7 Useful Ways to Improve Productivity
Chances are, at some point in your life, you will have made a promise to yourself to stop procrastinating, get organised, and get more done. But it’s hard to find useful ways to improve your productivity.
After all, it’s easier to make that promise than it is to make the change itself. We’re all guilty of slipping back into old, familiar habits.
So, why is it so difficult to improve productivity?
According to Smarter Time, the brain struggles to reconcile the time we spend completing a task with the actual amount of time that’s passed — put simply, we’re not very good at measuring how long it takes us to do something.
It can also be difficult to pinpoint what being productive really is. Oxford Dictionaries defines it as ‘achieving a significant amount or result’, but what that means to each of us will be different, depending on what we’re working on.
Fortunately, when you understand what the obstacles are, you can take steps to remove them, increasing your productivity levels once and for all.
1. Make a list of clear, achievable tasks
Ideally, your list should strike a balance between ambitious and realistic — you need to have a goal (or goals) to aim for, but not something so daunting that you keep putting it off.
Once you have your list, break each item into manageable steps so you have a straightforward path to follow. For example, an item on your list could look like this:
Look for a new job
- Update CV and LinkedIn profile
- Search for jobs online
- Ask friends/family/acquaintances if they have any leads
- Tailor CV and write cover letter for each application
2. Plan and track your time
Allocate a set amount of time to spend on each task and stick to it. At first, you may find your estimate is a little off, but this isn’t a bad thing — after a week or two you’ll be more familiar with how long it actually takes you to complete certain tasks, which means you can plan and track your time more accurately going forward. This will make setting deadlines easier too.
How should I organise my time?
Some people prefer to get stuck into a task and concentrate solely on that until it’s done. Others will spend a set amount of time on one task, take a break, then move on to another task for a set amount of time, before going back to the first task at a later time or date. This breaks up the day but still gives you a significant amount of time to focus.
The Pomodoro Technique is also popular. You work in blocks of time, usually 25 minutes (a pomodoro), then take five minutes for a proper break before starting again. After four pomodoros you take a longer break.
3. Focus on one task at a time, and dedicate all of your efforts to that
It’s important to choose the time management method that works for you. One thing they all have in common is they require you to work on one task at a time, and there’s a reason for that: the brain can only concentrate on so many things at once.
Pick one task and you’ll be more attentive than you would be if you were multitasking. As such, productivity will improve. Although we think of multitasking as doing two or more things at once, your brain is in fact switching from one task to the other in quick succession.
- Make you lose focus, because your attention is in several different places
- Overstimulate your brain, so you’re more likely to forget key details
- Increase your stress levels, because you’re spreading yourself too thin
One study by the University of London even found that ‘subjects who multitasked experience drops in their IQ comparable to someone who missed a night of sleep.’
Single tasking will:
- Allow you to think more deeply and creatively about what you’re doing
- Improve your attention span, because your brain is forced to sustain its focus
- Decrease your stress levels, meaning you can use your extra energy to get the job done
For more advice, check out our guide on how to reduce stress at work.
4. Have a regular window for checking and replying to your emails
It can take your brain nearly 24 minutes to refocus after a distraction, so stop checking your inbox at random and start setting aside some time to read and reply to emails instead. You’ll be able to deal with them all in one go, then move on to the next task at hand.
If you’re a social media addict (and it’s not part of your job) then it may be worth doing the same for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and any other apps you use.
5. Keep a notebook on hand so you can jot down any thoughts
Getting any off-topic distractions onto paper and out of your head will stop them clouding up your brain all day, allowing you to go back to the task at hand and remain productive. You can always go back to them later and see if any good ideas have formed from these notes.
6. Take regular breaks so you don’t burn out
Sometimes the key to increasing productivity is not doing anything. Make time for regular short breaks throughout the day, even if it’s just a quick stretch or a stroll round the office.
A longer break in the middle of the day is important, too. Taking an hour to have lunch away from your desk will renew your concentration span and allow you to refuel. You’ll come back feeling refreshed and ready to work.
And once you’re done for the day, leave work at work. If you want to use your commute time, read relevant articles and newsletters so you’re still engaged with your industry.
7. Prioritise your health
Your productivity levels drop considerably when you’re tired, hungry or thirsty. Dehydration, hunger and lack of sleep can all cause fatigue, which affects your memory and attention span.
Too many late nights and your body will also produce more of the stress hormone cortisol, adding to that frazzled feeling.
To stay healthy at work, follow these tips:
- Take a reusable bottle of water with you and keep it on your desk. Sip from it throughout the day.
- Keep healthy snacks on hand to keep your energy and concentration levels up. Fresh or dried fruit, fruit and nut bars, hummus with wholemeal crackers and apple slices dipped in nut butter.
- Schedule exercise straight after you finish work. You won’t have time to go home and get comfy on the sofa, and it means you’ll have a reason to leave work on time.
- Get a decent amount of sleep. The amount needed will vary from person to person, but experts generally recommend 7–8 hours per night.
For more information on success in the workplace, check out the rest of our blog. It’s full of ways to increase your personal productivity, as well as general business productivity — including 5 Ways to Boost Your Company with Order Fulfilment.