Increased productivity is something I constantly strive for, but sometimes I find it very hard to say no to things. When you take on multiple projects and realise you may have bitten off more than you can chew, it’s crucial to find ways to turbo-charge your productivity.
There has been much written on the subject of business productivity, and business writer Ekaterina Walter’s post, 7 Habits of Insanely Productive People (a play on the well-known book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey), is one of a multitude. I like the points she makes, so I thought I’d add three of my own to the list to make it an even 10!
Ekaterina has spent many years working alongside highly productive people, particularly within the tech industry, and these are the useful behaviours that she’s observed throughout her career:
1. Never eat lunch at your desk, alone
I’m sure it’s a common theme: You have an immense workload to get through, and you know you’ll most likely be working late. So to save time, you gobble down a sandwich at your desk while continuing to stare at a computer screen. But it’s not healthy to eat your lunch in this way, and it’s good for your body to take regular breaks.
Secondly, Ekaterina says to “realise that sometimes what makes you faster, better, smarter is your network!” Lunchtimes can be a great opportunity to network with your colleagues, build deeper relationships and meet with new people within your industry.
2. Seek daily productivity pockets
Everyone functions differently at particular times of day. Learn to recognise when you are most productive and do your best to keep those blocks of time free from interruptions and distraction. Save work that requires focused brainpower, such as writing and strategy work, for those periods. Your colleagues will come to know not to disturb you at those times.
3. Use productivity tools
Social media sometimes has a lot to answer for! In this hyperconnected world, there are so many devices and messaging services continually demanding our attention that combined they can seriously erode our concentration and impact our productivity and creativity. Try to break the habit of constantly checking for emails, messages and updates. Get into the habit of “logging out” during the times of day when you want to be productive. If your willpower isn’t strong enough, there are an array of website blockers which will do the job for you, such as StayFocusd for Chrome, LeechBlock for Firefox and WasteNoTime for Safari.
4. Use filters and aggregators
We live in an age of information overload. While it’s important to know what key thinkers within our industry are saying and to stay on top of relevant news, there’s no way we can try to consume everything. As a journalist, I got into the habit early on of setting up news and social media feeds for writers, people, keywords, etc., that I was interested in. Then I’d digest those at the start of my day before diving into work. Nowadays there are plenty of news aggregators out there — at the moment we are favouring Alltop, BuzzSumo and Swayy.
5. Be useful to others and become a human filter
I used to work with someone who prepared an email digest every Friday afternoon for everyone within the company, highlighting his top industry reads of the week along with a brief personal overview. He later turned this into an industry-wide email newsletter which built up thousands of subscribers, and he is now a columnist for a national newspaper. So what began as a small act of usefulness has genuinely helped to further his career and industry profile.
While doing this might take a little bit of time and on the surface appear unproductive, the act of helping colleagues will often mean that people are more willing to help you in return. It can also be very useful to have an archived resource of interesting articles you have come across, which can save you time in the future.
Delegation doesn’t come easily to some people, me included. But it’s a good habit to learn, and if managed successfully, it can free up time for more important tasks. As Ekaterina says, “Delegating will make you a much better leader too, because it shows your trust in others and allows them to shine as well.”
7. Get away from the office
You know the old saying: “A change of scene is as good as a rest.” Sometimes it pays to get away from your office space or computer, to get the creative juices flowing and allow time for some insprirational thinking. If you have a big piece of writing to do, sometimes it can be nice to head off to a quiet, local cafe or work in the garden for an afternoon. Taking colleagues off site can also be very productive for teams.
And here are three extra tips from me…
8. Have a work ritual
Many successful athletes, actors, footballers, etc., all have a pre-game or pre-performance ritual to help them get into a mental state for performing at their best. There’s no reason why this can’t translate to the workplace. Whether it’s tidying your desk, having a quiet coffee and a read of your news feeds, writing a to-do list or updating your workflow on Podio, putting on some soothing tunes or working in productive time pockets, find a ritual which works for you and stick to it.
9. Don’t get too hung up on perfection
My five-year-old daughter is a perfectionist like me, and through her I see how counterproductive it can be. If she can’t complete something to perfection, she becomes incredibly frustrated, even if her initial attempt was pretty good. There’s nothing wrong with striving for perfection in general, but if it’s at a granular level, it can significantly hinder productivity. Sometimes just getting a document out the door on time is better than holding onto it until it is “perfect”.
In the wise words of Michael J. Fox, “I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.”
10. Be wary of burnout
Don’t be fooled into thinking that productivity means working long, hard hours. Working too hard or too much can destroy productivity, because it robs you of your time, focus and energy. Learn to know when you’re in the danger zone of approaching burnout and scale back. You may want to read my post 9 top tips for avoiding stress and burnout.
Business graduate, Chris Bailey, spent a year exploring the topic of productivity. As an experiment, for one month he tried working 90-hour weeks, alternating between working 90 hours one week and then 20 hours the next. Interestingly, he found that he got as much work done in both his 90-hour and 20-hour weeks. In his own words, “When I limited how much time I spent on a task, I forced myself to exert more energy over less time so I could get the task done in what limited time I had. When I threw more time at my work in my longer weeks, I tended to procrastinate more, work on lower-leverage activities, and waste more time.”