Knowing how to improve your productivity will have a huge impact on your career. It means you can achieve more in less time, which is good news for your work/life balance. It means you’ll more easily make your mark as a high-performer and more readily hit the promotion fast track. So how can you improve your productivity at work?
Well, I want to share some tips I learned from one of the most-productivity centric industries there is: recruitment.
I started my career as a recruiter, and the thing about recruitment is that there are few industries in which productivity is so tangibly important – which means it’s drilled into you from Day 1.
I might not be a recruiter anymore, but the lessons I learnt have proved relevant every day since then. So, without further ado, here they are:
4 practical ways to improve your productivity at work, whatever your industry.
Prioritize more effectively
Effective prioritization is the foundation of productivity. Back in my recruitment days we were taught to use the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, created by Steven Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
According to this theory, most people fail to distinguish between the ideas of urgency and importance. We fall into the trap of thinking that urgent things are the most important – and spend our time on the wrong things.
Urgent things demand immediate attention. A phone ringing, for example. We approach them in a reactive, harried way. Important things are activities that help us fulfill our longer-term goals, but they’re easier to ignore because they’re not demanding your attention right now.
The problem with this is that you wind up putting in the legwork without moving closer to your long-term career objectives.
Use the Eisenhower Decision Matrix instead, to ensure you’re prioritizing the right tasks:
According to Covey, many people waste most of their time in Q3, which largely centers on fulfilling other people’s goals and doesn’t contribute to your long-term strategy.
Instead, we should spend as much time as possible in Q2, where our actions are meaningful and effective.
Some time will always have to be spent in Q1 (sudden problems we can’t anticipate, for example) but effective planning in Q2 can reduce this time significantly (planning your workload so a deadline never becomes urgent, for example).
Write a day plan
This is recruitment 101, but it’s relevant whatever your job title. The idea is to create a timetable, so you know what you’re meant to be doing at each point during the day.
We used to break time into 1-hour slots, but you needn’t be that strict if you need more flexibility. The principle is to plan ahead of time what you need to do, how you’re going to fit that in, and to hold yourself accountable.
The key to a good day plan is, as above, prioritizing and scheduling the right tasks – the ones that have to get done vs. the ones that can wait. Then, be ruthless about sticking to it.
Have you heard of the Getting Things Done method (GTD)? GTD is a time-management method outlined by productivity consultant David Allen. (This lifehacker article is well worth a read if you’re new to GTD).
One of the main principles is to break down everything you need to do into short-term, medium-term and long-term goals – and, critically, to set time to reflect regularly. (For more on setting SMART goals, read our Top 5 Tactics To Be A Better Manager).
Personally, I review my daily goals at the end of each working day and set aside half an hour on Sundays to refresh on my weekly goals. I review my longer-term goals every 6 weeks or so.
I also use the method outlined by Zen Habits creator Leo Babauta, who suggests setting three Most Important Tasks (MITs) for each day – the things you won’t go home until you’ve achieved. It definitely makes me more productive – give it a shot.
The points above offer specific strategies to help improve your productivity at work, but what happens when you simply can’t concentrate? Knowing what you should be doing and actually doing it are two different things…
Here are 4 tips that can help:
A. Take breaks
Buffer goes into detail on the science of taking breaks, but all you need to know is this: we’re not built for long periods of extended concentration. By taking brief breaks, you can stave off boredom, increase memory retention and improve your focus – so you work better, for longer.
B. Watch what you eat
The post-lunch slump is one of the least productive times of day for most people – with scientific reason. It’s called post-lunch hypoglycemia, and occurs as a result of the body burning glucose for energy, rather than fats. In practical terms, it means you could be eating too many harmful carbohydrates (grains and sugars), and not enough healthy fats.
Make changes in your diet, and you’ll find it easier to concentrate all day, every day.
C. Don’t multi-task
If you equate multi-tasking with productivity, then this is for you. Studies have repeatedly shown that multi-tasking has a negative impact on productivity – we’re not, as MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller notes, “wired to multi-task well”. We might think we’re getting a lot done, but we’re demonstrably less efficient when multi-tasking – so avoid it if you want to improve your productivity at work.
Regular exercise has been linked time and again to improved concentration: enough said. It helps maintain your health, improves your mood and energy, lowers stress and contributes to memory function. You might complain that you’re too busy, but time spent exercising will make your time in the office more productive.
If you want to improve your productivity at work, follow these four tips and work smarter, not harder.
What are your own tips to improve your productivity at work? Is there anything I’ve missed? Share your thoughts below!
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