By Jennifer Marsden-Lambert
We all know productivity at work is best achieved by setting priorities, managing time and avoiding the distractions that make us forget what we set out do.
So, identify which tips work in your routine, and give yourself a few ground rules to ensure you stick to it!
Tip 1: Be proactive. Use the first 5-10 minutes of the day to work out the top 3-5 most important jobs to complete. A word of caution: checking your messages, even if it’s just to see what your priorities are, can lead to you getting swept up in tasks that aren’t your main priorities. So, it is best to start with a quick list of goals for the day first. Then, plan in time for new priorities and let people know when you be able to fit in the extra work.
Tip 2: Create a rhythm. Productivity depends on getting to know your rhythm and that of those around you. When is your boss likely to ask for something? When is your energy level higher? Organise tasks by the time of day when you are best able to give them attention. For many people, this means doing tasks that are harder-to-accomplish in the morning when they are more alert. Leave work that requires less concentration for times when you feel tired.
Tip 3: Practice ‘chunking’. Identify the activities that help you achieve your main objectives and set aside time for these. Often, people find they are distracted by urgent work and neglect the important work that ensure we meet our goals. To avoid this, plan your day in bitesize chunks of time. If you have a particularly big piece of work, break it down into chunks and if you have lots of small tasks, chunk these together. If it helps, you could set a timer to remind you when to change to the next ‘chunk’ of time. Alternatively, block out time in your diary for each chunk of work. You can always update your list throughout the day as your priorities change.
Tip 4: Plan for the unexpected. Most of us need to spend a portion of our day on reactive work such as requests or urgent queries from others. However, it is easy to allow these tasks to take over our whole day which makes it hard to complete priorities. Checking your messages whenever a notification pops up can cause you to lose focus on the task you are working on. Instead, plan to respond to these unscheduled interruptions (unless they are really critical!). Some people block out specific times in their day for reactive work. Or, use a timer and spend 30 minutes working then allocate 30 minutes to handle any queries.
Tip 5: Understand the structure of tasks. All tasks fall into certain categories – some require very little thinking, others require a lot of thought. Some work is quick to complete, whilst other work takes a long time. Some tasks are requested by people senior to us, and some are to help a colleague. As you get better at recognising the structure of tasks, it helps us make faster decisions when prioritising and planning. Overtime, you will develop habits of how and when to tackle them according to these patterns and become more efficient.
Tip 6: Manage feeling overwhelmed. Feeling overwhelmed can cause us to procrastinate. How often do you find yourself thinking, “I have so much to do, I don’t know where to start.”? Or, “This is going to take me forever, and I don’t have the time”? Instead, be constructive about what you will be able to prioritise in the time you have. This approach can diminish guilt and stress, plus help you feel a sense of achievement.
Tip 7: Just do it. Sometimes we find ourselves being indecisive. In this case, it’s best just to make a start somewhere. Getting going might actually help you work out what is most relevant to focus on, so it’s recommended that you also set a timer for yourself to pause and check in. If you are someone who constantly aims for perfect, then you work will never be completed, so you may need to aim for ‘good enough’.
Tip 8: Find your focus. Minimise any distractions and consider how you can improve your concentration. Doing two things at once can even help some people focus – providing one helps you concentrate on the other! A stress ball or fidget toy can help keep your mind focused on desk work while your hands move. Or, listen to music in your headphones while you work to keep your mind engaged. But, try to avoid choosing something that will distract you or your colleagues!
Tip 9: Plan what is next. Before you clock off, consider the next working day: is it easy to pick up your priorities again? Do you need to write a note? Have you left your workspace organised? Spending a few minutes doing this, especially when you are tired means that your next work day will get off to a better start. And if, you are going to be off, the person picking up your work will be thankful you did this too!
Tip 10: Reflect on what you noticed. As you start to improve your working routine, reflect on what you noticed. Identify where it went well and where you struggled to practice new habits. What do you need to start doing differently? Improve your routines based on what works well for you.
About Jen Marsden-Lambert
Jen is the Founder and Director of Second Chapter, and is a Level 7 CIPD-qualified HR generalist with over 10 years' experience in HR leadership roles. She works with clients to improve employee and organisational success through an insight-led, multi-disciplinary approach. She also holds volunteer roles in mental health, community support, environmental conservation, and ending violence against women. She lives in Sheffield with her husband and two cats.