How to Be More Productive at Work – 20 Top Productivity Tips
- Written by Alicia Drewnicki
- September 5, 2021
- 8 min read
With many of us now working from home, it has become an ever-present challenge to maintain a healthy work-life balance. If you’re looking to improve your daily productivity and learn how to avoid distractions, then you’ve come to the right place. We’ve put together a selection of 20 tried and tested productivity tips to help get the most out of your working day.
1) Start with an ‘Hour of Power’
Resist using technology for the first hour that you wake up each day. Yes really – no checking your phone! Instead, incorporate a non-tech morning routine such as having lemon water (or a smoothie 😉 ), stretching/exercising, journaling, having a walk around the block and setting your intentions for the day.
2) Have a Clear Action Plan
Rather than commencing the day with a hazy plan of things you ‘might like to get done’, remember that concrete goals create concrete results, so make sure you have a clear plan of action and a to-do list that works for you.
3) Three Things that Must Get Done
If you struggle to stick to lengthy to-do lists, it’s time to simplify your list. Try starting your day with just ‘three things that must get done’ that day. Some people refer to these as ‘Most Important Things’ (MITs). If you finish them, you’ll feel a huge sense of achievement and it’ll make the to-do list seem a lot more conquerable.
4) ‘Eat The Frog’
There’s a phrase known as ‘eating the frog’ (made famous by author Brian Tracy), which means doing your hardest task first (the frog 🐸 ). Perhaps it’s the task that has been on your to-do list for weeks that you’ve been putting off. If you manage to ‘eat the frog’, then the rest of the day’s tasks will feel like a breeze. So, first thing in the morning, decide what that day’s ‘frog’ is, and try to conquer it straight away.
5) Get Some Sunlight in the Morning
Stepping outside first thing can help to boost your mood and stabilise the circadian rhythm – sounds like a win to us! ☀️☀️☀️
6) Most Important Tasks First
Unsure what order to do your work in? Research has shown that our self-control and willpower decrease throughout the day, so it’s imperative to do work at our peaks times (Source).
Jennifer Ackerman’s research shows that our brains are most alert roughly 2.5-4 hours after waking up, as this is when our brain power hormones are released, which help us with problem-solving and idea formation.
With this in mind, you should use your ‘peak hours’ at the start of the day for your most important work, then you can do less important tasks like replying to emails later on. Everyone is different though. To discover your personal peak hours, note down the times that you feel most alert and productive throughout the day.
7) Break Tasks into Smaller Digestible Chunks
Sometimes work can feel overwhelming when you’ve got a giant project to complete. So, to make things feel more achievable, break large projects into smaller chunks. You’ll then get a buzz when you tick these off and suddenly the whole project becomes a lot easier.
8) Parking Lot Paper
Ever heard of the ‘parking lot paper’ technique? It’s a way of stopping that ‘eager to procrastinate’ part of your mind. You know the part that tells you to ‘quickly check the news’ or ‘browse Amazon’ or ‘reply to that text’ or ‘refresh inbox’.
Simply have a blank piece of paper on your desk, and whenever your mind tells you to do something that’s not related to the task at hand, write it on your ‘parking lot paper’. You can then refer back to it later (such as having a ‘Parking Lot Paper Hour’ to look forward to). This ensures that a ‘quick check’ of something irrelevant doesn’t throw you off track from the work at hand.
9) Pomodoro Technique
The ‘Pomodoro Technique’ is a way of managing your work where you typically work for 25 minutes (a pomodoro) and then take a five-minute break. Doing this helps improve focus and ensures your brain is getting regular breaks. After four ‘pomodoros’, make sure you take a longer 15-20 minute break. You could also do ‘double pomodoros’ of 50 minutes with a ten minute break if that works better for you. There are lots of online apps to help with this such as Pomofocus.
The most important point here is to make sure you don’t skip breaks during your day, as breaks actually give the mind time to wander, which helps with creative problem-solving.
10)Themed Days/Batching Tasks
A lot of entrepreneurs state that having themed days/batched work is a secret to their productivity success. This isn’t always possible in every job, but if yours allows it, try and group certain tasks – for example, researching days, writing days, meetings/calls/client-focussed days.
If you don’t want to dedicate a whole day to a specific type of task, instead, why not try batching your work throughout the day. For example, having the first hour for high-focus concentration work, then another hour for answering emails, and another for admin. Why? Well, research shows that rather than ‘multitasking’, we’re actually rapidly switching our attention between tasks, and therefore tiring our brains. (Read more about the impact of multitasking here).
11) Breaks to Look Forward to List
Finding the workday monotonous? At the start of the day, plan a list of potential break ideas which you can pick and choose from. These can be anything home, hobby, exercise or food-related such as:
– Make a smoothie/coffee
– Go for a walk
– Call a friend
– Listen to a podcast
– Do laundry (if you really can’t resist 😉)
– Make lunch
– Buy a treat online
– Read a book
By planning regular breaks, you can then look forward to choosing one of your break ideas and ticking it off. It’ll also stop you from the temptation of going on your phone at any possible break gap.
12) Cut Out the Distractions
Did you know that it’s estimated that Brits spend roughly 2 hours and 34 minutes online on their smartphones each day?
Do you really need your phone on your desk for the whole work day or can you do without it? If so, then leave your phone in the other room, or at the very least, turn off notifications and turn your phone over so it doesn’t interrupt the flow of your work.
13) Journal Your Worries
If something is bothering you at work, rather than letting these thoughts fester, schedule some time to get your thoughts out on paper. By writing them down, it can be surprisingly cathartic and can stop them from clogging up our minds. If you want to take things a step further, check out the book – ‘Loving What Is’ by ‘Byron Katie’, and try out ‘The Work’ as a way of processing your worries/stressful thoughts.
14) Check Email at Set Times
There was a famous study at Microsoft where they looked into the email use of their workers. They found that it took people an average of 15 minutes to return back to their important tasks each time they were interrupted by email. (Source).
To conquer this, try choosing certain times to check your emails rather than consistently looking at your inbox. If possible, resist checking emails first thing as it can throw us off the tasks we had scheduled to do and lead to us getting sidetracked with new activities.
15) Learn to Meditate
Meditation for 10 minutes in the morning on a regular basis can do wonders for our mind, productivity and stress levels. If you’ve never meditated before, you might like our article: ‘14 Meditation Tips for People with a Busy Mind and a Busy Life.’
By incorporating exercise into our daily routine, we’ll feel better, less stressed and endorphins (feel-good neurotransmitters) will be released.
17) Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
Whether it’s tasks that you don’t need to do, or a jam-packed day of phone calls, don’t be afraid to say no. Our days can easily be hijacked by other people’s to-do lists, so make sure you keep yours front of mind.
18) Sleep Well
Sleep is one of the most important things when it comes to productivity. In fact, Arianna Huffington has written a whole book on sleep and states that “When we take time to sleep….we are more effective as entrepreneurs, as leaders…our cognitive performance improves. We make better decisions. We are less reactive. We get less upset when bad things happen.” You can read our blog post ‘10 tips to improve your sleep’ here.
19) Declutter Your Work Space
The old saying goes: “a tidy space is a tidy mind” and it’s totally true. Take some time to declutter your desk and you’ll feel a lot better for it. Clutter can distract us and stop us from focusing.
20) Plan Tomorrow, Today
Rather than switching off and then having to think of your to-do list tomorrow morning, use the end of the day as a time to look ahead – check your schedule and plan your to-dos. Productivity expert David Allen makes two lists – his ‘soft landscape’ and his ‘hard landscape’. The ‘soft landscape’ refers to tasks that he’d like to get done but can be moved around/shifted if they need to be. The ‘hard landscape’ refers to tasks that can’t be shifted – such as important meetings and deadlines.
Similarly, you could try the ‘Ivy Lee Method’. At the end of the day, spend 15 minutes writing down the six most important tasks you need to complete the next day. No more than six though. After writing them down, take some time to prioritise the list and rank them in order of importance.
In summary, in the words of Nike, sometimes you need to ‘Just Do It’. If there’s a project/task that you’ve been putting off for a while, then stop waiting for the perfect conditions and just get started.
If you enjoyed this, then did you know that we have a whole section on the blog dedicated to productivity and self-improvement? You might also enjoy this post: ‘Hygge, Lagom or Ikigai? Your Guide to Living Life to the Fullest.’