Be more productive
1. Track and limit how much time you're spending on tasks.
You may think you're pretty good at gauging how much time you're spending on various tasks. However, some research suggests only around 17 percent of people are able to accurately estimate the passage of time. A tool like Rescue Time can help by letting you know exactly how much time you spend on daily tasks, including social media, email, word processing, and apps.
2. Take regular breaks.
It sounds counterintuitive, but taking scheduled breaks can actually help improve concentration. Some research has shown that taking short breaks during long tasks helps you to maintain a constant level of performance; while working at a task without breaks leads to a steady decline in performance.
3. Set self-imposed deadlines.
While we usually think of a stress as a bad thing, a manageable level of self-imposed stress can actually be helpful in terms of giving us focus and helping us meet our goals. For open-ended tasks or projects, try giving yourself a deadline, and then stick to it. You may be surprised to discover just how focused and productive you can be when you're watching the clock.
4. Follow the "two-minute rule."
Entrepreneur Steve Olenski recommends implementing the "two-minute rule" to make the most of small windows of time that you have at work. The idea is this: If you see a task or action that you know can be done in two minutes or less, do it immediately. According to Olenski, completing the task right away actually takes less time than having to get back to it later. Implementing this has made him one of the most influential content strategists online.
5. Just say no to meetings.
Meetings are one of the biggest time-sucks around, yet somehow we continue to unquestioningly book them, attend them and, inevitably, complain about them. According to Atlassian, the average office worker spends over 31 hours each month in unproductive meetings. Before booking your next meeting, ask yourself whether you can accomplish the same goals or tasks via email, phone, or Web-based meeting (which may be slightly more productive).
6. Hold standing meetings.
If you absolutely must have a meeting, there's some evidence that standing meetings (they're just what they sound like--everyone stands) can result in increased group arousal, decreased territoriality, and improved group performance. For those times when meetings are unavoidable, you may want to check out these 12 unusual ways to spur creativity during meetings.
7. Quit multitasking.
While we tend to think of the ability to multitask as an important skill for increasing efficiency, the opposite may in fact be true. Psychologists have found attempting to do several tasks at once can result in lost time and productivity. Instead, make a habit of committing to a single task before moving on to your next project.
8. Take advantage of your commute.
This goes for any unexpected "bonus" time you may find on your hands suggests author Miranda Marquit. Instead of Candy-Crushing or Facebooking, use that time to pound out some emails, create your daily to-do list, or do some brainstorming.
9. Give up on the illusion of perfection.
It's common for entrepreneurs to get hung up on attempting to perfect a task--the reality is nothing is ever perfect. Rather than wasting time chasing after this illusion, bang out your task to the best of your ability and move on. It's better to complete the task and move it off your plate; if need be, you can always come back and adjust or improve it later.
10. Take exercise breaks.
Using work time to exercise may actually help improve productivity, according to a studypublished in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. If possible, build in set times during the week for taking a walk or going to the gym. Getting your blood pumping could be just what's needed to clear your head and get your focus back.
11. Be proactive, not reactive.
Allowing incoming phone calls and emails to dictate how you spend your day will mean you do a great job of putting out fires--but that may be all you get accomplished. My friend and business partner Peter Daisyme from free hosting company Hostt says, "Set aside time for responding to emails, but don't let them determine what your day is going to look like. Have a plan of attack at the start of each day, and then do your best to stick to it."
12. Turn off notifications.
No one can be expected to resist the allure of an email, voicemail, or text notification. During work hours, turn off your notifications, and instead build in time to check email and messages. This is all part of being proactive rather than reactive (see number 11).
13. Work in 90-minute intervals.
Researchers at Florida State University have found elite performers (athletes, chess players, musicians, etc.) who work in intervals of no more than 90 minutes are more productive than those who work 90 minutes-plus. They also found that top performing subjects tend to work no more than 4.5 hours per day. Sounds good to me!
14. Give yourself something nice to look at.
It may sound unlikely, but some research shows outfitting an office with aesthetically pleasing elements--like plants--can increase productivity by up to 15 percent. Jazz up your office space with pictures, candles, flowers, or anything else that puts a smile on your face. For other ideas on increasing your happiness quotient at work, see my post 15 Proven Tips to Be Happy at Work.
15. Minimize interruptions (to the best of your ability).
Having a colleague pop her head into your office to chat may seem innocuous, but even brief interruptions appear to produce a change in work pattern and a corresponding drop in productivity. Minimizing interruptions may mean setting office hours, keeping your door closed, or working from home for time-sensitive projects.
If you feel the need to increase your productivity at work, resist the temptation put in longer hours or pack more into your already-full calendar. Instead, take a step back, and think about ways you can work smarter, not harder.
1. Seek help / Delegate tasks accordingly
Everybody needs help and should never take on large tasks alone. Two of the biggest barriers for getting help is trust and introversion.
In order to get help from others, you need to trust your colleagues in helping you complete work. If you tell your colleague what the deadline is for the project, then they will likely take it very seriously. Make sure to give your colleague all of the resources that he or she needs such as relevant documents or spreadsheets in order to reach the best deliverable.
People are not going to volunteer in helping out so you have to feel comfortable about asking for help. If you are too introverted to ask for help, then you will most likely be doing tasks on your own. You may also end up becoming somebody else's work-horse because you are too shy to speak up.
2. Do not get sucked into unnecessary meetings
Time is the most important currency in your life. While it may be tempting to meet with as many people for the benefit of networking, the time you get at your desk is extremely valuable. Knowing what meetings to refuse is very important.
If your manager wants to have a one-on-one meeting, then it is obviously very important. However, attending a meeting about whether to use a Times New Roman or Georgia font at the weekly newsletter design subcommittee get-together may not be worth your time.
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In my line of work, I get requests for meetings all the time. This is why I have started to designate two days out of the week for meetings and the rest of the time to focus on my core tasks.
According to Schaffer Consulting managing partner Ron Ashkenas, the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline realized that so much of their time was being wasted on unnecessary meetings. People were spending just as much time in meetings as they were on actual drug development. This is why the company adapted a "fit for purpose" meeting process where only the people that are directly involved in a phase of the project would attend the meetings. Parties that are interested in what happened during the meeting would receive notes with the most important details.
3. Create to-do lists
In your life, there are tasks that are simple and ones that are complex. My preference is to go after the easy ones first and then tackle the complicated ones after. To stay on top of tasks, I create to-do lists and track them using Google Tasks. Since Google Tasks sync with Gmail, Google Calendar, and the Google mobile app, it makes it easier to refer to them while on-the-go.
If some of the tasks are larger, then break them into multiple smaller tasks. For example, if you need to put together a white paper, you should make it a point to complete 2-3 pages per day rather than trying to put together one large document on the day before it is due.
Putting a timer on these tasks is worth considering so that you do not lose focus on other items on your to-do list. Sometimes I focus too much on one task while another one gets neglected. Before I know it, the deadline for the other task arrives and I am not ready for it.
One of the most satisfying aspects of creating a to-do list is crossing off things when they are done. It gives you a sense of accomplishment and gives you a visualization of progress. When going through an annual review, the tasks that you have crossed off can be a great talking point for what you have accomplished.
4. Take breaks
Recently scientists at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana reviewed the lifestyle of 17,000 men and women over the duration of 13 years. The scientists found that 54% of those people are likely to die of heart attacks! The reason was because those people were sitting for most of the day. The enzyme, lipoprotein lipase (LPL), breaks down fat in the bloodstream and turns it into energy. When people are sitting, it is likely that LPL levels drop according to Marc Hamilton, a professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri. This causes fat cells to build up.
If you spend more than 8-10 hours at a desk and without moving around much, then you will notice that you have less energy. Productivity is not measured by the number of hours you sit at a desk. It is measured by how much you get done without sacrificing your health.
One of the major reasons for obesity in the last 20 years is because of decreased levels of daily physical activities. Take a break and go for a daily walk.
5. Weed out distractions
I know a few people that have a Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, Hootsuite, Tumblr, Foursquare, Shutterfly, Pinterest, Google Chat, Reddit, and StumbleUpon account. When they are not using these social media tools, they may be checking their e-mail on their smartphones or reading random facts on Wikipedia every 5 minutes. Disconnect!
In the U.S., over 12.2 billion collective hours are being spent browsing on a social network every day. This is costing the U.S. economy around $650 billion per year based on each social media user costing a company roughly $4,452 per year, according to data compiled by LearnStuff.com.
In the same study, it was revealed that distractions are not just affecting adults working at companies. The average college student is spending around 3 hours per day on social networks while spending only 2 hours per day studying.
If you find that you are really falling behind on your work, then you should consider uninstalling the Facebook and Twitter app from your smartphone. Some of my friends that have a major exam coming up deactivated their account on Facebook as a reminder that social networking is not their biggest priority right now.
6. Stop watching so much TV
The quality of TV shows is increasing, but it is important to remember that empires don't get built on couches. I have spent many hours wanting to find out what crazy Walter White is up to on Breaking Bad or the shenanigans that the boys on Entourage are getting themselves into. I'm not alone because Americans spend around 34 hours per week watching TV, according to Nielsen.
Don't get me wrong, it is important to veg and wind down, but you may want to learn to cap yourself. Maybe you only need to watch one TV show per day instead of watching 5 episodes of the The Amazing Race back-to-back. Just imagine how much productivity can be gained by substituting the hours you spend watching TV on homework instead.
Sitting on the couch in front of the TV has detrimental effects on your health too. When you are using a computer, your hands are constantly busy, but you tend to snack more when sitting in front of the TV since your hands are free. You also have a tendency to lie or sit down constantly in front of the TV. This lack of activity is bad for your health also.
7. Set ambitious, yet realistic goals
Les Brown, a motivational speaker and radio DJ, once said “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.” If you can cross everything off of your to-do list in one day, you need to create more ambitious goals. Some goals should take as long as 1 week, 30 days, 60 days, or 90 days. People that set higher goals have a tendency to be more satisfied than those with lower expectations, according to research published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
One of the major reasons why people fail a goals is because they did not set a deadline. Goals have to be very specific and they should be written down. It is good to get feedback about the goals in order to refine them.
Goals should be personal and professional. Spending time balancing your budget can be a personal goal and putting together process flow charts to make certain recurring tasks easier at work is a professional goal.
8. Designate times to handle e-mail
Everyday there is a good amount of time spent writing e-mail replies in a timely manner. If you are constantly checking your e-mail, this could mean you have too much free time on your hands and need to work on other tasks. Urgent information tends to be passed through phone calls rather than e-mail. If you are spending an average of over 2 hours per day replying to e-mails, then you may want to reassess how you budget your time.
Instead of stopping what you are doing to respond to a new e-mail, you should consider setting aside a time for responding to e-mails in batches. Generally I prefer to respond to e-mails that I receive right when I get to work. I also like to put aside 15 minutes right before leaving work to respond to e-mails. Most people that send me e-mails receive replies within 24 hours.
You can generally detect the urgency in the e-mails by the subject line. This is why setting up push notifications for e-mail on your phone can be very beneficial. Being able to quickly glance at the subject lines of e-mails you are receiving throughout the day saves you from having to constantly open up your inbox.
If it is urgent for you to get a response, then you should write "time sensitive" in the subject line.
9. Reward yourself for motivation
When achieving a goal, it is important to reward yourself somehow for motivation. This could be in the form of a material possession or certain type of food. If you exercised for about 20 hours over the course of a week, then you can reward yourself with your favorite food like sushi. Perhaps, you should buy a new gadget when getting a promotion like a DSLR camera. One way I like to reward myself is by sleeping earlier or watching the latest episode of my favorite TV show when I get a major project completed.
10. Constantly ask yourself if you what are doing presently is productive
I catch myself spending a lot of time using Facebook or participating in irrelevant conversations while at work. When I realize that I am not working on something productive, I mentally scold myself and get back to the grind. On the contrary, I reward myself when completing something crucial by doing things like stepping away from my desk to read a book or grab a coffee with a friend.
11. Spend a few minutes preparing for the next day
This tip is one of my personal favorites. On Sundays, I typically decide my wardrobe for the week. I also prepare part of my lunch for the next day and week. I even set up the coffee maker so that I just have to press the "On" button in the morning to have fresh coffee brewed first thing in the morning. Mornings can be chaotic and the less you have to do before heading out the door, the more smooth your day will be.
12. Sleep early and get up early
Sleeping late and waking up early can be detrimental to your productivity the next day. If you are half-awake at work, then the odds are that your quality of work will suffer. I'm usually at my A-game if I get 8 hours of sleep and start working at 7AM. As Benjamin Franklin once said "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise."
01 Do Your Heavy Lifting When You're at Your Best
••• There’s endless advice out there for people not to do mental sludge tasks like answering email or routine chores in the morning but to start out instead doing whatever tasks are most demanding creatively – which is great if you’re a morning person. If you’re more of a night owl, like me, obviously this isn’t going to work well for you. I like productivity expert Tony Wong’s advice: “Use your morning to focus on yourself… Start your day out right by ignoring your emails in the morning and getting in a good breakfast, reading the news, meditating, or working out. This will ensure you’ve got the necessary fuel for a productive day.” The point is, do your most demanding tasks in your personal peak productivity time, whenever that is.
02 Stop Multitasking
••• It's a productivity killer. Research shows that productivity can be reduced by as much as 40 percent by the mental blocks created when people switch tasks and lowers your IQ. In a University of London study, IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of 8-year-old children! Need more evidence? A study out of the University of Sussexin the UK indicates that multitasking may actually be physically harming your brain. The study found that participants addicted to using multiple devices simultaneously has lower gray matter density in a brain area called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is linked to emotional control and plays a role in decision-making, empathy and how we respond to rewards. So stop it right now! Instead, dramatically increase productivity by focusing on one task at a time and give it your full attention before moving on to something else. And as soon as your eyes and hands start drifting towards something else, such as another screen, think about how important it is to keep all your little grey cells and resist temptation.
03 Prepare a To-do List for the Next Day Each Night
••• To-do lists are invaluable productivity aids. They get you organized, provide you with focus and reward you with feelings of satisfaction when you’re able to check off things that you’ve accomplished. In my opinion, everyone should use them! And making (or updating) a to-do list each night means that you won’t waste time at the start of the workday looking for your task. But using to-do lists is just getting out of the starter’s blocks when it comes to increasing productivity. If you want to really ramp up your production, there are two productivity hacks that will speed you to the finish line. The first is to talk through your to-do list the night before with someone. Leo Wildrich explains the power of this technique in What Multitasking Does To Our Brains: “When we sat down for just 10 minutes every evening, to briefly walk through the tasks of the next day, everything changed in terms of productivity. The reason was that instead of just writing tasks down, I was forced to also think through the tasks and explain them… The to do list I jotted down didn't change, but it felt as if I had done half the work of it all in my head already. The next day, all I had to do is look at the task and get it done.”
04 Cut Down Your To-do List
••• How many items are on your typical to-do list? Eight? Twenty-eight? However many, you’ll feel good when you finish each of them and cross them off. But you’ll never join the ranks of the productivity superstars unless you cross off some of them before you even bother to do them – because productivity demands focus. In The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs, relates how Jobs’s insistence that Apple produce just four computers saved the company. He also relates how Jobs used to-do lists to engender focus: “After he righted the company, Jobs began taking his “top 100” people on a retreat each year. On the last day, he would stand in front of a whiteboard… and ask, “What are the 10 things we should be doing next?” People would fight to get their suggestions on the list. Jobs would write them down—and then cross off the ones he decreed dumb. After much jockeying, the group would come up with a list of 10. Then Jobs would slash the bottom seven and announce, “We can only do three.”” See? Increasing productivity demands focus. And focus means narrowing your options. So each night when you’re reviewing your to-do list, ask yourself two questions; 1) What are the important tasks on this list? 2) How many of these important tasks can I realistically accomplish or make significant progress on tomorrow?
05 Delegate Properly
••• Delegation is to productivity as using a nail gun is to driving nails. Once you’ve started using it, you’ll be amazed at just how much faster and easier your job is. If you do it right. For many managers and business people, delegating is like a polar bear swim; they plunge in enthusiastically and then even more enthusiastically quickly leap out. Why? The most common complaint is that delegating work gives the manager or business person even more to do; now they have to supervise someone else’s work as well as doing their own. Wrong, wrong, wrong. If you assign a task to someone and then supervise them closely while they’re doing it, you’re micromanaging, not delegating. When you delegate properly, you have more time to spend on your own work. The key is to assign the right task to the right person, a person you know has the skills to do the job and that you can trust to get it done – and then leave them to it. Yes, if you’re not used to delegating and (worse) a hands on, control freak type, it will take a while for you to get used to delegating. But once you’ve mastered the trick, you’ll be astonished at how much more productive you are, freed to focus on what you need and want to do. Learn how to delegate. Don’t have staff that you can delegate tasks to? Remember that outsourcing is just as good. As I say in Tips on How to Delegate Successfully, “Look at your "whole life" when you're choosing tasks to delegate. Sometimes delegating tasks in your personal life makes more sense economically or personally than delegating a particular business task. For instance, it may be much more inexpensive for you to hire someone to mind your children than hire someone to design a marketing plan.”
06 Eliminate Distractions
••• Nilofer Merchant, HBR Writer and founder of Rubicon Consulting, shares some of the most memorable advice I’ve ever read in 42 successful people share the best advice they ever received(Financial Post): When she was starting out, her boss told her to feed the eagles and starve the turkeys. “Feed the Eagles. There are only a few things that matter. Know what they are. And place your energy into them. They aren’t always right in front of you so you need to look up and out more. Starve the Turkeys – lots of things are right in front of you … pecking around, making noise, and demanding attention. Because they are right in front of you, it’s easy to pay attention to them most and first. Ignore them. They will actually do fine without you.” I’ve already talked about the importance of focus. But the flip side is that you need to identify and ignore those turkeys too. And for many of us, those turkeys demanding attention are social mediaand email. To be productive, you need to shut down their noise and shoo them away. Turn off your email notifications – and even your phone notifications if you need full concentration. Limit your time on social media and email. Are you a Facebook or Twitter addict? Use social media as a carrot. Allow yourself x number of minutes browsing after you accomplish a major task.
07 Plan Phone Calls
••• Wouldn’t it be nice to have your own personal secretary so you could say “Hold my calls!” while you were working on something? Well guess what? You don’t need one! You can manage your phone calls yourself and the payoff will be huge gains in productivity. First, unless you are expecting a super-important call, turn off your phone when you’re about to work on a project that needs your full attention. Then set aside a block of time to make all your outgoing calls and follow these Management Tips For Outgoing Telephone Callsso you waste less time trying to reach people and more time talking to the people you actually want to talk to. If you’re working on something that doesn’t need your full attention, feel free to leave your phone on and answer calls; it saves you from having a batch of phone calls to return at some point during your day. These Management Tips for Inbound Phone Calls will teach you how to turn the calls you get into time savers rather than time wasters.
08 Break up Work Periods With Exercise
••• Physical activity enhances brain function– and who’s not going to be more productive with a better functioning brain? And while you might assume (rightly) that that enhanced brain power will give you improved concentration, more creativity and faster learning, you might not realize that exercise increases your brain’s affective skills, too, meaning that you’ll find it easier to get along with others. If you want the most bang for the buck, exercise during work hours. A Leeds Metropolitan University study found that 65 percent of workers who used their company gym at lunch time were more productive and had better personal interactions with their colleagues than those who didn’t use the gym at lunch. And a Stockholm University study found that devoting work time to physical activity led to higher productivity. What I really love about this study is that participants were just as productive (or even more so) in less work time. In sum, it’s time to take these words to heart and get into a regular exercise regime: “Instead of viewing exercise as something we do for ourselves—a personal indulgence that takes us away from our work—it’s time we started considering physical activity as part of the work itself. The alternative, which involves processing information more slowly, forgetting more often, and getting easily frustrated, makes us less effective at our jobs and harder to get along with for our colleagues” (Regular Exercise Is Part of Your Job, Harvard Business Review). Don’t have a company gym? You can still exercise at work.
09 Be Optimistic
••• Happy people are more productive. A series of four studies at The University of Warwickfound that participants that were made happier had 12 percent greater productivity than those that had not. A Maastricht University studyof optimism and performance in call centers found that optimists in the tested group made more sales and achieved more bonuses. Now in this last study it was only dispositional optimists who showed increased success. The study authors define dispositional optimism as generalized expectations of good versus bad outcomes in life. So if you’re not a naturally optimistic person, this is the kind of optimism you want to cultivate – and the good news is that you can. Research byShawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness, where tax managers at KMPG were asked to perform one of five activities a day for three weeks found that the experimental group still showed significantly higher scores in optimism and life satisfaction – not only right after the experiment concluded but four months later when they were retested. The most effective of the five tasks the managers were asked to choose from was engaging positively with people in their social support network. And the most direct route to happiness, Achor found in later research, was the result of providing social support to others. “Social support providers—people who picked up slack for others, invited coworkers to lunch, and organized office activities—were not only 10 times more likely to be engaged at work than those who kept to themselves; they were 40% more likely to get a promotion.” You can be that person!
10 Get Enough Sleep
••• Seventy percent of 1,000 randomly chosen Americans admitted tosleeping on the jobin a survey done by William A. Anthony, PhD, a clinical psychologist and director of Boston University's Center for Psychological Rehabilitation – because they need to, he says. Early-morning commutes, long work hours, and too many responsibilities at home mean that increasing numbers of people aren’t getting the shuteye they need. We all know that not getting enough sleep has negative effects on our performance. Lack of sleep decreases our concentration, working memory, mathematical capacity, and logical reasoning. And because the pre-frontal cortex is particularly vulnerable to a lack of sleep, tasks that require logical reasoning or complex thought will be the most impaired. What you may not realize is that it only takes one night of sleep deprivationfor us to suffer big deficits in our abilities. And take special note, those of you who persistently work more than 40 hours a week – we are productive up to about 40 hours a weekbut after that our productivity drops because when we get tired we make mistakes so the extra hours we put in are absorbed by correcting our errors. The fifty to sixty hour work week, then, is rather pointless. So how much sleep do you need? Seven to nine hours a night if you’re an adult aged 26 to 64 years according to the National Sleep Foundation. (View an infographicshowing the sleep needs of all ages.) If you’re not getting that much, then taking a nap during the day could be really beneficial to your productivity.
11 One Last Tip
••• But certainly not the least; take care of yourself. Getting enough sleep and making exercise part of your routine are just two of the things you need to do every day to be at your best and most productive. You know the rest already I bet. Eat a healthy diet. Drink lots of water. Get rid of your bad habits, whether they be smoking or hanging around toxic people. And be nice to yourself as well as to other people. Take time for yourselfand do whatever (healthy) thing recharges and refreshes you.