yourself trying to do three things at once – and resisting –the more your brain will learn not to do that.
11. Don’t feel guilty for “mini-breaks.”
We’re conditioned to working for several hours before allowing ourselves a lunch break (if that) and then sitting back down and working solidly for another four (or more) hours. Sadly, our brain doesn’t respond well to this and needs a break. Try using the Pomodoro Technique. This is where you work – uninterrupted – for 25-30 minutes, then take a five-minute break. Repeat three to four times, then take a more extended break.
12. Don’t forget your email admin.
Emails can be a constant distraction as the “unread” number keeps increasing, and you feel like you must reply instantly. We often don’t think of email admin as a “task,” just something that needs to be done between everything else. Many emails are important and need to be read and responded to, so allow yourself time to do this – even if it’s three specific times during the day.
13. Time block.
Time blocking is a great time management approach that lets you plan your day and control your schedule effectively. It’s where you divide your day into chunks of tasks – allocating when and where you’ll complete the tasks on your to-do list. This method works best if you schedule in advance to give yourself a manageable overview.
14. Have a specific log-off time.
Be diligent about logging off and completing work at the end of the workday to avoid messy boundaries and depleting your energy levels. Spending some time outside doing fun, enjoyable things away from work is key to being productive while you’re at work. It also helps to restore your brain capacity for the next day.
15. Set aside enough time and mental energy for bigger jobs.
If you know you have something challenging to do, ensure you allocate enough time and mental energy to do it. It’s no good time-blocking only an hour at the end of a long busy day to develop a proposal for a new project you hope to start.
No one will be highly productive all day, every day, all the time. Remember not to put too much pressure on yourself; give yourself credit for the actions taken, and plan for tomorrow.