Productivity and efficiency improvements are important at any time and especially when working from home, as we need greater boundaries between work and home. By knowing you’re doing the best you can to be as productive as possible gives you permission to stop work at the end of the day and rejuvenate.
To build on last week’s article about being more efficient with email (How to Be More Productive & Efficient with Email at Work), this week we’ll broaden the focus.
Working More Hours Isn’t Better
Most successful people tell me they have more work than time; they respond by working longer hours. Most are acknowledging that the implication of the pandemic is now a marathon rather than a sprint. Which means more hours are unsustainable and might not be effective anyway.
Research from Stanford University, by economics professor John Pencavel, found that productivity declined drastically if one worked more than 50 hours per week. In fact, if one worked upwards of 70 hours per week s/he would achieve only what they would have working just 55 hours. It’s not about working longer, it’s about working smarter as they say.
How to Be More Productive at Work
1. Set max 3-5 priorities for the day. An endless to-do list is overwhelming, discouraging and distracting thereby diluting your efforts. Ideally set these priorities at the end of the day before so you can hit the ground running when you get into work the next morning. Celebrate when you complete each task, that motivates you to keep up your progress.
2. Book time with yourself to do those key priorities. Literally put time in your calendar to think and do the work you need/want to do. Other people and their priorities will push into your calendar if you don’t claim the time first. Schedule your working times for when you are at your best. I wrote most of my book from 3-6:30pm in coffee shops, an odd time and it was the most productive time and location for me after trying various alternatives.
3. Do one thing at a time. Multi-tasking between two things requiring mental focus (checking social media and reading notes, conversations and emails) has been proven to take longer than doing just 1 thing to completion.
4. Take breaks. This might seem counter-intuitive to getting things done and studies show taking frequent small breaks increases productivity, focus and creativity. The recommendation is a 5-min walk every hour. Ideally get outside, move, stretch. Checking social media is not a break as that requires continued mental resources. Productivity is about managing your time and your energy. Time without energy is not productive.
5. When you are finishing a task, identify the next step or action that needs to be done and note it down. This means you have an identified starting point when you return to work on that task making it quicker for you to get back into it.
How to Be More Efficient
1. Create routines out of repetitive tasks (if you can’t automate or get rid of them). Thinking takes energy. When we execute a routine, our brains use less energy and things can be done faster. Obama and Zuckerberg are said to wear the same thing most days, so they have one less decision that must be made that day.
2. Question what you are doing. What are the things you do workwise that no longer serve the organization and its goals? What are the things your team does that are no longer value-added? What would others question you about in terms of how you spend your time? This questioning is to identify the “work” that takes your time away from more important things. Also, what are you doing that your team, or another person could be doing? This points you to what you can delegate to free you up for things that only you can do.
3. Focus on the important not the urgent. The 80/20 rule or Pareto Principle says 80% of results come from 20% of things/effort, so identify the 20% and work on that. What are your key priorities for the year and the quarter – what work actually moves these priorities forward?
4. Create a ‘Parking Lot’ list when you’re focused. When doing group training I create a ‘Parking Lot’ flip chart. Its where I capture ideas that come up from the participants through the day that are important and unrelated to the training at hand. This way the idea is noted while keeping the training on-track. Have a blank page beside you to note thoughts that might be important and that are distracting you from the work at hand (not phone as that has more distractions on it). Afterwards you can decide what of the list makes it onto your agenda.
5. Change your language – to others and yourself. This means saying NO to others sometimes if you tend to take on too much, keeping you from your key priorities. Tips for how to do that from an interview I gave are here. Notice your self-talk. Do you say (out loud or in your head) that you’re so busy, have so much to do, can’t get it all done, are pulled in so many directions? If so, change your language to support yourself such as, “I am focusing on this right now,” “I have 2 key priorities to do.” This limits the chatter that takes you off task, to conserve your mental and verbal energy.
6. Accept that some tasks will be hard, frustrating, boring and STAY. STAY is part of the leadership model I use from the Co-Active training institute. We are adults, we are at choice, we are lucky to have work that hopefully we enjoy for the most part. And sometimes there will be things that are hard, frustrating, boring – focus and do them anyway. Just as you’d tell a child who must complete a chore or difficult school work. Focus on it, take a quick break every hour to move it towards completion.
Longer-term Ideas to Increase Productivity
1. Do an activity log to determine your time wasters and bad habits. For a few weeks, notice how you spend your time. Notice what distracts you. Notice your bad work habits. Do you flit between things, pick up a file you need to review 5x in the day without actually opening it and working on it? Do you let people interrupt often? Do you seek out others as distraction? Be honest about your time management. Note your time wasters so you can rectify them. Also, notice your good habits so you can leverage them more.
2. Notice any repeated frustrations you have with a process or person. When you are repeatedly frustrated with something or someone get to the root cause of it and improve the situation. If it’s a monthly report that seems to always have issues, investigate the issues to rectify them.
3. Improve your communication skills. A lot of time is wasted due to poor communication. Examples are not setting clear expectations, having misunderstandings that then need to be sorted, not listening well due to multitasking, and avoiding difficult conversations. By improving your communication skills especially as you rise in the organization you’re being a role model and creating a culture that fosters greater productivity.
4. Rejuvenate yourself on an on-going basis. Tired, stressed employees don’t contribute their best. Take time off, turn off notifications, don’t look at email, have a change of scenery. What energizes you? What motivates you? Studies show more ah-ha moments come for people who take timeout. Being out in nature, physical activity, a different environment and less technology are all suggested for improving one’s productivity and contribution.
5. Celebrate yourself and your accomplishments. I don’t mean this in an arrogant, boastful way. Rather in an appreciative, conscious way. By celebrating (or at a minimum, acknowledging yourself) you motivate yourself and reinforce your strengths to apply to the work at hand. Also, if you enjoy your work, it should be enjoyable most of the time and celebrating yourself will remind you of the enjoyment.
All and any one of these ideas will aid you in being more productive at work, studies bear this out. Adopt 1 or 2 of them initially and notice the impact. Also, remind yourself how to have fun at work while staying productive. One way is to SMILE while working – research shows smiling signals to the parasympathetic nervous system to remain calm, helping you focus.
What leadership improvements would you and your team benefit from to be more productive and efficient at work?
If you’re like me and many of my clients, you can improve your productivity and efficiency. I challenge you to book a FREE coaching session with me here to identify the opportunities for improvement and enjoyment.