For many, maintaining high and consistent levels of productivity throughout the week is a challenge. What's more, trying to also stay on top of trendy, innovative productivity techniques can be a task within itself. From the trusty, old school ‘To Do' list to the latest productivity apps, there are plenty of tools out there to keep your mind from wandering. However, unless you have the underlying motivation to keep going, you will lose momentum and your latest attempt to remain focused will have a very short lifespan.
Therefore, in order to maintain high productivity levels, we need to first assess our motivations to do well and succeed. Are you looking for a promotion? Are you hoping to secure a pay rise next year? Or maybe you have thought about applying for a new job and want to ensure you get a glowing reference before you leave your current workplace? Whatever your reasons for wanting to do well, write them down regularly. By putting pen to paper and spilling your aspirations onto a page, your goals will feel more tangible and you will gain more clarity. Also, in writing your goals on paper, you are inadvertently holding yourself to account for what you hope to achieve. (Look up Don't Tone Alone CIC's motivation short course for a 6-week boost to motivation and achieving desired results).
Once you have reassessed your motivations it is time to apply some discipline. Self-discipline is a lot easier when the techniques you adapt not only cater to your work environment or lifestyle but also provide a certain level of enjoyment. For example, while getting out of the office for an outdoor morning meeting to boost productivity might sound great in theory but if your manager doesn't approve, then this technique is not going to be realistic. Similarly, you might download the latest productivity app but if you hate technology then this technique will not serve you well.
So, are there any techniques out there that can be adapted to suit different environments or tastes, maximising productivity across the board? Luckily, there are, and they aren't rocket science either. Sometimes, the most effective methods are the simplest ones, but in order to maintain self-discipline, it is important that you alter them to suit you and your needs, the key is to stick to them after. If you introduce at least one of the hacks below, you can free your mind of distractions and continue to produce quality work.
1. Tackle the most important things first
Are you guilty of procrastinating and leaving the biggest things on your list to the end of the day, when you are tired, looking forward to dinner, or ruminating over rush hour traffic? Even if you spend the morning colour coding your ‘To Do' List, to make the most important tasks standout, the time spent reprioritising your list will be ineffective unless you actually follow through. By biting the bullet and forcing yourself to complete the most important tasks first thing each morning, you can save yourself time that might otherwise be spent procrastinating and you will benefit from tackling your least favourite task with a fresh and clear head. What's more, once that task is out of the way, the rest of the day can be spent on tasks that are less complicated or more enjoyable.
As an extra incentive, take a few minutes each evening to predict which tasks will be the most important/add the most value to your next working day. This will save you time in the mornings and allow you to hit the ground running as soon as you step foot into "work-mode".
2. Organise your space and keep it clean
Do you have stacks of waste paper piling up, dust on your computer monitor or an overflowing rubbish bin beneath your desk? If so, you owe it to yourself to keep your workspace clean and to reduce what's accumulating around you as a disorganised desk can actually contribute to stress at work. Keep clutter out of sight and your stationary collection to a minimum. Invest in a few coloured folders to help organise any ‘go to' pages you need to keep handy. Add a splash of life to your desk in the form of a potted plant or a few photos and place your desk in a space with plenty of natural light. If, however, you work in a cubicle or in a darker corner of an office block, make sure you have a desk lamp. Bright light will help to keep your mind alert and keep drowsiness at bay. Ultimately, less clutter means less distractions and less distractions mean more productivity.
3. One thing at a time
While multitasking is a great skill, in an office environment, it can result in slower output and leave you vulnerable to forgetting things or open to distractions from pesky colleagues. By focusing on your duties, one task at a time, you can concentrate all your energy in seeing that task through. Once you have completed it, you can tick it off your list, give yourself a virtual pat on the back and move on. Tackling four or five things at once might feel like you are saving time and working efficiently but in reality, chopping and changing from task to task will wreak havoc with your concentration and possibly interrupt creative bursts. It is better to complete one job well than three below standard.
4. Get moving
Forcing yourself to sit still for hours on end might convince your boss that you are diligent and focused, however, the truth is that sitting still for long interrupted periods of time affects your blood circulation, and can impact your energy levels as well as your health. Keep an eye on the length of time spent sitting, stretch regularly at your desk or take a minute to stretch outside in the fresh air on the way back from the bathroom. For more tips on how to keep your body moving during the work day, check out how to become more physically active in the workplace.
5. Create time blocks
Organise your workday into stages to maintain focus. It is very difficult to maintain focus for 8 hours straight so you should not put unrealistic pressure on yourself to do so. Science has proven time and time again how important it is to take breaks in order to maintain productivity and keep stress levels down. Compartmentalise your day into stages, each stage needs to consist of a work segment and a break segment. Take some time to figure out how long you can stay focused without feeling the need to check your phone or fall down an internet rabbit hole. This work segment may last one hour, ninety minutes or two hours, everyone is different. Once you have discovered how long you can stay focused for, set a timer, and get to work. Starting with the most important task of the day, work until the timer is up. Next, take a moment to stand up, stretch, get some fresh air, or grab a coffee before returning to your desk.
Be consistent with your break times, if you can stay focused for 1 hour, give yourself a ten minute break from intensive work, if it's two hours, maybe take thirty minutes, remember to create work blocks that work for you and keep repeating this technique until the day is up. Remember, you still need to take an adequate lunch break to fuel your body and switch off from your work. Aside from having a stretch or a bathroom break, the things you spend your short break segments doing are up to you and of course, the priorities of your job. If you have just spent two hours focusing on a difficult project, take your ‘break' to switch things up and turn your attention to something more mundane like answering voicemails or responding to a few emails. When you start your next time block at the end of your break, you will return to your project feeling refreshed and ready to restart. Taking these regular breaks will ensure you make less mistakes, stay focused when required and consequently, leave you feeling more accomplished at the end of each working day.