It’s 2018 and that time of year for focusing on how to improve ourselves.
The idea of improving our productivity in the workplace is often top of the list for working professionals but can seem an abstract concept. Desirable in theory, but harder to put into practice.
We’ve researched and created our top tips for being more productive this year (as well as actually showing you how you can achieve them.)
So here they are, our 6 top tips to making 2018 your most productive year yet:
1. Block out distractions
You know the drill. You sit at your desk, motivated for that task you need to get done today. 10 minutes in and you’re on a roll.
Then an email pops up and you think “oh it’ll take me 2 minutes to just reply to this”.
Then a colleague comes over to ask you a quick question that turns into a 30-minute conversation and an additional meeting scheduled for next week.
The phone rings.
…And rings again.
Before you know it, it’s 5pm and your day is spent dealing with constant distractions.
Distractions like these eat away at your precious time, which not only interrupts your productivity, but can stop workflow altogether.
It’s sometimes as easy as muting your emails for a couple of hours to give you that peaceful focus.
Another option is to use a telephone answering service that takes your calls just like a professional receptionist would. Allowing you to focus, whilst being assured that all is still being taken care of.
2. Group interruptions
Constant interruptions from colleagues, emails, customers etc. are not only annoying but disjoint your workflow and limit your productivity. These interruptions are often inevitable and come part and parcel with working life. However, whilst unavoidable, interruptions to your day can be more manageable.
Schedule time within your day to deal with interruptions where possible – for example, an hour at the end of the day. Spend the time to get back to the people who need your help, or reply to that email and sort out that little bit of admin. Of course, this won’t work for every scenario, but factoring in some time and acknowledging that you’ll need to play catch up at some point in the day will reduce stress and increase your productivity.
3. Get organised
So this is an obvious one and written widely about in relation to getting more productive – but that’s because it is so important. Being disorganised adds a whole hunk of time onto your workload as you repeat what’s already been done and spend time finding files you thought would be easy to get back to. It’s also harder for your colleagues to help out and understand your schedule.
Whether you use a traditional paper diary or an online one, plan your day out. Establish tasks and long term goals for the next few months as well as priority jobs to complete that day. Not only does this allow you to get more done, it’s also great if you work in a team. Your colleagues will know when’s best to contact you and therefore limit the interruptions faced in #2. Obviously, it’s important to be realistic (you can’t account for every tiny thing in your diary), but having deadlines laid out in front of you is sure to spur you on and be more productive.
Your laptop or desktop likely comes with a calendar feature, but there’s also a ton of great calendar apps to suit your needs, style and budget. Here’s some of our favourites:
Google Calendar – easy to set up, can share with other people, free
Zoho Calendar – set reminders, track invitations, integrates with other Zoho software, free
TeamUp – great if you work within a team, see everyone’s diary at once, no account necessary, from $8/month
4. Take a break
Sitting at a desk for 8 hours solid just isn’t conducive to productivity. You get stiff, sore, dazed, lethargic and much more easily distracted. According to a survey, two-thirds of Brits won’t even take a 20 minute lunch break, which they admit impacts their concentration and productivity later in the afternoon.
In a study of one million people, it was established that physical inactivity costs the global economy $67.5 billion a year! However, just one hour of exercise could reduce this dramatically. Studies also show that working without breaks depletes you of energy, so it’s definitely time to break the habit.
Factor in regular breaks – whether it’s going to make the office tea round or a stroll to the printer, get up and move about at least once every few hours (more if you can!).
Activity trackers like Fitbit give your wrist a quiet little buzz every hour to remind you to take 250 steps. If that’s too much additional gear, set a notification to appear on your phone or screen every few hours. It’s a great idea to move about and give your mind a break from the task at hand before you burn out.
Getting enough exercise in during the week is tough and often the last thing we want to do when we get home. Try the NHS scheme Couch to 5K which builds up exercise gradually, with a goal of reaching the 5K mark within 9 weeks. It’s a good place to start.
Juggling everything at once is a challenge and it can be overwhelming to realise just how much you’re expected to get done in one working day. Focusing on menial tasks will limit your productivity for bigger projects. Similarly, placing equal weight on every task under your remit will result in much longer working hours than you signed up for.
It’s important to accept that some days not everything can be done. So, at the beginning of the day, write a quick list of your tasks. From that list establish what is most important, what can wait another day and what can wait another week. According to Headspace, a simple piece of paper and a pen is often enough to keep you on track.
However, if you want to avoid re-writing similar lists over and over, it might be easier to use a digital format. Use a tool like Evernote or OneNote which helps you organise (see point # 4), prioritise and sync all in one. Available on your phone and your laptop – add to your task list easily and establish what’s most deserving of your time. Knowing exactly what’s on your plate (and what you should eat first) will help you become more productive during your working hours (and hopefully prevent evenings spent at the office).
6. Don’t multitask (all the time)
Yes we know, multitasking is essential to everyday life. But 4 different devices buzzing, 3 admin tasks, 2 ongoing conversations and 1 big project all being completed at the same time is unproductive. It will result in either none being finished, or all being completed to a poorer standard.
Try to focus on one thing at a time – in the long run tasks will get finished quicker and completed to a much higher standard if you’re giving them your entire attention for smaller bursts of time. If you find that you’re the kind of person who likes to switch between activities regularly, use a timer like Toggl to accurately track your time spent on each task and ensure you’re distributing your expertise fairly.
Sites like RescueTime are really useful for establishing where you’re spending your time. It gives a clear breakdown on what websites you’re visiting (and for how long) and provides averages of your productivity once it gets to know you. By keeping track of your time, you’ll be more productive in how you spend it.