Increasing Productivity at Work

Let me first say, if you are looking for a magic bullet to increase your productivity at work, I do not have one. There is no such thing.

Let me also say that I am FAR from an expert on the subject and will probably forget a few things here. What I am sharing are my own personal experiences with struggling to stay focused, meet deadlines, and be as productive as I know I should be to be more successful. I have also struggled with the uneasy feeling and stress that comes with having too much to do and too little time. And, for the most part, I have overcome them (for the most part).

Alright, with those disclaimers out of the way, here we go,

  • Realize and acknowledge to yourself that you will never, I repeat never, accomplish everything in one day that you need to. Get comfortable with leaving your desk with work to do.
  • Set a start and stop time for working each day. Yes, you may own the business and don’t have “work hours.” No offense, but yes you do. You simply cannot work 24 hours a day, so you have work hours. Pick a time to start each day. Pick a time to end each day. Stick to them. You will accomplish much more when you are on deadlines.
  • Turn off the Toast. The little thing that pops up to alert you of new email is called “Toast.” It steals your time and focus. Turn it off!
  • Put family time, personal time, social time, etc. on your calendar. Schedule it. What’s more important to you: work or family and friends? If you said work, you are weird. Really, you are statistically in the 0.2% of Americans who say that. That 0.2% is also the same group that ends up with heart problems and no friends and die a lonely death at an early age (not confirmed, just assumed). To schedule the time with your friends and family,on your calendar and stick to it.
  • Make time for yourself. Yeah this is a repeat of #4. Get over it and continue to read. Make time (business time and “off-time”) for yourself and stick to it (notice a theme here, make times and stick to them!). Use this time for thinking big things, reading, casting vision for yourself and others, setting goals, relaxing, praying, exercising, whatever.
  • Turn your email off periodically. Really, turn it off. Is it on still now? I’ll wait. OK, all set? Good. Turn off your email for the majority of the day. It’s a distraction that needs to be avoided for 99% of the population (service-oriented people are excused and probably not reading this so who cares,back to those who are). Set three times (or four if email truly is like crack for you) ON YOUR CALENDAR (told ya it’s a theme) and check your email at those times. I do: first thing in the morning from about 8:30-9:30, Right before or after lunch (before if I am having a late lunch, after if I am having an early lunch) for about 45 minutes, and again from 4:15-4:45. I will do one last check at 5:20 which usually takes 5 minutes to see if anything is on fire, and that is it. In the meantime, I am not constantly distracted by emails coming and going and I can do them all at once.
  • The same goes for all the other crap that distracts you: Twitter, Facebook, etc. See, I have uncovered the secret to eliminating distractions, ELIMINATING THEM! Set times to check Twitter, Facebook, etc. just like email. Unless you are literally a social media professional, three times per day is more than enough.
  • Schedule breaks throughout the day. Wow this theme is probably getting old now, but really, schedule some short breaks during the day. Now I am not suggesting you make yourself get a hall pass to go to the bathroom, that’s just weird. But, aside from bathroom breaks, schedule breaks according to your needs. I prefer three or four 5 minute breaks during the day rather than longer ones, but you may prefer taking two 10-15 minute breaks. Schedule them and stick to them.
  • Write out a to-do list the night before for the following day. I will admit, I suck at this. Studies have shown that 15 minutes making a to-do list can save up to TWO HOURS the following day. Don’t make this an ongoing, never-ending list though. In fact, only put stuff on there you plan to do THAT DAY. You can keep another list for long-term projects. Odds are, for most of you, 6-10 things is the sweet spot. Some days it will be less. Some days more. It’s up to you to know your limits and what each project will require.
  • Schedule a once a month “Task Snowball Day.” What? Well I made this idea up using the Dave Ramsey “Debt Snowball” idea. Ramsey’s method for getting out of debt is to pay off your debts smallest to largest. There are all sorts of mathematical and psychological reasons why, but I won’t get into them now. A “Task Snowball Day” should be schedule monthly on a day when you have no pressing matters (meetings or major projects due). What you do simply is take your long-term project list and list them in the order it takes to do them, forgetting importance. Start with the shortest one then the next and so on. Usually on a day like this, I will get through 12-25 projects! At any point in time I may have 40-50 long-term projects/ideas on the table. And in ONE DAY I can eliminate 25-50% of them! That is encouraging and takes a load of my shoulders. Now my list is down to one sheet again!
  • Get more sleep. Do I even need to explain this? Good.
  • Exercise. Schedule this too. It’s important. If all you do is get 15 minutes each day, trust me, it helps! Even during the day, use your breaks to get up and move around. If you are on the phone, make sure you have a headset and walk around. If you are on your cell phone, go for a walk. Do a set of pushups or body weight squats or walk up and down the stairs for 2 minutes.
  • Eat Better. Duh. Post-donut sugar crash = unproductive. (says the man who had two donuts before staff meeting this morning, do as I say, not as I do.)
  • Clean your desk! One big change I made was removing everything on my desk that is in front of me except for one area next to my keyboard with a notepad and my to-do list. A vast empty space exists where clutter used to reign king. It’s refreshing.
  • Have separate work areas. For me, this was huge. I work at the computer on one desk and do everything non-computer at another desk (well folding table in my office). Now I don’t get distracted when I focusing on reading an article or writing a note.

Lastly, I would not try to do all of these things at once. Pick one, do that for a couple of weeks, then another one. Do some research on your own to look for ways. Read a book or two on the subject. I recommend Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” and “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.

I hope those tips help!

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