There are plenty of productivity and efficiency-related articles out there, most of which I’ve found to be formulaic, unachievable, unrealistic, or at best, repetitive. Here are six realistic tips to increase your productivity that are both efficient and easily achievable.
1. Have an overall plan for your day but be flexible and realistic.
Don’t allow yourself to set unrealistic expectations; if you do, you’ll easily be frustrated or stressed out. Look at your expectations from YOUR point of view, not your manager(s); they aren’t the ones doing your work.Try using the Pomodoro Technique: a time management method that involves working in intervals of 25 minutes and taking a short break between each interval. Avoid scheduling back-to-back meetings—we all know that the first meeting will run long because Chatty Kathy and Joker John are involved, which will affect the remainder of your day. It’s not always under your control, but you can always add 15 minutes to the length of every meeting on your calendar so coworkers can see you as unavailable for those few minutes.
2. Prioritize your tasks by two categories: Vital and Everything Else.
Start by adding everything you want or need to get done, then go back through and mark only the things that are absolutely vital to you, your clients, or your company that you complete that day. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll likely see that the list of things you thought were critical gets cut down quite a bit.
I think we believe everything we do in our workday is important, so by default we want to try to get everything done, and that’s just not realistic. It is also probably why so many of us suffer from burnout.
3. Stay organized and avoid distractions.
Keep your workspace clean and free of distracting doo-dads. It’s amazing how you can lose 10 minutes of your day goofing around with that bobblehead you won at the last corporate retreat. The more things you have on your desk, the more time you’ll spend moving them around and fiddling with them. And don’t forget that every time somebody walks up to your desk, they’ll inevitably require you to spend five to ten minutes explaining how and why you acquired that bobblehead!
It’s unrealistic to try to keep your personal life completely out of your work day. But you can certainly avoid using your personal social media accounts, and limit your emails and phone calls to the vital ones (there’s that vital word again). Turn off notifications on your phone and smartwatch, or if you’re an iPhone user, set up a new Focus setting for the workday so distractions are limited to only the people and things you choose.
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4. Stay healthy and motivated.
It’s so easy to get deep into the weeds during any given workday, so be sure to take care of yourself. Make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day and eat healthy snacks to keep your energy levels up. Avoid heavy foods at lunch like hamburgers, fries, and pretty much all the other typical fast foods.
Be sure you take breaks. We’ve all skipped lunch before, but even when that happens it’s important to step away for 10 minutes. Go for a walk. Outside. You know, away from everyone and everything you’re normally surrounded by.
Going back to the first tip, be sure to set achievable goals, and don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back when you accomplish them. It sounds trivial, but it will help you stay motivated and focused.
5. Use technology to your advantage.
This varies depending on what you do, but no matter what, it’s self-explanatory. That being said, do NOT waste your energy with time/task management apps, zero inbox techniques, or any other “getting things done” software. Inevitably, you’ll spend more time fiddling with these apps than you will actually getting those things done.
This is particularly important when it comes to email. It’s a great way to communicate when used properly, but more often than not it’s nothing more than a time-suck. The time you spend trying to organize and schedule emails you need to respond to far outweighs the time it takes to simply respond to the vital (gosh, I love that word) ones.
You can also employ my personal favorite technique: hit the delete key. That’s right, I said to delete that email; it was probably a stupid question that could have easily been Googled to get the answer. Often coworkers will use email as a way to put off doing their own research and thinking. Those people will figure things out on their own anyway, or at worst they will send another email later.
At the very least, save up your answers for one of your breaks throughout the day and walk down to the person’s office to answer them verbally. I guarantee you can visit three or four people and answer them faster than you can reply with thoughtful answers in an email. Plus you get some much-needed face time with your coworkers which can also help you in the stay healthy and motivated category.
6. Do it right.
We’re all busy, and always on the hunt for ways to get things done faster. But it’s (one more time here) VITAL that you do it the right way, not the fast way. I’m not saying you simply slow down from your normal cadence of work in an effort to be perfect. That’s just not going to happen. But take whatever time it takes to do a thorough job. Once. Spending 45 minutes doing a job right is so much faster than spending an hour and a half doing it over again. Plus you’ll have that extra few minutes to fix any errors or overlooked items because as I said, nobody is perfect.
Think about HOW you accomplish a task, and how spending a little extra time now can save significant time on the same or similar projects in the future. Doing it right also helps keep you mentally healthy and motivated.
These six tips are my “foundation” for efficiency and getting more out of myself during the work day. While I have a bunch of other helpful tips, as I’m sure you do, I’ve found that if I at least stick with these six, I’m a lot more productive without expending a whole lot of energy.