Imagine closing each workday with a satisfied sigh, knowing that you had been so productive that you accomplished everything you wanted to get done that day. And knowing, too, that you were at the top of your creative game getting your tasks done both efficiently and well. See yourself walking away from work whistling.
Yes! You can be the star in this movie about productivity, rather than the alternate version where you hit the end of the day slumped behind a desk stacked with unfinished projects, so tired you can barely drag yourself away. If you don’t like the way your usual work day goes, change it.
Most of us aren’t as productive as we would like for two reasons: We have bad habits that interfere with our workplace productivity, and were reactive rather than proactive and spend much of our workday responding to and trying to put out fires.
The solution is simple. We can replace our bad habits and reactive patterns with good habits that will make us proactive instead and take charge of our own work days. Follow the tips on how to increase productivity on the following slides to be your best work “you” – the go-getter get-it-done you’ve always wanted to be.
Do Your Heavy Lifting When You’re at Your Best
There’s endless advice out there for people not to do mental sludge tasks like answering email or routine chores in the morning but to start out instead doing whatever tasks are most demanding creatively – which is great if you’re a morning person. If you’re more of a night owl, like me, obviously this isn’t going to work well for you.
Productivity expert Tony Wong advises: “Use your morning to focus on yourself… Start your day out right by ignoring your emails in the morning and getting in a good breakfast, reading the news, meditating, or working out. This will ensure you’ve got the necessary fuel for a productive day.” The point is, do your most demanding tasks in your personal peak productivity time, whenever that is.
It’s a productivity killer. Research shows that productivity can be reduced by as much as 40 percent by the mental blocks created when people switch tasks and lowers your IQ. In a University of London study, IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of 8-year-old children!
Need more evidence? A study out of the University of Sussex in the UK indicates that multitasking may actually be physically harming your brain. The study found that participants addicted to using multiple devices simultaneously have lower gray matter density in a brain area called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is linked to emotional control and plays a role in decision-making, empathy and how we respond to rewards.
So stop it right now! Instead, dramatically increase productivity by focusing on one task at a time and give it your full attention before moving on to something else. And as soon as your eyes and hands start drifting towards something else, such as another screen, think about how important it is to keep all your little grey cells and resist temptation.
Prepare a To-do List for the Next Day Each Night
To-do lists are invaluable productivity aids. They get you organized, provide you with focus and reward you with feelings of satisfaction when you’re able to check off things that you’ve accomplished. In my opinion, everyone should use them!
And making (or updating) a to-do list each night means that you won’t waste time at the start of the workday looking for your task. But using to-do lists is just getting out of the starter’s blocks when it comes to increasing productivity. If you want to really ramp up your production, there are two productivity hacks that will speed you to the finish line.
The first is to talk through your to-do list the night before with someone. Leo Wildrich explains the power of this technique in What Multitasking Does To Our Brains:
“When we sat down for just 10 minutes every evening, to briefly walk through the tasks of the next day, everything changed in terms of productivity. The reason was that instead of just writing tasks down, I was forced to also think through the tasks and explain them… The to-do list I jotted down didn’t change, but it felt as if I had done half the work of it all in my head already. The next day, all I had to do is look at the task and get it done.”
Cut Down Your To-do List
How many items are on your typical to-do list? Eight? Twenty-eight? However many, you’ll feel good when you finish each of them and cross them off. But you’ll never join the ranks of the productivity superstars unless you cross off some of them before you even bother to do them – because productivity demands focus.
In The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs, relates how Jobs’s insistence that Apple produces just four computers saved the company. He also relates how Jobs used to-do lists to engender focus:
“After he righted the company, Jobs began taking his “top 100” people on a retreat each year. On the last day, he would stand in front of a whiteboard… and ask, “What are the 10 things we should be doing next?” People would fight to get their suggestions on the list.
“Jobs would write them down—and then cross off the ones he decreed dumb. After much jockeying, the group would come up with a list of 10. Then Jobs would slash the bottom seven and announce, “We can only do three.””
See? Increasing productivity demands focus. And focus means narrowing your options. So each night when you’re reviewing your to-do list, ask yourself two questions;
- What are the important tasks on this list?
- How many of these important tasks can I realistically accomplish or make significant progress on tomorrow?
Delegation is to productivity as using a nail gun is to driving nails. Once you’ve started using it, you’ll be amazed at just how much faster and easier your job is. If you do it right. For many managers and business people, delegating is like a polar bear swim; they plunge in enthusiastically and then even more enthusiastically quickly leap out.
Why? The most common complaint is that delegating work gives the manager or business person even more to do; now they have to supervise someone else’s work as well as doing their own. Wrong, wrong, wrong. If you assign a task to someone and then supervise them closely while they’re doing it, you’re micromanaging, not delegating.
When you delegate properly, you have more time to spend on your own work. The key is to assign the right task to the right person, a person you know has the skills to do the job and that you can trust to get it done – and then leave them to it.
Yes, if you’re not used to delegating and (worse) a hands-on, control freak type, it will take a while for you to get used to delegating. But once you’ve mastered the trick, you’ll be astonished at how much more productive you are, freed to focus on what you need and want to do.
Learn how to delegate. Don’t have staff that you can delegate tasks to? Remember that outsourcing is just as good. As I say in Tips on How to Delegate Successfully,
“Look at your “whole life” when you’re choosing tasks to delegate. Sometimes delegating tasks in your personal life makes more sense economically or personally than delegating a particular business task. For instance, it may be much more inexpensive for you to hire someone to mind your children than hire someone to design a marketing plan.”
Nilofer Merchant, HBR Writer and founder of Rubicon Consulting, shares some of the most memorable advice I’ve ever read in 42 successful people share the best advice they ever received (Financial Post):
When she was starting out, her boss told her to feed the eagles and starve the turkeys.
“Feed the Eagles. There are only a few things that matter. Know what they are. And place your energy into them. They aren’t always right in front of you so you need to look up and out more. Starve the Turkeys – lots of things are right in front of you … pecking around, making noise, and demanding attention. Because they are right in front of you, it’s easy to pay attention to them most and first. Ignore them. They will actually do fine without you.”
I’ve already talked about the importance of focus. But the flip side is that you need to identify and ignore those turkeys too.
And for many of us, those turkeys demanding attention are social media and email.
To be productive, you need to shut down their noise and shoo them away. Turn off your email notifications – and even your phone notifications if you need full concentration.
Limit your time on social media and email. Are you a Facebook or Twitter addict? Use social media as a carrot. Allow yourself x number of minutes browsing after you accomplish a major task.
Plan Phone Calls
Wouldn’t it be nice to have your own personal secretary so you could say “Hold my calls!” while you were working on something?
Well, guess what? You don’t need one! You can manage your phone calls yourself and the payoff will be huge gains in productivity.
First, unless you are expecting a super-important call, turn off your phone when you’re about to work on a project that needs your full attention.
Then set aside a block of time to make all your outgoing calls and follow these Management Tips For Outgoing Telephone Calls so you waste less time trying to reach people and more time talking to the people you actually want to talk to.
If you’re working on something that doesn’t need your full attention, feel free to leave your phone on and answer calls; it saves you from having a batch of phone calls to return at some point during your day. These Management Tips for Inbound Phone Calls will teach you how to turn the calls you get into time savers rather than time wasters.
Break up Work Periods With Exercise
Physical activity enhances brain function – and who’s not going to be more productive with a better functioning brain?
And while you might assume (rightly) that that enhanced brain power will give you improved concentration, more creativity, and faster learning, you might not realize that exercise increases your brain’s effective skills, too, meaning that you’ll find it easier to get along with others.
If you want the most bang for the buck, exercise during work hours. A Leeds Metropolitan University study found that 65 percent of workers who used their company gym at lunchtime were more productive and had better personal interactions with their colleagues than those who didn’t use the gym at lunch.
And a Stockholm University study found that devoting work time to physical activity led to higher productivity. What I really love about this study is that participants were just as productive (or even more so) in less work time.
In sum, it’s time to take these words to heart and get into a regular exercise regime:
“Instead of viewing exercise as something we do for ourselves—a personal indulgence that takes us away from our work—it’s time we started considering physical activity as part of the work itself. The alternative, which involves processing information more slowly, forgetting more often, and getting easily frustrated, makes us less effective at our jobs and harder to get along with for our colleagues” (Regular Exercise Is Part of Your Job, Harvard Business Review).
Don’t have a company gym? You can still exercise at work.
Happy people are more productive.
A series of four studies at The University of Warwick found that participants that were made happier had 12 percent greater productivity than those that had not.
A Maastricht University study of optimism and performance in call centers found that optimists in the tested group made more sales and achieved more bonuses.
Now in this last study, it was only dispositional optimists who showed an increased success. The study authors define dispositional optimism as generalized expectations of good versus bad outcomes in life.
So if you’re not a naturally optimistic person, this is the kind of optimism you want to cultivate – and the good news is that you can.
Research by Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness, where tax managers at KMPG were asked to perform one of five activities a day for three weeks found that the experimental group still showed significantly higher scores in optimism and life satisfaction – not only right after the experiment concluded but four months later when they were retested.
The most effective of the five tasks the managers were asked to choose from was engaging positively with people in their social support network.
And the most direct route to happiness, Achor found in later research, was the result of providing social support to others.
“Social support providers—people who picked up slack for others, invited coworkers to lunch, and organized office activities—were not only 10 times more likely to be engaged at work than those who kept to themselves; they were 40% more likely to get a promotion.”
You can be that person!
Get Enough Sleep
Seventy percent of 1,000 randomly chosen Americans admitted to sleeping on the job in a survey done by William A. Anthony, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, and director of Boston University’s Center for Psychological Rehabilitation – because they need to, he says.
Early-morning commutes, long work hours, and too many responsibilities at home mean that increasing numbers of people aren’t getting the shuteye they need.
We all know that not getting enough sleep has negative effects on our performance. Lack of sleep decreases our concentration, working memory, mathematical capacity, and logical reasoning. And because the pre-frontal cortex is particularly vulnerable to a lack of sleep, tasks that require logical reasoning or complex thought will be the most impaired.
What you may not realize is that it only takes one night of sleep deprivation for us to suffer big deficits in our abilities.
And take special note, those of you who persistently work more than 40 hours a week – we are productive up to about 40 hours a week but after that our productivity drops because when we get tired we make mistakes so the extra hours we put in are absorbed by correcting our errors. The fifty to sixty hour work week, then, is rather pointless.
So how much sleep do you need? Seven to nine hours a night if you’re an adult aged 26 to 64 years according to the National Sleep Foundation. (View an infographics showing the sleep needs of all ages.)
If you’re not getting that much, then taking a nap during the day could be really beneficial to your productivity.
One Last Tip
But certainly not the least; take care of yourself.
Getting enough sleep and making exercise part of your routine are just two of the things you need to do every day to be at your best and most productive.
You know the rest already I bet.
Eat a healthy diet.
Drink lots of water.
Get rid of your bad habits, whether they are smoking or hanging around toxic people.
And be nice to yourself as well as to other people. Take time for yourself and do whatever (healthy) thing recharges and refreshes you.
The healthier you are, the more productive you’ll be – and the more productive you are with your work, the more time you’ll have to spend however you like.