“Productivity doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be easily boosted through a manageable combination of the right tools, resources, and habits to make the most of your time.” –Caroline Ghosn
What do you have in common with Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos? The same 24 hours a day!
These titans of industry might be widely regarded as some of the most successful business leaders of our generation, but keep in mind that they have the same limitations as you do– they need to sleep, they need to eat, and they have personal lives just like everybody else.
And yet somehow, they manage to accomplish so much on any given day.
Productivity is closely associated with success; we know that hard work and clean living clearly pays off. If your goals include being the best you can be at the workplace, then being incredibly productive is the means to achieving that end.
So the big question is: how can I be more productive at work?
Productivity is a mix of proper time management, goal-setting, having the right mindset, healthy habits, and the drive to get things done. It’s as much as efficiency as it is effectivity. There’s a little bit of creative problem-solving involved. And just like any other skill, it can be learned and mastered over time.
We’ve compiled a good number of tips, hacks, and principles in this article on how to be more productive at the office.
1. Create a To-Do List
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started” –Mark Twain
Much has been said about to-do lists and schedules– it works for some people, while others choose to do away with them somehow.
There’s a correct way to approaching a to-do list. But more than anything, however, a to-do list is an exercise in visualization. Plotting these action items in a handy quick reference (whether written down or on your phone) allows you to better gauge exactly what you need to be done
Go ahead and write down your action items each night for the upcoming day to have a clear idea of what needs to be prioritized.
Then review that list, and identify a maximum of three priority items that need to be done the next day, and then another three or five next priority items that you might be able to tackle once the first three items are done, or perhaps spread out for the rest of the week.
2. Schedule Your Tasks
“Don’t count the days. Make the days count” –Muhammad Ali
Going hand-in-hand with a to-do list is a schedule or a calendar. A well-organized calendar is really just a more evolved to-do list: your list of action items are plotted out strategically throughout your day, your week, your month, or even your year.
This way, you have a better idea of how much time you need to allocate for particular tasks to get them done, and how much time you have left for other things.
Augmenting your task list with a calendar is one of the best things you can do for your productivity.
Just don’t get too caught up checking these throughout the day. Instead, take a couple of minutes each night (and perhaps once in the morning) to revisit your to-do list and calendar, and adjust as you see fit.
3. Work in Blocks of 60 to 90 Minutes
“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” –-Walt Disney
According to Tim Ferris, best-selling author of The 4-Hour Work Week, it is much more efficient to batch or group similar activities together instead of working on several small chunks of different activities.
The idea is that every time you do something, you get into a rhythm of sorts, with your brain acclimatizing to better perform these tasks and putting you “in the zone”.
Leveraging on this momentum in this manner helps you power through similar, related tasks. Which means you might be better off lining up all your meetings in one afternoon or getting all your reports, your writing, or your data entry tasks for the week done in one sitting.
Uninterrupted blocks of 60 to 90 minutes are ideal, so you can this concept to plan your day as well as the rest of your week.
Feel free to adjust this according to your preferences– some people prefer blocks of 25 minutes, others 45, and then there are new studies that suggest the ideal time is 68 minutes (52 minutes of work followed by a 17-minute break).
4. Put First Things First
“Some people exert more energy on less important things; some people exert less energy on less important things.” ―Ernest Agyemang Yeboah
Putting First Things First is a concept popularized by thought leader Stephen Covey in his global bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
In any given day or week, start plotting out the most important things you need to accomplish. First, plot out your uninterrupted blocks of work. Then work in your commitments and other urgent and important tasks into your schedule.
Doing so helps you visualize your day and your week (and perhaps even your month) ahead of you, and even strategizing how to best maximize your time and energy while doing so.
Any free spaces in your calendar can then be filled with other action items or tasks as you see fit. Tasks that are both urgent and important go first, and then other tasks are worked in wherever they can be accommodated.
This way, you have the peace of mind knowing you’ve been able to get your priority action items done, and you know exactly how much time you have left for not-so-important and not-so-urgent items.
5. Set SMART Goals
“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” –Tony Robbins
Proper goal-setting is one of the most important components of productivity. Remember: it’s not enough to just state your goals. For best results, your goals have to be SMART— specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.
Start off by clearly defining your goals in no uncertain terms. Your progress must be measurable, so you know you’re moving in the right direction, and that you have an end in mind.
Next, make sure your goals are realistic– something you can reasonably accomplish, and attainable– something you can achieve given the resources available on hand.
Lastly, set a deadline so you get spurred into action with a sense of urgency.
7. Explore Timeboxing
“Perfect is the enemy of done.” –Catherine Carrigan
A practical approach to SMART goals is the practice of Timeboxing, which limits a particular set of tasks (preparing a sales presentation, for example) with a little chunk of time (let’s use 45 minutes in this case).
So in this scenario, whatever it is you’ve accomplished for the sales presentation within the allotted 45 minutes should be enough, and you should then move on to your next action item.
What timeboxing does is help curb perfectionist tendencies by putting a deadline to your tasks, so you don’t overthink or otherwise spend way too much time bogged down by one item.
Timeboxing remains one of the most effective productivity tools for a lot of people. The increased sense of urgency also forces you to be more creative and more focused on the task on hand.
8. Stop Multitasking
“When we think we’re multitasking we’re actually multi-switching. That is what the brain is very good at doing – quickly diverting its attention from one place to the next. We think we’re being productive. We are, indeed, being busy. But in reality, we’re simply giving ourselves extra work.” ―-Michael Harris
Studies suggest that you lose 40% of your productivity as you multitask. Multitasking is more accurately described as “task switching”, and as your brain switches quickly from one task to the next, you lose your momentum and your rhythm.
Not only are you more prone to making errors and missing details, but it also has the long-term effect of lowering your IQ.
Focus on one task at a time, give it a hundred per cent, and get it done.
9. Get Rid of Your Distractions
“It’s hard to edit. It’s hard to stay focused. And yet, we know we’ll only do our best work if we stay focused. And so, you know, the hardest decisions we made are all the things not to work on, frankly.” –Tim Cook
In line with staying focused on work is getting distractions completely out of the way. Research shows that even a short 3-second distraction is enough to completely derail your work.
Turn off your notifications so you don’t get tempted to check your social media accounts every so often. Avoid clicking on links to articles or videos that won’t help you finish the task on hand. Answer your emails and phone calls later when you’re done.
Let your colleagues, and even your friends and family know when you shouldn’t be disturbed, at least not until you’re done with your tasks.
10. Embrace Technology
“Technology’s always taken jobs out of the system, and what you hope is that technology’s going to put those jobs back in, too. That’s what we call productivity.” –Marc Benioff
Fortunately for us, we now have access to a wealth of applications and services that help us get more organized, manage our time better, and collaborate with others.
Here are some of the more popular apps you might want to consider using to help boost your productivity:
- Evernote – for compiling your notes and syncing these across all your devices
- Momentum – for tracking your goals and routines
- Toggl – a popular app for tracking time
- Trello – a popular project management tool
- Yast – for tracking productivity and performance even among teams and team members
- Dropbox – a cloud-based storage service for your most important files
- OneNote – a digital note-taking app from Microsoft
- Slack – a popular team collaboration tool
- Asana – great for organizing teams, projects, and tasks in one space
- G Suite (Google for Business) – a suite of tools for business that ties directly into your Gmail account.
- Time Doctor – a time-tracking and team productivity tool
- ToDoIst – a mobile app to help you get organized and keep track of things
- StayFocusd – a great app to help minimize distractions and keep you stay on track
Note: you don’t have to use all these tools. Depending on the kind of work that you do, and what you need to accomplish, go ahead and pick the right mix of tools to help you get the job done.
11. Observe The 2-Minute Rule
“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.” —-Tina Fey
In his productivity manifesto Getting Things Done, one of the most popular concepts brought forward by bestselling author David Allen is the “2-Minute Rule”.
Simply put, if an action takes less than two minutes, do it now. Quickly responding to an important email, properly filing some reports, quickly organizing your desk, and so on.
This simple mindset keeps the momentum going for you, beating procrastination, and even helps build new productive habits.
Don’t get swamped or overwhelmed by a swarm of small tasks though. Allot just a little bit of time in between blocks of work. The idea is to keep all these little things from building up so you can focus on even more important, more value-building action items.
12. Take Breaks (After You’ve Earned Them)
“Do something nice for yourself today. Find some quiet, sit in stillness, breathe. Put your problems on pause. You deserve a break.” -―Akiroq Brost
Taking a break from work every now and then has proven to be great for your long-term productivity. Breaks in between blocks of work keep you refreshed, motivated, and focused while having the added benefit of also improving your creativity and learning.
You’re less as likely to get burned out at work, while still allowing for a relatively generous amount of time to take things easy (and do other things you want to do).
Many popular productivity techniques, such as Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoro technique, accounts for breaks as much as intervals of work.
Productivity coach Leon Chaudhari encourages you to organize your time into a 10-minute block of focused work, followed by a 2-minute break, repeated five times in an hour. This way, you get 50 minutes of productivity each hour, with 10 minutes to relax a bit.
Feel free to make your own adjustments– as each person might have an ideal amount of time to get some razor-sharp focused work done, as long as you put in 5 minutes of work for every 1-minute break in between.
13. Do Your Meetings Right
“When leaders know how to lead great meetings, there’s less time wasted and less frustration. We have more energy to do the work that matters, realize our full potential, and do great things.” –Justin Rosenstein
It’s no wonder many successful entrepreneurs see meetings as evil. When not properly handled, meetings can easily suck you into a black hole of non-productivity.
Here are a few things to remember for effective meetings: Set a clear agenda and a clear goal for each meeting. No agenda, no goal, no meeting. Respect others’ time– so don’t run late. Set a definite time and duration and stick to it. Prepare beforehand and anticipate questions that might be asked of you.
If you can avoid meetings in the first place, or if you can get things done differently, such as via email or a messaging group where everyone can answer when they’re less busy, then, by all means, go for it.
Steve Jobs prefers short, productive meetings with fewer participants. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has a “two-pizza rule” when it comes to meetings, suggesting that you should not invite more people to a meeting then you can feed with two pizzas. Meanwhile, Richard Branson wants meeting participants to make notes and not rely solely on PowerPoint presentations.
14. The “No Meeting Day” Rule
“For me, true luxury can be caviar or a day with no meetings, no appointments and no schedule.” –Michael Kors
In the early days of Facebook, co-founder Dustin Moskovitz (who has also cofounded team productivity app Asana) regularly engaged in meetings to raise funds to further scale the fledgling social network but was also heavily involved in the design and development of the tech behind the product.
Realizing he and the team needed to come up with a good product, one rule Dustin Moskovitz established earlier on was to have one day of every week completely free of meetings. This way, he can focus on the continued development of Facebook– building it up, making it better, and making it more attractive to investors.
Today, Moskovitz still implements this rule in Asana, and other companies all over the world have adopted this approach as well.
15. A Healthier, Happier You
“I like work/life separation, not work/life balance. What I mean by that is, if I’m on, I want to be on and maximally productive. If I’m off, I don’t want to think about work. When people strive for work/life balance, they end up blending them. That’s how you end up checking email all day Saturday.” –Tim Ferriss
Remember, productivity is more than just awesome time management and goal-setting. There’s a reason why a lot of companies invest just as much into wellness programs for employees– because healthier, happier employees are the best kind of employees.
So don’t forget to invest in other aspects of your life to be even more productive or to keep staying productive at the very least.
Get out of bed early. Make the effort to get some regular exercise. Have a care with what you eat. Get a solid block of uninterrupted sleep so you feel well-rested enough to take on the day ahead. Stay hydrated with lots of water. Maybe even try some meditation to help clear your mind.
Taking a balanced life outside of work, and giving yourself enough time for some rest and recreation is good for you. And nothing beats a healthy, positive attitude that comes from living a life of happiness and harmony.
16. Treat Yo’self
“For Christmas I do gift bags for my friends and the cast, and I put ‘treat yo self’ key chains in there. And people send me pictures of ‘treat yo self’ all the time.” –Retta
One of the best ways to keep yourself motivated is to incorporate rewards and recognition into your productivity system. Once you complete a significant amount of work, go right ahead and get something you really want for yourself to make you feel good.
You might decide to have a nice dinner at the end of the week, or even further delay gratification and go on an all-out day of fun like a well-earned shopping spree or a vacation after months of hard work– whatever works for you.
Treating yourself helps train your brain to focus on more goal-oriented tasks by tapping into your emotions, and keeps you happy in the long run. Happier people are far more productive than people who aren’t!
17. Hang Out With a Good Circle of Friends
“My success was due to good luck, hard work, and support and advice from friends and mentors. But most importantly, it depended on me to keep trying after I had failed.” –Mark Warner
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.
If you’d like to be more productive, then perhaps you should consider surrounding yourself with people who have the same mindset, ambitions, and can-do attitude as you do.
Not only can you help push each other to achieve more, but being able to brainstorm and discuss with like-minded people goes a long way towards further enriching your own knowledge and capabilities.
“When you waste a moment, you have killed it in a sense, squandering an irreplaceable opportunity. But when you use the moment properly, filling it with purpose and productivity, it lives on forever.” –Menachem Mendel Schneerson
There are dozens of other productivity tips, hacks, and techniques available online which we have yet to include in our list. We all know that being productive at work leads to advancements in your career, continued business growth, and contributes greatly to your development as a person.
Clarity, focus, and a sense of urgency all form the basis of excellent productivity, allowing you to properly set goals, eliminate distractions, and keep powering through your tasks on hand.
But don’t forget that productivity is a long-term game, so keep things sustainable and look for opportunities to improve yourself further. You’re the goose that lays the golden eggs, so take care of yourself by attending to your personal needs and relationships as well.