How to be productive at work
Updated 11th March 2019
Organising your working day
Productivity and procrastination are like modern angels and demons, constantly battling it out in our minds, phones, and computer screens. We all know this battle, and the many minor victories and losses each side incurs every hour. But how can you give productivity a fighting chance, and fend off the demons of procrastination? How do you get organised for maximum productivity? The answer will differ for everyone, but it usually involves a lot of self-analysis, a bit of give and take, and above all, being organised and getting into good productivity habits.
Here are some life organisation tips, to help you to be at maximum productivity, as much as humanly possible:
- Learn when you’re at your most productive. The traditional ‘working day’ does not fit everyone’s circadian rhythms. With today’s technology, there’s no need to cram your schedule into a timeframe which isn’t a good fit with your personal patterns of rest and wakefulness. Most of us have a vague idea of whether we’re ‘night owls’ or ‘larks’, but we also experience minor cycles of lower and higher energy throughout the day. Learn your own patterns and use them to your advantage. If, for example, you’re usually on fire at midday but find that your attention starts to wander by 3 pm, schedule your most pressing and/or difficult tasks for midday and perhaps take a short break at 3 to replenish your energy.
- Plan. This sounds obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. Making a plan is a fantastic way of ensuring that you stay organised and get through your daily work. It will also help you to sort out your priorities and block out task times effectively. Don’t make your plan so rigid that there’s no wiggle room if something unexpected crops up, but don’t give yourself too much procrastination-time either. Planning may sound boring, but it’s a great ongoing motivator and one of the best ways of staying organized at work.
- Prioritise. Learning to prioritise is one of the most important skills you can develop. Establish which tasks are going to help you to progress, which are the most urgent, which ones will actually earn you money, and which can be put on the backburner without undue disaster. If you get your planning right (and learn to say ‘no’ to jobs which aren’t going to benefit you) then everything will get done in the end, but it’s important that you’re apportioning your attention and time appropriately.
- Take breaks. I can’t stress this one enough. Our culture makes us tacitly ashamed of break or leisure time. We feel guilty and lazy if we’re not being productive at all hours. But, believe me, the work you do will be much better (and you’ll even get it done faster) if you take regular breaks. If you don’t, you risk your attention wandering all over the place (resulting in at-desk procrastination and lower work-quality) and could be putting yourself in danger of burnout.
- Eradicate distractions. Distraction (particularly digital distraction) is a big problem for productivity. Netflix, Amazon, and the mindless (but absorbing) scrolling of social media are a mere click away. With notifications constantly nagging at us, it is far too easy to get sucked into a ‘quick check’ of Facebook which lasts for hours. If you’re committed to productivity and staying organized at work, set times at which you will be ‘off’ to social media, emails, texts, calls, and other distractions. Turn off notifications on your phone, and perhaps download a plugin like StayFocusd, which limits the time you can spend on your favourite procrastination sites.
- Think logistically. A lot of time-consuming tasks can be cut down with a little logistical re-jigging. For example, face-to-face meetings are great, but a lot of the things we meet about can actually be discussed perfectly well by email or over the phone. While sometimes a face-to-face meeting is an excellent idea, diverting less important meetings into emails or phone chats will save a lot of travel (and small-talk) time.
- Delegate. Running a business involves a lot of admin, and admin takes up time. If you can delegate admin tasks to a professional administrator or accountant, you’ll free up an astonishing amount of time to devote to your work. As your business grows, think also about delegating work to employees or freelancers whom you trust to do a good job. You can even save time by delegating day-to-day things like housework or gardening to tradespeople in your locale, as a way of organising home life. It’s all a weight off your mind and time on your hands.
All in all, productivity is striking a balance between being stern with yourself and acknowledging your needs, understanding your best-work patterns and prioritising tasks accordingly. Everyone’s needs are different, so you might have to do a bit of experimentation to find what works for you. However, if you’re observant, motivated, and self-forgiving enough, you’ll get there in the end.
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