Productivity. The dream of every manager, the goal of every worker. It’s clear that in today’s professional world, productivity is the single most important metric and value. Despite working increasingly longer hours and being exposed to countless self-help guides, we rarely see things that promise to improve our productivity deliver. Is that because productivity is an essential trait, something we’re simply born with (or without)?
Over the years I’ve grown to believe that it’s not great transformations, but little changes that can have a huge impact on our productivity at work. Here are some of my favorite tricks to help you boost your work output right now.
Multitasking really doesn’t work
One look at a typical office would give you an impression that everyone is doing absolutely everything at the same time. Multitasking is unfortunately still widely believed to be the best road to increasing productivity, even if scientific research points to its catastrophic impact on our health, job satisfaction and, obviously, productivity.
How to turn a multitasking habit to your advantage? Instead of fitting a few tasks into every minute, try to do the same but for every hour. Stretching the period for completing jobs helped me to overcome my propensity for multitasking because I no longer felt like panicking at the thought of how many things need to be done right away. Giving myself one hour to tackle a number of different jobs gave me an odd sense of peace – a zen oasis in my crazy office.
Killer organization skills
Scheduling is a key competence in today’s world and it doesn’t matter which sector you’re working in. In fact, I believe scheduling is essential for life itself! Knowing how to schedule our days, months and years, we’re able to accommodate demands posed by different spheres of our lives and consequently allow ourselves to be more focused at work.
A trick I’ve learned from a colleague is organize stuff as you go. Having to deal with a hundred of emails to label is far more daunting than doing the same for a few messages at a time every 3 hours or so. Completing mundane tasks like those in little chunks ultimately helped to make me more productive – I didn’t have to deal with a mountain of them later. Not to mention the relaxation my brain would get every time I set out to my labeling work.
Save your time, it’s precious
How many times have you caught yourself standing in a kilometer-long queue at the supermarket instead of lounging on your couch in a post-dinner evening lull? There are some things we all need to do like grocery shopping or cooking. If you know you’re going to need something for preparing your dinner on Wednesday, why not buy it already on Monday? Buying in bulk will save you time – and often money!
Another issue is preparation – think of all the trouble you go through when preparing a meal every night, cooking it and washing the dishes. Wouldn’t it be nicer to use that time to relax or read an industry publication everyone’s talking about? If you bulk cook on two days a week, you won’t get bored eating the same thing twice and you’ll save lots of time, helping you to better relax after work and recharge your batteries for another exciting day.
Learn to take breaks
Taking breaks which do wonders to our productivity is an art in itself. Whether it’s 90 to 15 ratio or a 5 minute break taken every hour, it doesn’t matter – the important thing is that you don’t enter a long period of high activity and then settle for an hour of break. That’s just unproductive and damaging to your health – trust me, I’ve been there.
What counts here is an individually customized system. Try different working models and you’ll find one which suits you best. Remember that on some days it’s alright to follow a stricter or more lenient model – don’t expect yourself to perform fully when suffering from a minor cold. Even if you believe that breaks are distracting, consider what scientists have to say about that – turns out that those moments of idleness are your best strategy for increasing productivity at work.
I’ve never been as productive as when I finally found my routine and decided to stick to it at all cost. Routine is a word demonized in today’s culture that favors everything fresh, new and exciting, but the truth is that our bodies like routine. A lot.
Consider sleep, for instance. If you push yourself to go to sleep and wake up at the same hour every day, you’ll slowly grow into the rhythm and gain on energy during the day. Sometimes spending a night at the office isn’t worth your time – it’s better to return home at a reasonable hour, relax and then wake up earlier to finish your tasks.
The same goes for eating – if you deprive your body of calories and then flood it with a meal full of salt, fats or sugar, expect to feel high – and then to go straight low. My trick was bringing nuts and fruit for a quick fix. Get used to bringing your lunch from home or face the reality of nameless dishes prepared with ingredients you’d never use in the kitchen. Trust me, relying on the latter never ends well.
There’s no universal recipe for increasing productivity. It’s just something everyone has to negotiate on their own. Productivity depends on your habits, moods, emotions and physiological functioning. What I found particularly important for improving my own productivity was a focus on my body – listen closely and follow your instincts. If you’re tired, rest – if you’re restless, relax, and you can be sure to do well at work.
Picture: CPE Group