Are you as productive every day as you know you can be? Or do some days feel amazingly productive, whereas others leave you wondering where all the time went? Thankfully, there are ways to ensure we are more productive more of the time.
Increased productivity is great for us personally, the teams we are a part of, and the company we work for.
Being more productive means we experience a greater sense of personal fulfilment. And our relationships with coworkers, managers, family and friends are better as a result.
Not to mention the huge benefits our customers experience.
With that in mind, wouldn’t it be great if we could unlock the potential productivity in ourselves on a more regular basis?
Let’s not leave it to chance. By taking ownership we can better influence the regularity with which we perform at our best at work.
Let’s take a practical look at the ten steps we can all take to improve our own, or our team’s productivity.
Step #1 – Adopt the Right Attitude
Before anything else, to be more productive at work we need to adopt an attitude that supports productivity.
It’s normally not enough to simply want to be productive.
Unmitigated, our desire to be productive can actually be counter-productive.
Disagree? What if by the end of the day we’ve not achieved even half of what we wanted to? We begin to criticize.
Criticism leads to demotivation, which in turn negatively impacts our ability to be productive.
Not a great situation to be in. And not a happy one either.
Best Version of Yourself
Instead, it is far better to view our ambition for productivity as an endeavor to be the most productive version of ourselves on that particular day.
Some days that version of ourselves may not be as productive as on other days. There are a countless number of outside factors that are not within our control – yet affect our ability to perform.
However, by aspiring to be today’s best version of ourselves, we can hugely increase how productive we are at work.
Ready to be the most productive version of yourself possible? Great – let’s move on to Step #2.
Step #2 – Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize
Sick of hearing the broken record? Ask anyone about improving productivity and more likely they will forcefully emphasize the need to prioritize.
And while it is old advice, it has never been more relevant.
In today’s fast paced work environment, tasks can appear at a faster rate than we can possibly hope to complete.
That’s OK. Productivity is based on the value we create rather than the number of tasks we complete.
Focus on High-Value Tasks
By incorporating the Pareto Principle into our prioritization we are able to focus all of our energy on the 20% of tasks that produce 80% of all the potential value. Or some similar kind of percentage split.
This might mean dropping some tasks altogether in order to focus on the one big task that will return ten times the value.
To begin prioritizing tasks:
- Gather all the tasks you have on your desk
- Figure out which tasks are urgent and which are important. By urgent we mean tasks that need to be done within hours or days to avoid serious consequences
- Decide on the potential value of important tasks
- Add an estimated effort score to the task
- Prioritize tasks with a larger value score, and low effort score
The last step is to formalize your list of priorities in a way that helps you organize and complete them best, such as in a to-do list – which we will cover later.
Step #3 – Don’t Underestimate the Power of Processes
Never, ever underestimate the power of processes.
I’m the first to agree that on the surface, creating processes sounds incredibly tedious and bureaucratic.
But trust me on this one – once you start, you’ll never look back.
Ever found yourself having to:
- Slow down to re-learn parts of a task last completed two months ago?
- Spend hours re-explaining tasks to different coworkers?
- Try to get last-minute coverage for tasks before a vacation?
For optimum productivity gains, consider creating a formalized process for anything you do more than twice.
Optimizing Tasks for Productivity Gains
By creating and using processes – apart from productivity gains simply by using it – we get the optimization opportunities of running through processes on a regular basis.
If we discover a new technique that leads to saving an hour on a specific task, it is likely that we will lose insight the next time around if a process is not generated from the beginning.
Through iteration, tasks which normally take eight hours to complete may only take us four.
And the best part is that we can very quickly share this process amongst the team – boosting everyone’s productivity.
Step #4 – Collaborate with Coworkers and Customers
Sometimes our ability to be productive relies on our ability to communicate and collaborate with others.
In fact, studies have proven that when executed correctly collaboration positively affects planning, decision making, and innovation within teams.
Our success in the pursuit of productivity is defined by how well we coordinate, communicate, and collaborate within our teams.
And in fact, collaboration should not be limited to coworkers and teams.
For some of the biggest productivity benefits communication and collaboration channels should be built directly with customers or clients.
Either directly or indirectly – intimate knowledge of what does or doesn’t matter to customers can improve our ability to prioritize tasks, and provide welcome motivation through the knowledge of how our actions benefit customers.
Step #5 – Get the Best from Your Environment
Whether the workspace we’re in is a cubicle, a coffee shop, or an open space office – our productivity can be optimized for each.
In part this means finding ways to mitigate any detractions from our productivity.
In some work environments this means reducing the impact of background noise generated by the hustle and bustle of daily office life.
In others it may mean developing ways to politely but firmly reduce interruptions by coworkers.
Or it may mean finding ways to get around a lack of privacy when you feel privacy is needed to complete certain tasks optimally.
Or even dealing with environments that leave you feeling guilty any time you make noise yourself.
Find Ways to Get More Out of Your Environment
Some environmental factors are intrinsically easier to mitigate than others.
In some cases, you may be able to change up your work routine to arrive earlier in the office. There will be less noise and interruptions in the first few hours than in the middle of the day.
Or make use of the Pomodoro technique to complete work in 20 minute batches.
Or take regular planned breaks to improve your intensity when working, and provide opportunity to interact with coworkers.
Most importantly, develop your personal routines. Save all your decision power for productive tasks, and avoid spending any of it unnecessarily.
Step #6 – Be Prepared for Downtime
There’s little more debilitating for our productivity than encountering unexpected downtime.
Ranging from software updates, to unresponsive PCs, power cuts, Malware infections, and data loss.
It can be infuriating in the moment. But the knock on consequences of experiencing computer issues can last for a long time, and negatively impact productivity.
Unfortunately, these kinds of events are pretty much inevitable.
Prevention and Preparation
Whilst it is of course in our interests to do everything we can to minimize the frequency of such events, it’s also important to ensure we are prepared for when it eventually does strike.
Ensuring data availability should be our primary goal in preparation of downtime.
If one of our devices is in the middle of a lengthy update process, we need to be able to switch devices to continue working, uninterrupted.
We should also plan to make smart choices for when to update software – especially with regards to operating systems – to avoid a productivity hit when our crucial software is no longer usable.
Computer-related health issues also play a part.
Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) from poorly set up workstations can result in 12 working days of lost performance.
And let’s not forget that our productivity can extend to offline/analog tasks.
Sometimes it’s even a better idea to grab a pen and paper or flipchart and pen rather than a tablet to stimulate the thought process.
Step #7 – Take Your Security & Privacy Seriously
If our security or privacy is compromised, dealing with the consequences can eat up hours, days, or even weeks of our precious time.
Instead of being able to work on tasks that take us closer to our goals, we’re left trying to fix things, and often need to request assistance from others.
The alternative is to weave security and privacy best practices into our daily work routines, to prevent potential damage, and recover as quickly as possible should the worst happen.
Computer Viruses and Other Malware
There are many things we can do to prevent viruses and other malware ruining our day and our productivity.
- Always have a backup ready
- Never download programs from untrusted sites
- Be cautious when opening email attachments
- Disable image previews in your email client
- Use an anti-malware solution
- Use a firewall
- Regularly update your OS (Further reading: Is it worth updating your OS?)
- Monitor all devices proactively
- Utilize Administrator rights
- Pay attention to virus warnings and notifications
- Inform your IT department
- Take care in removing the virus
Password Best Practices
Limiting the damage to our productivity from a compromised password should be a standard part of all of our daily working lives.
There are many things we can do to stop worrying about password security:
- Stop being predictable with our password choice
- Use long and strong passwords
- Use a unique password for every account
- Store passwords in a password manager tool
- Change passwords regularly
- Don’t share passwords
- Ensure anti-malware is installed
- Enable two-factor authentication (you can even use wearables for this!)
Avoid Damage from Data Breaches
Data breaches can have very serious consequences – and often require a great deal of time to recover from if our data is compromised and used.
Thankfully, there are some ways we can protect ourselves from data breaches, such as:
- Make sure that our passwords give us the best protection possible
- Limit the information we provide to websites and services
- Consider the security of websites and services we use before giving them our information
- Identify genuine security notifications and always take action
- Take steps to minimize damage once we discover an account of ours has been compromised in a breach
With security and privacy safeguards weaved into our daily work routines, we should reduce the impact on our ability to be more productive at work.
Step #8 – Use To-do Lists The Right Way
Have you ever created and worked with a to-do list? Chances are that at one point or another we’ve all had occasion to give it a go. But quite often our experiments with to-do lists go awry.
To start with it feels great. To finally organize and visualize all the tasks we’ve got to complete.
We start to tick through them – sometimes at a ferocious speed.
But before long we reach that item on the list which is both difficult, uninspiring, and lengthy.
Then our lists grow with these types of tasks, and before long maintaining our to-do list feels like a chore in itself.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
An Alternate Approach to To-do Lists
Used correctly, to-do lists have an incredible impact on productivity.
Used wrongly, they’ll send us into a spiral of anxiety and procrastination.
It’s a fine line – but there’s a system we can all use to ensure we get the benefits and none of the detractions from the fabled to-do list.
In fact, there’s a way to generate stress-free productivity by making our to-do lists work for us.
This can be done by:
- Using the Inbox Zero technique to delete, delegate, respond, defer, and do to-do items.
- Tackle the tasks you dread first. Something called ‘Eating the Frog’.
- Make use of project management techniques such as the Kanban method to organize to-do items into categories, such as ‘to-do’, ‘doing’, and ‘done’.
Find the right combination of techniques and approaches that works for you.
The objective is to love your to-do list. Rocketing productivity will follow.
Whichever tool helps you achieve that is the one you should use.
Step #9 – Use The Right Tools for the Job
Productivity has always been intrinsically linked to making the best use of tools at our disposal.
Whereas historically the most productive people were those who could make use of tools in front of them, we have the luxury of such an abundant selection of tools that we could potentially make use of.
From working with the devices we are most comfortable with, and fastest with – even potentially our own personal devices – to utilizing any number and combination of software.
The right tools should blend seamlessly into our workflow, and enable us to complete tasks in the way that works best for us.
Find Out What Works Best for You
Work at your best when listening to background sounds of a virtual coffee shop? Try Coffitivity.
Need to be able to complete block out all sounds around you? Get a pair of noise cancelling headphones.
The improvement in productivity often makes the investment more than worthwhile – although it’s always a good idea to structure your proposal in a way that makes it more likely to be accepted.
Step #10 – Take Advantage of Increased Flexibility
Where do you work best? Is there one fixed location that gets the best out of you? Or does it very much depend on your mood and the type of task you’re working on?
I write my best articles (including this one – hopefully!) from a standing desk.
But I do my best article brainstorming sat down in a quiet, secluded space.
And for any analytical work – there’s something about being sat at a wooden bar table that gets me in the zone.
The point is that our best work is not always produced from one location.
In fact, often we’re required to work away from our desk. To take part in a meeting. Teleworking from a client’s office. Or from home.
If we select and use the right tools, not only should it be no problem to maintain productivity from different locations, we should also be able to boost our output.
Being more productive at work is not a one-size fits all kind of deal.
But with the technology and evidence available to us there are many approaches we can test within our own working life, or that of our team’s, to improve our productivity.
And the best part is that it’s a win-win for everyone involved – employees, managers, and companies.
What ways have you discovered to improve your or your team’s productivity? Are there any missing from the list here? Share with us in the comments.