Productivity seems to be a hot topic these days. Everyone wants to know how to squeeze that little more into the day.
Just to make it clear, we’re not strictly talking here about economic productivity, which is increasing output over a period of time. As Charles Duhigg points out, productivity means different things to different people. To some people, it’s getting through your email inbox faster. To others, it’s having more time to think, or to take the kids to school. Either way, being productive is about being in control. Regain control, and you can produce more work, better work, and feel better.
Here’s some tips on how to boost your productivity:
1. Tidy your desk
Research shows that an untidy desk reminds you of all the other things you could or should be doing. A clean desk means you can focus on what you choose to focus on. It’s simple, but it works.
2. Give yourself deadlines
Parkinson’s Law, the idea that a task will fill up any amount of time you give it, actually originated as a joke. Anyone who tells you that it is a fact of life is kidding themselves. If you give me one day to build a skyscraper, it’s not getting done. Instead, use your judgement. Apply tighter deadlines to yourself or to others when it’s a project that could conceivably go on forever. Or when it’s staffed by people who would like it to.
3. Don’t keep working
John Pencavel of Stanford University found that work output is subject to the law of diminishing returns beyond a certain amount of hours. He studied workers in World War One, and found that their output rose at a decreasing rate when they worked over 49 hours, to the extent that those working 70 hours produced the same as those working 56. Unfortunately, we’ve become subject to a culture that believes that more hours = more stuff done, despite the fact that it doesn’t. To a certain extent, Parkinson’s Law applies here too. If you give someone a 12 hour day, they’ll probably do 8 hours of work and 4 hours of filler/procrastination/busywork.
Of course, we all have times where we’ll need to put the hours in. But generally, set yourself a target of going home on time.
4. Turn off your emails
There are studies proving that having your emails on all day is counter-productive. But surely you don’t need a study to tell you what you already know? If you’re constantly clicking on that notification and replying to everyone’s questions or demands, you’re getting distracted from your actual work. And despite what you tell yourself, it’s never that urgent. If it was, they’d come and find you. Check your emails three times a day. The rest of the time, shut them off.
5. Meetings …
A lot of other articles online tell you make sure your meeting sticks rigidly to an agenda, so you can talk about what it was meant for and get out of there as quickly as possible. That’s fine, but it might not necessarily be helping your productivity. A study by Google found that the stuff that might drive you crazy at the start of the meeting, like talking about your weekends or your kids, is actually helping your team’s productivity by improving the social bond between you. So in the long-term, you’re going to be more productive.
Having said that, don’t be afraid to say no to meetings. There’s nothing more soul-destroying then sitting in a room feeling like you’re wasting your time. Also try to clump meetings together, so you can spend the rest of the day or the rest of the week focusing on work.
We all know what prioritisation is, but it is important we keep reminding ourselves about is important and what isn’t. Perhaps more importantly, you need to make sure that you consider to be your priority is also what your boss thinks is the priority.
7. Get a good night’s sleep and wake-up early
We all know that a good night’s sleep is important for refreshing the brain. But studies have shown that early risers tend to perform better. Read this article on how to develop the habit of getting up early.