10 Simple Ways to Increase Your Productivity
If we are not efficient and productive at work, we are working longer hours than we need to be and we probably are using more effort and energy completing a task than we would like. Time is money, and more-so time is the only resource we cannot alter. All we have is 24-hours in a day, so we need to make them count! A lot of times we fall into a rut and stick with our old ways even though we may know they’re not the most efficient. It’s hard to make changes to “good enough” and it’s especially hard to create new habits. Although I understand the excuses, we shouldn’t be wasting our “personal” time in the office or on our computers working extra hours simply because it took us two hours instead of one to complete a report. Life is short and we should be living it! Or maybe you want extra time back to work towards a promotion or learning a new skill. Whatever your motivation is, here are 10 simple (and cost-effective!) ways you can increase your productivity.
1 - First things first - move your phone!
This is by far the easiest thing you can do to greatly increase your productivity. How often do you think you check your phone an hour? Researchers have found that adults check their phone roughly every 15 minutes! Granted, a lot of these “checks” are quick 30-second bursts, but taking our attention away from what we are working on can have a detrimental impact on our productivity.
If you keep your phone in your purse or somewhere you have to stand up and walk to, it makes it just a little bit less convenient and will help you weaken the “checking” habit. I also highly recommend keeping your phone on vibrate (or silent!) throughout the workday. This way, we only check our phone when we break between tasks - versus checking every little notification that comes our way.
2 - Cut yourself off from social media
I know, it’s easier said than done. Again, it’s about making little changes that will help you in the long run. You don’t have to completely give up social media during the workday, but check it only when you have time for it. Turn off Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat notifications on your phone. It’s ok if you wait until lunchtime to read them all at once!
To help break the habit of “checking” on your computers, try downloading the browser extension StayFocused, it’s free and pretty simple to use. You can choose which sites to block during the day or you can set a certain amount of time you are “allowed” on them each day. It can be hard to set our own restrictions, there’s no harm in trying it out!
3 - Change your settings
It is found that professionals who work on a computer change windows or check email nearly 37 times an hour. Again, it is ingrained in us to check our emails or Slack channels every time we hear someone pinging us. I know for some client facing professionals like myself it can be difficult to mute your email notifications. However, try muting your team communication channels when you are working on complex projects. Or if you have the ability to turn off email notifications and set a timer to check it every hour - do it!
4 - Do not disturb
If you work with a smaller team, this may be easier. Ask your co-workers, “if you see I have Do Not Disturb on in our communication channel (i.e. Slack or Skype), please try to wait to ask me any questions until later.” Research by Gloria Marks at UC Irvine, CA has found that interruptions and recovering from them can consume up to 28% of our day! Especially when we are working on more complex tasks, it is extremely important we guard our focus and attention every way we can.
5 - Work on your focus “muscle”
This may be the hardest one on the list, but if you can master “focusing”, you will see huge results. In our digital world, it is extremely hard to stay focused on one task for even an hour. Focus requires willpower, energy and dedication. The best way to help strengthen your focus muscle, is to learn to be mindful when you are working. In order to do this, try meditating for 5 minutes a day.
As Chris Bailey says in his book A Year in Productivity, “On the surface, mindfulness and meditation seem like the antithesis of productivity. But in a world where productivity is about working smarter and more deliberately instead of doing more, faster, they have never been more relevant, or more important (p. 202).”
6 - List your top 3 daily tasks
This is something I do daily, but when I forget I notice the consequences. Every workday before looking at your emails or jumping into a task, write out the 3 things (in order of priority) you would like to get done that day to feel productive. This sets the tone for the day and as you finish one task, you can easily see what you should be working on next. Granted, there are going to be other small tasks you work on - but at the end of the day if you have your top 3 checked off, you will feel so productive! This list will also help you spend your time wisely and not get distracted by less impactful (but maybe easier) tasks.
7 - Say “No”
This can be really hard, I get it. But we need to learn to say no to activities, meetings or lunch invites that we know are going to suck up our time faster than Netflix. For anything we are invited to, we need to think about the opportunity cost. Personally, I get emails daily for meetups or community events that sound really awesome. And although I want to support my community or friends, I need to think wisely before I click “accept invite”.
I have made a somewhat strict rule for myself that I can only attend two outside events or meetups a week. If I said yes to everything that sounded really cool, I would be left exhausted and with little time and energy to actually work. Maybe for you it’s deciding that you will only go out to lunch during the week once as it takes more time. Whatever your goal is, take a look at where you spend your time and find areas you can say “no thanks” to.
8 - Separate your windows & applications by activity
This may take some getting used to - but try to keep your different activities at work separated on your computer. For a lot of us, we have 10-15 windows open at once, a handful of browser tabs and they are all for different tasks. How can we expect to easily move from Project A to Project B when everything is jumbled together? When transitioning between those projects, it’s pretty easy to get distracted by that article you’ve been keeping open for the last week or being reminded of another task you have to complete.
One way to do this if you are on Windows 10 is using Task View. Or on Mac use Spaces. Creating a different environment or desktop for each of your projects/clients/activities will allow you to focus on the task at hand. Or if you are on Windows 10, try Wolf Flow. The desktop software allows you to create “Sessions” for your different activities, name, save and store them so you can return to later!
9 - Use a Time Tracker
Use a time tracker on your computer even if for a short period of time, find a cheap tool like RescueTime to track what you work on. This can be an extremely eye-opening exercise and doesn’t require much work.
10 - Take Breaks
Take breaks and be kind to yourself. When you need a break, take it. Doing so will help you come back to your work with new energy and focus. Going for a walk around the block or juggling around an idea with a co-worker can also bring a new perspective or idea to light. Taking breaks also gives your willpower time to recharge. Read more about willpower here.
Increasing our productivity can take time. Pick a few of the above to start with that seem easy to implement in your average workday and I promise you will see your productivity escalate. If you aren’t sure where to start, start with numbers 1, 6 & 7. These are all very easy to do and can be implemented today. Creating habits take on average 66 days, so stick with it!
For more ideas on how to increase your productivity, read How to Stay Focused & Maximize Your Efficiency.