“Productivity” is one of those business buzzwords that gets thrown around a lot, but it can mean different things. It comes from the same root as “to produce” and refers to how much an organization or individual can create. The productivity of an organization doesn’t just describe how many physical products a company can create. Organizational productivity also includes innovation and revenue generation. Employee productivity refers to the value each individual worker creates for a company by actively completing activities that help the organization reach its goals.
The more productive employees are as individuals, the more productive a business will be as a whole. Unfortunately, studies show that productivity is lagging. According to Voucher Cloud, office workers are only productive for an average of less than 2 and a half hours of an 8-hour workday.
How do you boost your productivity? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are a number of strategies that have proven to help workers complete more tasks to satisfaction over the course of their workday. Here are 6 of our favorite tips we’ve found for helping develop more productive work habits.
Break large tasks into smaller tasks
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” It’s unreasonable to expect that you can complete large, complicated projects all at once. In fact, when you see overwhelming projects on your to-do list, you’re more likely to put off working on any part of it and focus on insignificant, easy-to-complete tasks instead. It’s usually the larger, more complex projects that add the most value to your company. So how do you resolve this paradox? Don’t try to build Rome at once—go building by building, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood.
This boils down to making a better to-do list for yourself. The more specific you can get, the better. Let’s say you have to give a presentation on a new project or program your team has been developing to executives or stakeholders to get the final green light. If you write “do presentation” on your to-do list, you have less of a chance of actually getting started—or making meaningful progress. How much of the presentation do you have to “do” to cross it off your list? The whole thing? Or will opening a new PowerPoint presentation, typing the title, and saving it suffice?
Instead, take some time to think about each step of the process needed to put this presentation together. You’ll probably need to start by gathering all the relevant data. Once you’ve done that, you can write an outline of your presentation. From there, you can start working on the presentation a few slides at a time and then write a full script. Then add visuals and transitions to your slides and start rehearsing. If you’re on a deadline, you can do more than one step in a single day. However, it will still be easier to wrap your brain around doing 3 small, manageable tasks instead of half of a giant task.
Plan for things to go wrong
In a perfect world, no one makes mistakes, you always have the resources you need to complete a project, and there are never any delays. Unfortunately, we live in the real world, and no amount of careful planning can guarantee that nothing will go wrong. Plan for potential problems before they even have a chance to happen. Create contingency plans and anticipate interruptions. However long you believe you will need to complete a task, give yourself extra time to do it. Part of the reason we underestimate how long it will take to complete a task is that we forget to account for events that haven’t been scheduled yet, or emergencies that crop up at the last minute. Don’t cram your schedule so that you have no time to accommodate these last-minute appointments or tasks. This will give you more flexibility to handle any delays or mistakes.
Don’t try to multitask
It is actually impossible to do more than one task at the same time. Instead, you end up switching your focus between two or more tasks in rapid succession. Each time you change tasks, your brain has to refocus. Depending on how fast you switch between each task, your brain might never fully focus on either. Your brain, like any of the muscles in your body, has a limited amount of energy to expend before it either needs a rest or becomes less efficient at its job. When you attempt to multitask, you use your brain’s energy resources twice as fast and tire more quickly. Mental exhaustion can make it even harder to focus. Wearing yourself out by multitasking not only makes you less efficient at the task you are currently trying to complete, but it can also make it harder for you to complete future tasks.
Multitasking also makes you more prone to mistakes and stifles creativity. As previously mentioned, when you attempt to multitask, you are never fully focused on either of the tasks you are trying to do. This makes it hard to pay attention to detail, and the details are where people usually make mistakes. Even a relatively small error can have large ramifications for your business. If a client catches a mistake that you did not notice, it can hurt your credibility and possibly convince them to do their business elsewhere. According to the New York Times, we are most creative when we are able to devote all of our mental energy to following one logical progression of ideas. Forcing your neural pathways to reset every few minutes or so impedes that process and leads to less innovation.
It’s okay to rely on external motivation to help you get more work done. Even if your task doesn’t have a built-in deadline, establish one for yourself. Consider announcing these deadlines to others, as this may add the right amount of “pressure” to help you comply with the deadline you’ve set. This can be especially helpful if you have a hard time sticking to self-imposed deadlines. This is a helpful strategy to use in addition to breaking large tasks into smaller tasks. If the deadline for a large project is far away, it’s easy to keep putting it off until suddenly you find yourself having to complete the whole massive project at once. As soon as you get assigned a new project, begin by breaking it down into its component steps. Then set a deadline for each step.
Effective deadlines should be close enough that you feel a sense of urgency to work on the project but not so close that you feel that you have to rush to get it done on time. Rushing can cause mistakes. It might also help you to set up a weekly check-in with a coworker where you can both touch base on what you hope to complete over the next week and follow up on if you met your goals for the previous week.
Have one assignment at your desk at a time
Your environment can have a significant impact on your productivity. A cluttered desk is more likely to foster distraction than a neat one. It’s also hard to resist the urge to multitask if you have multiple projects and screens sitting in front of you. Set yourself up for success by removing as many distractions as you can. If you are working with hard copies, clear your desk of everything except what you are currently working on and file everything else away. If you’re working on your computer, close all other files, or move them to different desktops. Only use multiple monitors if your project requires two windows, such as writing a report in a word processor with data from a spreadsheet. Avoid checking email or other notifications except when you are between other projects, and tell colleagues that if they have an emergency, they can either call you or come to your office directly.
Make time for you
To use another idiom: you can’t pour from an empty cup. If you are exhausted and burned out, you are physically incapable of reaching your peak productivity. As much as you may want to excel in your professional life, you also have to leave time for rest, leisure, and other forms of self-care. Take breaks throughout your day when you start to feel overwhelmed or distracted. Using 15 minutes to go for a walk that returns you to your desk refreshed is more productive than 15 minutes of doing sub-par work while you try and force yourself to push through. Avoid checking work emails or working on projects outside of the office or your set working hours, put aside time to exercise and make sure you get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Real productivity isn’t just doing the most—it’s more focused on producing consistently high-quality work.
Looking for more advice to boost your productivity at work? Check out these productivity blogs for more helpful tips!