5 Tips for Boosting Productivity — Wherever You’re Working From
We’ve all had that day. The to-do list appears longer when you clock off than when you started.
You’re left perplexed and frustrated, wondering where the time went. Whether you work in an office or from home, you want to get as much done as possible in the time you have. But between a meeting-packed calendar, small talk with colleagues and other distractions, that’s easier said than done.
A Robert Half survey of more than 2,400 professionals in the United States found that many workers face these kinds of productivity challenges. It’s an epidemic of not getting stuff done, but one that can be cured by following these five tips.
Be aware of how you spend your time
The first step to maximizing your productivity is understanding your work habits. And to do that, you need to know how you actually spend your time.
An excellent place to start is by keeping a time diary for a week. It can be as simple as a notepad on your desk, where you jot down start and finish times for each activity. This might sound counterintuitive — after all, it’s yet another task to complete. But tracking your day allows you to see patterns, favorable or otherwise. You might, for example, realize that you spend far more time than you thought on decluttering your inbox or notice that you hit peak productivity during certain hours of the day.
Once you’ve got a good idea of where your time is going, you can adjust. Are you spending unnecessary time on tasks that could be delegated? Are there activities that you can finish more quickly? A time limit, even if it’s just one you’ve set yourself, is a powerful motivator for driving up productivity because it forces you to resist distractions.
Eliminate self-sabotaging habits
Even without a time diary, there are occasions when you know you could be more productive.
It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole while researching a topic, and the next thing you know, an hour has gone by — and you’re off-schedule. Or perhaps you’re the sort of person who finds it hard to say “no” to yet another assignment, even if you’re already at capacity. Or maybe you procrastinate as you lose focus on the task at hand.
In these cases, being aware of your pitfalls is already half the battle won. Now you need to be disciplined. When using the internet during work hours, keep reminding yourself of your objective and consider using a website blocker to help you stay focused. When you can’t take on another task, permit yourself to say “no.” To combat procrastination, set a deadline even for assignments that are open-ended.
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Get your calendar organized
Productivity requires planning. And the key is an up-to-date calendar, so consider these three strategies:
- Declutter your calendar — Workers in the Robert Half survey named unnecessary calls and meetings as the top factor impeding their productivity. Ask your manager if you can decline meetings that don’t require your attendance. Also, avoid scheduling meetings for matters you could efficiently address via a quick phone call, text or email.
- Use calendar apps — A quick internet search will reveal many easy-to-use apps (including free ones!) that can help you stay focused and on schedule.
- Plan to plan — Start each Monday by planning what you hope to achieve by Friday. Think of it like budgeting — except that you’re deciding how to spend your time instead of money. Keep it simple and realistic, leave room for unexpected projects and interruptions, and don’t forget to build in regular breaks.
(A note of caution: If you try to eliminate all non-work distractions from your day, you may end up being no more productive but considerably more isolated than colleagues who enjoy a little socializing. Having good working relationships improves your morale, which in turn helps you stay productive. It’s all about finding the right balance.)
Accomplish big tasks early
Robert Half’s survey found that, for most people, productivity peaks early in the week, at home or in the office, with employees getting the most done on Monday and Tuesday. Furthermore, most workers hit their stride in the late morning and early afternoon.
By getting essential assignments done early, you’re not only likely to be at your most productive, but getting big tasks out of the way means they don’t weigh on your mind. Boost your productivity further by turning off mobile devices and signing out of personal email and social media. You can also tell your coworkers when you prefer not to be interrupted by setting your online status to “busy” or blocking off time on your shared calendar.
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Give yourself a break — in every sense
Taking time to unplug and recharge can help you get more done, as solutions to complex problems often surface when you’re not intently focused on the issue. Just stepping out for fresh air or tidying up your desk might be all you need to get motivated again.
Finally: Don’t be too hard on yourself. Accept that sometimes you might slip up, get distracted and have an occasional unproductive day. The important thing is to move on and not dwell on your mistakes.
You won’t change ingrained work habits overnight. But small changes can and will add up to significant productivity gains. By using any or all of these strategies, you’ll enhance your focus, do more in less time and enjoy the feeling of hitting your goals.