Looking to be more productive at work is an aspiration that many have, for themselves and for those who they may manage. However, it is not as simple as saying to yourself or to others, “Work harder,” and it then happening. A lot of care needs to go into this process in order for it to be reality. This is true if short-term productivity is the focus – i.e. to complete a project with a looming deadline – and it is also true for the long run – i.e. being productive over months and years, including following the completion of that urgent project.
Although it may seem like taking breaks is taking away from your goal of being productive, it is not. It is always important to keep the big picture in mind. Working for long periods of time leads to exhaustion, stress and decision fatigue, all of which negatively affect your ability to be productive. Conversely, taking breaks helps boost your ability to concentrate, to remember things and to be creative, benefits that more than make up for the time that you had missed.
Sleep is the most important break that you can take. Most people require around eight hours of it a night, give or take an hour, in order to be physically and mentally rested. Experiencing a lack of sleep can have a profound impact on your effectiveness and will cause your work to be more mistake-ridden as well. On the other hand, being rested allows you to be better focused, more creative, less stressed, in an improved mood and better able to remember things and to make split-second decisions.
Tackle Hardest Tasks First
In most cases, you should tackle your hardest tasks first – i.e. the ones that you are most likely going to want to procrastinate doing. There are myriad reasons why.
- One of our naturally most productive times occurs when we start our workday, and it is best to use that on the tasks that need more of our focus and energy.
- Tackling the hardest task first increases the odds that you will ultimately complete it in the end.
- We tend to be distracted by stress about the pushed-aside task while working on easier ones.
- These smaller, simpler tasks are generally easier to move around, if necessary, than the larger one is. You may end up realizing that some of those smaller tasks end up not even needing to be done at all.
However, perhaps the most important reason is because people tend to experience greater joy when they experience activities that improve as time passes. If you start on easier tasks first, you will feel like you are pushing a pebble that turns into a rock that turns into a boulder instead of the other way around. The former example tends to result in exhaustion and a demoralized state of mind.
Do Two-Minute Items Right Away
This may seem like it contradicts the last point, but it does not. The difference is the timing and the prospect of avoiding procrastination. If you are presented with a task that can be completed in two minutes or less, do it now, if possible. One example would be if you opened an email that needs responding to, and you can do so quickly. Go ahead and do it now. The reason is that it will take longer to complete short tasks like these later as you would first need to get your mindset back into the frame of mind that it is in now.
Avoid Multitasking When Possible
One trick that our mind can play on us is believing that we are more productive when we multitask. However, we are not. The time that it takes our mind to change from one gear to another adds up, particularly if those gear changes are taking place several times a minute or even every few seconds. Multitasking has also been shown to wear us out mentally at a much quicker rate as the neural resources that our minds use to switch between activities get worn out.
Plus, it is much more difficult to get into a flow and become more creative when you are constantly moving from one activity to another and not staying on any one task for a long enough period to do so. The number of errors that you make during the times surrounding these changes adds up as well.
One of the best ways to start engaging in monotasking is by removing digital distractions. Many people spend a considerable amount of their day, including the part that had been devoted to working, on non-work-related digital time – e.g. browsing Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Set aside specific times to do that, and consider turning off all notifications during work-focused times. You could also set aside specific times to check your email, depending on your job’s requirements, as opposed to having it constantly on and updating you. Perhaps once an hour or once every two hours would work for you.
Create a Safe Working Environment
When someone feels stressed at work, which can result from being fearful of losing their job for reasons out of their control, their brain starts activating its more primitive parts in a more focused way. What results is their frontal lobes being neglected; those are needed to innovate and be creative. In most cases, their being allowed to be creative is what will help them be more productive.
Taking the time to organize yourself saves time and brain power in the long run. Ensure that you know exactly where everything is at your workstation, and take into account that the aesthetics of your workstation are important as well. Having a clean one calms the mind and helps it focus. Also organize your day as best as possible as it relates to both work-related and non-work-related activities.
Take Advantage of Commute Time
If you take public transport to and from work, consider using that time to focus on a work-related task. If that is not possible, use that time to do a personal activity that you would have otherwise done at a different time or to add value to your life. For example, you could use your commute time to read thought-provoking books. You could also practice monotasking while listening to pieces of music, doing your best to block everything else out and solely focusing on the music.
Plan Your Next Day
Another way that you can save time is by planning significant parts of your next day on the previous one. You can do this prior to leaving the office or your workspace, or it can be done later that evening. Regardless of when it occurs, create a short to-do list of what you expect the following day to be like, at least a virtual one in your mind. When you do this, you are helping prepare your mind, consciously and subconsciously, for what is to come. As a result, when the time comes to start work on that next day, you will be considerably more efficient.