Being productive at work means more than just sitting at your desk and clicking through your tasks. Instead, you need to put active energy into a goal and complete specific tasks to achieve that end goal.
Although the idea might be easy to grasp, many people struggle to stay focused. The task might be tedious, your mind might be elsewhere, or you might not have the energy to do something.
Everyone deals with these issues to an extent, so we want to help you navigate the problems holding you back and guide you on how to be more productive at work.
The Importance of Productivity in the Workplace
Before we can give you our tips on being productive, we need to explain why productivity is essential. You might think the answer is simple: “to get the job done”, but there is more to it than that.
Your level of productivity describes how efficiently you or your company can use resources to create profits. It’s the ratio of how much input you need to create an output. The less you need to put in, the better.
If you can master the art of productivity, your business can thrive in these areas:
The longer you or your team are unproductive, the more time it will take for everyone to complete a task. The more time it takes, the more you have to pay for these tasks to be completed.
The knock on effect of lost time can be a massive financial drain.
There are normally three reasons for wide-spread unproductive teams; They are either underskilled for the task, the task is too large for the workforce, or the team has low motivation.
Taking time off the schedule to allow your team to take breaks or to reinvigorate their passions is an excellent investment in productivity.
If the processes you have in store create good speeds and fixed timelines for your customers, then you have made a productive working system. When services and products are delivered on time with easy communication, your customers begin to trust and value your work.
With trust and value in your work, your customers will become loyal and create lasting relationships with your business. Word of mouth will grow due to the reliable nature of your work processes, and so you’ll also gain new customers.
Therefore, you’ll end up with a good relationship of consistent customers, and you’ll be able to grow your customer base too.
In this area, productivity comes from the ability to keep to a timely manner and to inform your customers of the expected time frames.
Of course, working on time can do more than show your reliability. It can give your business structure and allow you to predict the financial forecast for the future.
Creating an operating system that gives your teams a clear and achievable timeline can help them prioritise their work, focusing on tasks with upcoming deadlines first.
Sometimes the best way to help your team is to understand areas of the operating system that are unnecessary and time-consuming. For example, monitoring when people go to the toilet is a waste of time.
Not only do you need a team member to be on toilet duty (wasting their time and the business’), but it pressurises the workforce into hurting their bodily functions, leading to sick days. On top of that, you’ll be creating an environment of distrust that will demoralise your workforce, slowing them down.
In the end, the morale of your employees is what will make the biggest difference. A stressed, belittled, or unappreciated employee will not have the energy or enthusiasm to produce high quality or high quantity work.
Although you might think that cracking the whip is the answer to producing more products, in reality, your teams will either slow down or quit.
Instead, you should make sure that the workplace is as stress-free as possible and include incentives to help your employees feel excited about their targets.
15 Tips for being more productive at work
If you are reading this wondering how you yourself can be more productive, use our tips below to help you manage your workload.
If you are an employer and want to offer more than a simple incentive to inspire your workers into productivity, you should use our tips too. You may have to alter them slightly to fit your workforce, but the idea alone could spark a solution.
1. Have regular breaks
It might seem counterproductive, but taking breaks can help you focus. Research has shown that taking “micro-breaks” can give you time to digest a problem or task.
When you get back to your desk, the issue seems like less of a problem. This is because your mind has been working on the case while you have been distracted.
Micro-breaks aren’t 30 minutes or an hour-long, like your lunch break. Instead, they last just a couple of minutes. You can take a micro-break when you go to the toilet or make a cup of tea.
This short time away from your work is all you need to readjust yourself and face the task head on.
You may also find that social breaks can have a similar effect. However, instead of simply giving you time to think, they also allow you to feel relaxed.
Talking to a co-worker at the water-cooler is more positive than some old fashioned bosses might think.
As you have your small social break, you can reduce your stress through community bonding. Sharing your worries with a co-worker who understands the problem.
Even if no resolution occurs in that short conversation, it could be enough to get the cogs turning and invigorate your problem-solving skills.
2. One task at a time
If you have multiple tasks to deal with, you might feel overwhelmed and unable to deal with any of them. As you try to keep up with every task at once, aware of each looming deadline, you will inevitably reach the “burnout” point.
Burnout is when you lose all ability to work properly as all your energy has been drained. You might become emotional, distant, or refuse to go to work.
Instead of dealing with everything at once, you should try focusing on one task at a time. If you put all of your energy into just one job, you will be able to complete it faster than if you put all your energy into every task.
You will see your inbox reducing quickly, little by little. Not only does this idea stop you from feeling overwhelmed, but it also stops you from having multiple tasks in your head at once.
You cannot answer a question well if you have three other questions trying to get your attention. If you spread your mind thin like this, it will take you longer to come to a conclusion.
Instead, focusing on just one task allows your mind to concentrate on one topic at a time. It doesn’t have to hold multiple ideas and keep on top of them all.
This will speed up your thinking and, therefore, your productivity.
3. Stop multitasking
Despite what you might think, nobody can multitask. Doing more than one thing at a time (especially if it’s complex) will not make you faster.
Instead, you have to dedicate double the time needed to complete both tasks. This is because your mental process will be slowed down as your brain tries to digest and solve two issues.
Although you think you are doing two things at once, instead, you are switching between one idea to the next. You may be doing it in rapid succession as you “juggle” the tasks in front of you, but you are not working on these tasks simultaneously.
In the 1990s, researchers Rogers and Monsell found that those who had to complete two tasks at the same time did so two times slower than those who had the same two tasks completed one after the other.
What’s more interesting is that even those who were told to switch jobs at specific intervals were still just as slow. This shows that the cognitive hurdles were due to the changes in the task and not the chaotic structure of their mind.
This means that if you plan on working for 1 hour on one task and then another hour on a different job, it will still take you more time than if you completed one task and then headed onto the next.
To make yourself more efficient and productive, simply take on one task at a time.
4. Start with the biggest tasks
Ignoring the deadlines attached to your tasks, the first project you should take on is the biggest one. Once that is out of the way, you can quickly clean up your inbox with all the little tasks.
The biggest task is often the most time consuming, and although it might seem more efficient to tackle the small ones first so “at least you get something done”, you are instead taking away time from the big one.
If you can only dedicate a couple of hours a day to the big task, as the little ones keep piling in, then you will never be able to get rid of that big task. Instead, dedicating more time to the big task will allow you to move it into your outbox quicker.
The second reason to focus on the bigger task first is to remove the negative thoughts you have around it. The more you avoid the job, the hard it will be to start it.
The dread around that task will lower your motivation causing you to be slower in every other task too.
Get the big chunk out of the way as soon as possible, so you can breeze through the rest.
5. Set many small objectives
Although we suggest tackling the biggest tasks first, that doesn’t mean you have to conquer the whole issue in one go. Take the biggest job and break it down into smaller chunks.
For example, the first small chunk might be “setting a plan”, then next could be “research”, after that, it’s “creation”, and lastly “edits”.
Of course, this example might not fit perfectly into your business structure, but the idea stands. Take that large task with a looming deadline and break it into manageable chunks.
This concept is known as “micro productivity“. It makes the tasks feel more doable and can reduce your tendency to procrastinate.
As you tick off the smaller tasks, you feel accomplished and productive. That gives you the power and the energy to continue on to the next job. You build a ball of rolling optimism as you complete these small and “easy” tasks.
By the time you finish for the day, you can visually track how much of the big task has been completed and can therefore see a more accurate time frame for the project.
You can also see your progress clearly, as the small tasks can be used as a tracking system.
Without these small objectives written down and monitored, you may feel like you’ve been working on the same project without end and have no idea how long it will take to complete.
This method gets rid of that negative feeling, leaving you with structure instead.
6. Time block your schedule
If your procrastination comes from a lack of motivation, giving yourself a time limit can force your mind to concentrate. Time blocking is when you give yourself a set chunk of time to deal with a task.
For example, the first hour of your day could be dedicated to answering emails. The second to prioritising workloads, the third for completing projects, and so on.
This schedule could be printed out, laid out on a whiteboard, or even indicated through alarms on your phone.
The purpose of the time block is to stop you from doing every task at once. If you know you have 1 hour to deal with emails in the morning, and another hour after lunch, then you don’t need to respond to any messages that come through while you work.
You already know you have time dedicated to that task, so you can mute or ignore these distractions and look at them at a more convenient time.
Time blocking is another way to stop you from multitasking. It is most useful in workplaces where requests and messages come through as you work.
It can feel overwhelming and frustrating when someone breaks up your work pattern through an email. Instead of breaking your thought process and answering the emailer’s questions, you know you can wait.
These time blocks also help you remember other tasks without worry. That emailer waiting on an answer will receive it when you go through your emails again.
You don’t have to worry about forgetting as your schedule prevents that.
7. Consider using the two-minute rule
The two-minute rule is designed to help you complete small tasks while you are waiting for something else to happen.
For example, if you are printing off a large folder worth of documents but have a couple of small jobs waiting for completion, you can rush off and complete those minor objectives while the printer is working.
This allows you to utilise your time well. You may notice that lots of your tasks are small but necessary, and if you leave them all until last, as our fourth tip suggests, then they simply won’t get done.
Consider mixing the two-minute rule with time blocking to ensure these small but important tasks are completed.
For example, while you are waiting for code to run, that could be the perfect time for a time block. In this shorter time block, you add in all the small tasks that would typically only take a couple of minutes.
The essence of the two-minute rule is to make every minute useful. Walking to the break room and grabbing a cup of tea is helpful as it gives you time to think, but if you are just sitting waiting on another task to be completed first, change your mindset and make this a time for 2-minute tasks.
8. Be more productive in meetings
We have all been in meetings that either didn’t need to happen or took longer than we thought. These meetings can really ruin the flow of our day and falter our productivity.
To make these meetings more productive, we have three suggestions – keep the conversation limited to necessities, complete work in the background, and record your meetings.
Limit the conversation in meetings
This idea is to keep your meetings as short as possible. You don’t want to be stuck for hours listening to what everyone did at the weekend when you can feel your deadlines looming behind you. Instead, list the topics of the meeting, discuss them in a timely fashion, and allow your co-workers to leave if time runs over.
Working in the background
If your workers have tasks they can complete while the meeting takes place, allow them to do so. For example, a coder could allow their scripts to run while they are listening to the meeting, someone could print off their work, or simple “click-through” tasks that can be marked off while participating in the conference.
Of course, nothing with too much brain power should be attempted, otherwise, we will fall into “multitasking” again. But if mundane tasks can be running in the background, allow them to be.
Record the meeting
Recording your meetings and putting the videos in an accessible location can allow your co-wokers to look back on the meeting when they have more time.
Although you will want all your co-workers to pitch in at certain times, the workers that aren’t needed to speak but should be made aware shouldn’t have to stick to a strict schedule. Instead, allowing them to view the meeting in their own time could help them structure their day better.
9. Delegate certain tasks
A good manager will know when to take tasks on, and when delegating or splitting the job up among their co-workers is a more effective option.
If the big task in the group can easily be split up into smaller tasks, then spreading these smaller tasks among the group will speed up the process.
For a genuinely productive method, you could split up the work depending on skill, giving the simplest aspects to the newest members of the team and the more complex issues to the most successful members.
Understanding how your team works and the difficulties in the project can help you delegate the tasks in the most productive way possible.
10. Consider using the pomodoro strategy
The Pomodoro Strategy is a time-management method that is perfect for those struggling with productivity. To use the technique, follow this method:
- Choose a task.
- Set a timer of 30 minutes.
- Work at your normal pace.
- When the timer goes off, take a two or three-minute break.
- Tick or cross a box to confirm the session is completed.
- Repeat the method for four sessions, and then take a longer break.
- Repeat the whole process again.
This method is great for long projects that cannot be broken down into smaller chunks. Instead of reducing the workload to make it less daunting, you are making the time of work smaller instead.
This method adapts the “small objective” tip and combines it with the “time block” and “regular breaks” tips.
With this strategy, your small breaks are factored in, so you don’t have to worry about giving yourself acceptable breaks, and the time block is part of your tick boxes.
Each tick box could represent a different task, or it can help you break down that one large task.
11. Limit interruptions and distractions
Although we have said that social interactions and short breaks can really benefit your motivation levels, you shouldn’t allow distractions to run over time.
It can be easy for co-workers to interrupt your thought processes or keep you locked in a conversation by the water-cooler.
To help avoid these issues, you can close your office door when you need to focus, put “busy” signs on your messaging platform to indicate your work level, or even put in headphones to avoid conversations.
Listening to music can be a distraction all by itself, so instead, you could opt for noise-cancelling headphones. These shut out all sound to limit the office chatter.
Knowing how to walk away from a co-worker can be a complicated social issue to deal with.
To help you navigate that problem, block out periods of your day on a communal calendar; this can help you get back to work as others will know you are busy.
12. Learn to say no more often
It can be hard to say no in the workplace. Your employers are paying you to deal with an issue, so you have to say “yes”, right? Well, that’s not entirely true.
In reality, you will have been given a job description when you were hired, and if the tasks are not included in the job description, then you aren’t being paid for it.
Of course, you might find the task easy and not an issue; however, if it takes time away from your actual projects, you need to learn to say no.
The same can be true for a shared workload. If you are swamped with work and your manager asks you to take on a couple more jobs, look at your capabilities before saying yes. Even if it is in your job description, if you are unable to complete the task in time, then you will not be helping your co-workers.
Knowing the reality of your workload can help you better manage your time and your abilities. You should only take on more tasks if you can realistically complete them in time.
Otherwise, you will be left juggling more work and reducing your productivity on all of them.
13. Find repeatable shortcuts
If you can find a successful shortcut in your work that allows you to keep the same level of quality and safety while helping you to work faster, then note it down.
The shortcut could be as simple as holding “Ctrl” and “A” at the same time to highlight your document or automating your entire business.
However, for a shortcut to be truly effective, you need to make sure it is repeatable. If the shortcut can only be used once or twice, or can only be used by half of your employees, then it isn’t as time-saving as you might think.
You need to make sure that everyone knows how to use the shortcut and test that it doesn’t hinder the quality of the products.
This could take some time to perfect, so be sure that once it’s completed, the run-time is shorter than the original method.
14. Get enough sleep
Although our tips so far have all been about reorganising your work pattern, you cannot achieve any of this without taking care of yourself first.
If stress is keeping you up at night, then you won’t be able to focus at work, creating more anxiety and a never ending cycle.
To help you break down this pattern, we have some suggestions for you.
First and foremost, the quickest way to regain control over your sleep is to exercise. Physical activity is a simple way to blow off steam, which in turn can reduce your stress levels.
Ideally, you should workout for at least 2 hours every day. Not only will you be able to metaphorically fight away your demons, but you will also be worn out from the exercise. This should lead to easier sleep.
Eating low sugar goods, drinking less caffeine and opting for fresh foods will stop your body from feeling sluggish. That sluggish feeling can make you doozy but prevents you from sleeping.
As your body digests junk food, it absorbs the sugars that keep you up at night.
Cutting these out will help give your body balance its nutrients.
Talk about struggles
If you still cannot sleep after those changes, your work stress levels might still be too high. It might be beneficial to talk to a co-worker about your struggles.
Talking to someone who understands your issues can help you feel less alone. They might even help with delegation by taking some work off your shoulders.
15. Learn from mistakes and achievements
Although we all know to learn from our mistakes, we often forget to learn from our achievements too.
When something goes wrong, we do our best to make sure that the same issues don’t happen again. This is a classic way to encourage productivity, as you are eliminating pathways to problems as soon as you know where they are.
However, when something goes well, it can be beneficial to nudge the rest of your workload in the same direction.
If someone comes up with a strategy that proves successful, you should suggest it to the rest of the team to see if the same success can be replicated. This is similar to the “repeatable shortcuts” tip we mentioned earlier.
That being said, you should also figure out why something was successful too. Simply copying the achievement process might not give you the desired results, as the core reason for success wasn’t found.
Similarly, you may notice that tweaking this happy accident could improve your productivity even further.
The best way to create productivity is to understand your workload. Seeing when the deadlines are and creating “time blocks” to deal with them, can help you stay focused on the tasks until completion.
Although you may feel like juggling multiple tasks at once can help you work on each project evenly, you are actually taking longer to do any of them.
Switching from task to task means changing your mental flow and will clog your mind with unrelated information as you hold concepts for each project.
Create a timetable, organise your workflow, and give yourself time to rest.