Striving for productivity? – here is your guide
Imagine that one day you come to work, take a quick look at your to-do list, make a coffee and get straight to work, no distractions along the way. Imagine that you cross tasks off your list one by one and finish work feeling satisfied that you’ve managed to do everything you planned for the day. Now you can go home and give your brain a break. Sounds like something that hasn’t happened to you in a long time? If so, and you’re looking for reasons behind your problems with productivity, read this productivity guide to find out how to solve them for good and finally be able to get more done. Or at least you can try some of these methods and get back to your favorite chaotic style with with a clear conscience.
What is productivity?
Take a moment to think how you would define productivity. If you google it, you’ll find various definitions, such as “the ability to do as much work as possible in a particular period” (Cambridge Dictionary), “a measure of the efficiency of a person in converting inputs into useful outputs” (Business Dictionary) or “various measures of the efficiency of production” (Wikipedia). But what does it actually mean for you? What results do you expect when looking for ways to increase productivity? Let’s see what the hype is all about…
What you should take into account when thinking about the definition of productivity is the difference between workforce productivity and personal productivity. Workforce productivity is the total amount of goods and services workers produce in a certain period, while personal productivity is the relevant output of an individual in a certain period. Why is it important? Because it’s only your personal productivity that you can directly influence so you shouldn’t blame yourself if the level of workforce productivity in your team or company is too low. What you can do instead is think of ways to boost your personal productivity, which will then contribute to an increase in the collective productivity of your team.
The distinction is also important from the point of view of employees, because they may have a hard time trying to raise workforce productivity unless they help their employees maximise their personal productivity first.
How to increase productivity in the workplace?
Improved performance starts with employee engagement. That’s why it’s important that employers do their best to create conditions in which employees can unfold their full potential. What can they do exactly?
Provide the right tools and equipment
Good quality equipment can work wonders for employee productivity. With an efficient computer and a big screen you’ll be able to complete your tasks one by one, instead of worrying about slowly loading pages and jumping from one tab to another. And nobody wants to waste time trying to figure out how to print out an important document when the printer is not responding. That’s why it’s important that equipment provided to employees works properly and assistance is available whenever necessary.
Apart from hardware, it’s also vital to provide employees with efficient collaboration tools which will structure the workflow and facilitate communication in the team, such as HeySpace. Thanks to that, processes in the company will speed up and employees will collaborate in a more effective way.
Improve workplace conditions
Another important thing is to take care of the workplace conditions. Even seemingly trivial matters, such as temperature, can make a difference for employee productivity, not to mention some space to focus and work in silence, when necessary.
What employers should also take into account are the differences in peak productivity of their employees. None of us is able to stay productive for 8 hours straight and that’s known for a fact. But what’s equally important is that every employee can have their peak productivity at a different time of the day. That’s why it’s a good idea to offer flexible working hours and let employees decide when they can be their most productive selves.
Take care of employees’ wellbeing
Satisfied employees are the most productive employees. That’s why it’s important to set realistic goals and reward them for their successes. Offering career growth opportunities will motivate the team and positive reinforcement will give them a reason to do their best. However, what’s equally important is to take care of atmosphere of openness and equality. Making sure conflicts are resolved before they grow out of control and providing employees with opportunities for discussions and brainstorming is absolutely necessary for improving their collaboration and, therefore, productivity.
The benefits of increasing employee productivity for employers are quite obvious, but what do we gain personally?
How can you benefit from increasing your personal productivity?
Increasing your personal productivity will have a positive influence on your performance and will give your professional career a boost. But that’s not the only positive outcome for yourself. If, like many other people, you constantly think that you’re not doing enough and feel bad about it, finding a way to increase your personal productivity will help you get more motivated and grow your self-confidence. You will no longer feel guilty of not showing your full potential, which will help you relieve your stress and anxiety.
Factors influencing personal productivity
Let’s now think about the factors which affect our personal productivity, both external and internal ones, and whether we can do something about them. If you ignore those factors, even the most effective productivity guides and techniques will be useless.
There’s probably nothing more distracting in this day and age than mobile phones. If we have a mobile phone on the desk all the time, it’s hard to resist the temptation to reach for it every now and then and scroll through the social media newsfeed or read a message when you see the message light blinking. That’s why it’s much easier to focus if you put your mobile phone in a place which is not within your sight or turn off the internet connection not to get distracted with notifications. After a while, you will forget about the temptation and be able to focus completely on what you’re doing.
It might be a good idea to customise the settings of your company communication channels as well, as it’s not easy to stay productive when you have to reply to messages of your colleagues all the time. And if your team mates keep interrupting your work with questions or requests, don’t hesitate to tell them you’re not available at the moment and get back to them once you finish.
As much as work environment can help increase productivity, it can also hinder it considerably. That’s why it’s important to prepare your surroundings accordingly before you get to work. The temperature should be neither too low nor to high, as both can hold back your productivity, and your desk should be clean and tidy. The more messy it gets, the more things can distract you from your tasks. It’s also difficult to find what you need, when you have dirty dishes, unnecessary documents and tangled cables all over your desk. The same applies to documents and files which you store on your computer, so make sure you keep them well-organised and always know where to find what you’re looking for.
Once you make sure that the basic things are taken care of, think about the ergonomics of your workspace. Since you probably spend most of your day sitting at your desk, workspace ergonomics is particularly important for your health and wellbeing. What aspects should you take care of?
First of all, make sure your chair is comfortable and adjustable, so that you can change the seat height and the position of the backrest. It’s best if you can adjust it not only up and down but also set the most convenient angle. The same applies to arm rests – you should be able to adjust the position so that your arms are relaxed when you’re typing. Also, the chair shouldn’t be too hard and should be made of breathable fabric. It’s best if it’s a swivel chair, so that you can reach for something comfortably and without unnecessary effort.
It is equally important to set the hardware properly, so make sure your monitor is placed at eye level and you can work comfortably with your mouse and keyboard. What may seem like a small thing can actually make a big difference in the long run.
How you feel has a great impact on your level of productivity. You’re only able to work productively if you satisfy your most basic needs. Don’t underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep – it’s crucial to let your brain have proper rest if you want it to work at full capacity. Most people try to figure out how to get more things done at the expense of sleep, while it’s actually the other way around – you’re only able to be productive if you get enough sleep. Also, take care of your diet and never start working when you’re hungry. Take your time to eat something and you’ll be much more efficient when you get to work, but don’t eat too much, as it can make you sleepy and tired, rather than energetic.
You’ll also be much more productive if you take up some physical activity to let your brain relax and recharge the batteries. Exercise raises your energy levels and battles stress, which makes you work more effectively, helps stay healthy and feel better overall.
It’s probably happened to you that when you were trying to focus on an important task and suddenly all you could think of was some stressful situation or approaching deadlines. Stress is a big distractor and the best thing you could do is to avoid it altogether, but we all know that’s not possible. That’s why you should rather learn to cope with stressful situations and not let distracting thoughts hold back your productivity. One way to do it is by practising mindfulness. Thanks to that you will be able to fully focus on your tasks and won’t be so easily distracted.
The way you organise your work has a big impact on your productivity level. It’s difficult to get to work without a good plan and if you don’t take get organised, your work will get chaotic and you’ll end up frustrated with how little you managed to do. To avoid it, start off your day by making a to-do list and stick to it throughout your day. It will help you get a sense of achievement and motivate you to work more effectively. It helps if you work with a calendar, so that everything is well-planned and put in appropriate time frames. It also helps if you set clear goals and work towards them day by day. You can decide yourself whether you prefer to set daily, weekly or monthly goals, but it’s good to have them clearly defined. And as difficult as it may be, try to avoid procrastination. Putting tasks which you don’t like off for later will only make it more difficult to complete them. It’s better to start from them and cross them off your to-do list as fast as possible.
Having all that in mind, remember not to expect that you will be productive all the time – no one is. Listen to yourself and accept the productivity drops that happen every now and then. You’re just a human and you can’t have everything under control. What you can do, on the other hand, is to find a productivity technique that will work best for you and suit the character of your work.
The most popular productivity techniques
Getting Things Done
Getting Things Done is currently one of the most popular technique present in almost every productivity guide, described by David Allen in his book of the same title. The method helps to get organised and stay productive by adopting the right approach to planning and prioritising tasks. The basic prerequisite for the technique is to clear your mind of everything you’ve got planned. The way you should go about it is to jot them down and put them into categories based on clusters of actions which are related and can be done one by one. You should, for instance, make all phone calls you’ve got planned at the same time, schedule meetings one by one or reply to all important messages at one go. Thanks to that, you will do the tasks faster and more effectively than if you were to combine them with unrelated activities.
To keep the list of tasks up-to-date, you should review it weekly in order to remove all tasks which are not necessary, plan new ones and define the priorities for the near future. A good way of doing this is to use a task management tool with a kanban board.
If you decide to adopt the Getting Things Done technique, bear in mind five steps of getting organised. First of all, you should capture everything – your to-dos, plans, ideas, etc., and note them down in a notebook or an app as soon as it happens. Then, clarify things to do by breaking them down into actionable items. At this stage you should also decide whether there is anything you can do straight away, a short task that doesn’t require much effort and if so, do it. If it’s not, though, decide whether you should put it into your planner or delegate it. All the actionable items – those which you will do yourself – should then be properly organised. Put them into the right categories, assign due dates and prioritise appropriately. Once you’ve done it, reflect on your to-do list. See what the next action is and if there’s anything that needs breaking down into smaller tasks, this is the right time to do it. The last step is to engage with your tasks and get to work. You will no longer have a hard time deciding what you should do next, as everything is clearly depicted on your to-do list. And remember to review the list regularly, to make sure it helps you stay productive.
The technique is a perfect solution for individuals, but it can just as well be useful in organising the workflow in a team or as an addition to a workflow management framework used in a company.
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a popular time-management method, created in 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. Adopting this technique, you break your worktime into 25-minute parts, separated by 5-minute breaks. The intervals are called pomodoros – after four of them, you take a longer break of about 15-20 minutes.
The aim of the Pomodoro Technique is to make you fully focus on your tasks and give you a sense of urgency. Instead of feeling that you have a full workday to do your tasks, you squeeze them into the pomodoros, which might seem short, but if used to the fullest, can help you do more than you would otherwise do. On top of that, making short and longer breaks gives your mind time to relax and then helps avoid distractions during the periods when you actually undertake to focus.
The technique definitely requires a lot of determination at the beginning, as you need to adhere to strict timing rules and not everyone finds it easy. It might be tempting to make the breaks longer or to go on with a task for more than 25 minutes. But once you get into the habit of sticking to the time frames, it might turn up to be more efficient than you’d think. It’s been an eye-opening experience for some that you can actually do more if you shorten your worktime.
To make the method easier to implement, you should use a timer or download an app and there are plenty of apps and websites facilitating the technique. Don’t get discouraged too quickly – the system is very easy, but you do need some time to get used to it. According to the official Pomodoro website, it might take from seven to twenty days of constant use to truly master the technique. Take the time to really see if it can help you increase your productivity and the ability to focus in the long run.
Eat That Frog
The Eat That Frog technique has been introduced by a self-help guru, Brian Tracy. He was inspired by the words of Mark Twain, who said: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” The quote is an apt metaphor for productivity and gave rise to the Eat That Frog Technique, which is also a very effective cure for procrastination. What is it about? Tracy’s premise was that if you cope with the most difficult or the most important thing on your to-do list first thing in the morning, you will go through the day much more productive, knowing that it’s probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you. And that’s your frog. It can be a task you’re likely to procrastinate on, one that you’d otherwise avoid doing or something that’s going to have the biggest impact on your life.
The reason for poor productivity might be bad management of your to-dos. It’s often the case that even though you’ve drawn up a fine to-do list (which is a must in this technique), when you get to work, you start from the smallest tasks just to get them over with, because you know how much time or effort the big tasks will take. In the end, you don’t have enough time to get to it and when the deadline is looming, you end up being frustrated. What if you did it first and instead of being discouraged, felt satisfied? It would probably motivate you to do more and let you do your less demanding tasks when your productivity is not at its peak.
The technique teaches you how to prioritise your tasks and focus on your objectives while striving for increased productivity. Maybe it will encourage you to build a habit that will help you be more productive and feel satisfied with achieving your goals? Or maybe you’ll get to like frogs. 🙂
The ABCDE Method
Another technique which depicts prioritising as the key to productivity is the ABCDE method. If you want to adopt this method, just like for many other techniques, what you need to start with is a to-do list. Take a moment to think about the tasks you want to get done and your objectives for doing them. Then, instead of getting straight to work, start from the first task on your list and, one by one, try to assess how important they are. That’s important because it’s natural for your brain to choose the tasks which are less challenging and require less energy before the more demanding ones, but they might not be the ones you should devote your time to in the first place. The ABCDE method encourages you to consider the real value of your tasks so once you’ve prepared a to-do list, you should assign one letter to them: A, B, C, D or E, according to their priority. ‘A’ goes for the most important ones and ‘E’ for those with the least priority.
When assigning the priority, try to do it in a reasonable way – you can’t have too many things with the highest priority, as that’s not the point of drawing up the list. Once you’ve finished, number tasks with the same priority level to put them in order and know what to do first. And then just get to work! You’ll see how much easier it becomes to decide what you should focus on.
You can use the method for any period of time and prepare a new list every day or just once a week. Choose the option that best suits your needs to make the most of it.
The Pareto Principle
The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. It’s reflected in many areas of business – for example, 20% of clients generate 80% of income or 20% of your marketing messages account for 80% of your campaign results – and our everyday life – like when you wear 20% of your clothes for 80% of time. So what does it have to do with productivity? It does a lot and that’s why you should learn to use it to your benefit.
Even though it might seem like the Pareto Principle suggests you should work less, it’s definitely not the case. Instead, it shows that you should reconsider what you put the most effort into and whether these are the things that will bring the most effects. To be more productive, then, you should look for areas which are well worth your effort and focus on them more, leaving the less important ones aside sometimes. So, when drawing up a to-do list, put the tasks that will deliver the biggest results first and focus on them for more time than on the less important ones. Thanks to that, you’ll be more productive and you’ll start to deliver better results.
The Ivy Lee Method
The Ivy Lee Method is a simple, yet powerful method whose premise is to learn to prioritise. It’s named after a productivity consultant, Ivy Lee, who proved the method efficient to a successful businessman Charles M. Schwab. He wanted Lee to show him a way to get more things done and what Lee asked for was 15 minutes with each of his executives, during which he explained to them a simple routine that helped him increase productivity.
He started the routine at the end of each work day by writing six most important things that needed to be accomplished – and no more than six. Then, he would prioritise the tasks in the order of importance. The next day, he would arrive at work and concentrate solely on the first task, working until it’s finished and only then moving on to the next one, and so on. If there was something left on his list at the end of the day, he would move it to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
As simple as it may seem, it proved very effective. Why was it the case? First of all, the method’s effectiveness lies with its simplicity. It’s never effective to over-complicate things and usually the simplest solutions work best. Secondly, it makes you choose tasks wisely and leaves no room for unnecessary or irrelevant ones. You will no longer feel overwhelmed and you’ll be able to focus completely on what’s important. Also, you will find it easy to decide what to start with when you come to work, so you will eliminate the non-productive time in the morning. And last but not least, you’ll be forced to single-task and it’s proved to be much more effective than multi-tasking.
Never Check Email Before Noon
The technique is based on the premise that we tend to waste our mental energy on planning and worrying about approaching deadlines too much and it distracts us from what we should really focus on. Every task you add to your to-do list throughout a day makes a part of your focus go to the task. When you open your email in the morning and see all the messages you need to respond to, the same thing happens, and so on. That’s why, to free your brain from the distractors, you should set a deadline by which you will not check your inbox. As the name of the method suggests, it could be noon, but if that’s not feasible for you, you can just as well set any other deadline and stick to it.
What does it help you achieve? You’ll be able to focus on your tasks and priorities instead of some else’s ones and you will no longer be distracted by the thought of how much you need to add to your to-do list. Instead, you can focus on crossing some tasks off your list and only then go on to checking what else needs to be done. The technique gives you more of what is the most precious of your resources and that is time to focus on your priorities.
The Eisenhower Box
Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States, lived one of the most productive lives you could imagine. But that’s not the only thing he’s known for. He was also a general in the US Army, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, launched programs that led to the development of the Interstate Highway System in the US, the launch of the internet, NASA and use of alternative energy sources. And that’s not even the end of the list. How come he managed to do so much? He remained extremely productive throughout his life and it’s the ability that let him become so successful.
His productivity technique, known as the Eisenhower Box, is a strategy for taking action and organising your tasks. What you need to do is use a decision-making matrix which will separate your tasks based on four categories:
- urgent and important
- important, but not urgent
- urgent, but not important
- neither urgent nor important
Urgent tasks are ones that you need to react to, such as emails, phone calls, etc. while important tasks are ones that contribute to you long-term goals.
Starting from the first category, these are the tasks you should do immediately, then those which should be scheduled for later, then tasks which you will delegate to someone else and the rest just needs to be eliminated. As simple as that, the technique helps decide what’s worth your time and what’s not and focus on your objectives, rather than waste time doing things that seem to contribute to your productivity, while they’re in fact not valuable at all.
Kanban is a project management system which is at the same time simple and powerful. It can significantly increase your personal level of productivity and that of your team as well. Kanban is a an agile framework commonly used in software development and can be successfully implemented for any other area, as it’s easy to customise and brings many benefits.
To be able to implement kanban, you need a kanban board – you can use a kanban-based task management tool or a regular whiteboard and sticky notes, whatever works for you. Then you should divide your project into categories, such as: To Do, Doing and Done, but you can just as well come up with your own categories. The most important thing is to reflect the stages of a project. All tasks within the project should be divided between the categories and their status should be updated on a regular basis. If you use a task management app, it’s a good practice to set deadlines and enable reminders to make it even easier for you to focus on what’s important.
The framework is perfect for your personal productivity, allowing you to plan your backlog and see the progress of tasks. At the same time, it works great for team productivity, as it gives everyone a clear overview of the workflow and lets them see the bigger picture. You can also set up your kanban board in HeySpace.
A good approach to setting goals is a successful goal-setting strategy. It helps you stay focused and manage your expectations. Thanks to that, your productivity increases and you can see a steady progress. Hence another productivity method, namely SMART goals that you can find useful.
Why SMART? The name is an acronym which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. And that’s what your goals should be like.
Make your goal specific by stating clearly what needs to be done and what measures should be taken in order to make it happen. No matter what your goal is, you need to define it clearly to be able to approach it appropriately.
The next step is to make sure your goal is measurable. It means that you need to be able to measure the progress in order to see its impact on your performance. You can for example describe how you will know the goal has been achieved.
Then ask yourself whether the goal is achievable. And it should be. Make sure the goal is based on thorough research, a needs analysis or is a follow-up to your previous goals. Setting an unrealistic goal will make you feel discouraged and won’t add up to your productivity.
Have in mind the reasons behind your goal and what it will let you achieve. Another important thing is that every goal should fit in with your strategy and broader objectives. In other words, it should be relevant and should bring you real value once reached.
Last but not least, think about the time frame for your goal. It’s very important as it will help you stay focused on the goal and motivated to achieve it.
Example of SMART goal: “Eat 5 Big Kahunas Burgers by the end of March 2020.”
The Inbox Zero technique focuses on the impact of your email inbox on your productivity. First of all – don’t delete now all your emails without reading them. It might save your time, but it won’t work in the long term. 😉
The technique has two basic rules. First is called a 2-minute rule and states that if an email response takes less than 2 minutes, you should reply immediately rather than put it off for later. You’ll get over with the email and it will no longer distract you. The rest of your emails should be forwarded to your task management tool and treated as other tasks. You can set due date, prioritise them and you’ll be sure it won’t slip your memory. You can then follow up on the message when you have time and when you’re ready.
The simple technique will let you prevent your inbox from becoming yet another to-do list and will help you avoid getting distracted every time you receive an email which takes time to reply to. And of course, there’s no need to keep an eye on your inbox all the time. Instead, you can allocate come time during your work day to reading and replying to emails ad forwarding them to your task management tool.
Timeboxing, as the name suggests, helps you increase your productivity by managing time effectively. According to this technique, you work the most productively if you put some structure into your daily routine. You can do it by categorising your tasks and allocating particular periods of time to specific types of work. To do it, you need to split your day into time boxes and assign your tasks to them so that you avoid interruptions and can focus completely on one type of work.
You will do your tasks faster and more efficiently if they are similar rather than you do unrelated tasks one by one, as each of them requires some time to get into. This technique can be successfully combined with other techniques, for instance with the Zero Inbox technique.
How to choose the best productivity technique?
Since the choice of productivity techniques is so big, you might end up confused as to how to choose one for yourself. Well, there is certainly not one technique that works for everyone, so the best way to go about choosing one is to, first of all, think about the character of your work and the most important things you need to focus on. Then, take into account your personality type, as some methods are definitely not for everyone. At the same time, observe your productivity peaks and find methods which best reflect them. Trust your intuition and once you eliminate some techniques which don’t seem convincing, try the rest out yourself and see which is the most suitable for yourself. Then just stick to it and you’ll see the results.
And remember to be understanding for yourself and not feel bad if you’re less productive at times – it happens to everyone. You just need some time to rest and recharge your batteries and if so, do it. Your productivity will only increase if you’re relaxed and motivated!
We hope you’ve enjoyed our productivity guide. Let us know what you think in comments.