We often have the feeling that the effort we make to carry out our tasks at work are not proportional to the results we achieve and that we need more time to tackle everything we have set out to do. This stress can overwhelm us and we enter a dynamic which makes us even more inefficient. Productivity experts recommend following a series of steps to optimise our working day and to be happier at work: some of them are habits we should adopt in the workplace while others are measures related to healthy practices in general, which also have repercussions on our professional performance.
Before listing the 18 ideas on how to be more productive, there is a fundamental concept we have to understand: working longer hours does not mean we are better professionals. Indeed, quite the opposite: it may be a sign that we are not doing things right.
1. Clearly define our objectives
It is essential to know what our goals are and what we want to achieve by reaching them.
2. Plan our time according to the objectives we have established
Once we have clearly defined our objectives, how and when are we going to meet them? Outlining a road map will help us to visualise the resources we have, including time, as well as keeping us on the right track.
3. Focus our activity
It is easy for our surroundings and the unexpected to interfere with our day-to-day tasks, but if we are clear about where we have to focus our work, we minimise the distractions. As Steve Jobs said, “Focus on what is really important.” Continuous interruptions significantly reduce productivity.
4. Prioritise tasks
We have to distinguish what is important from what is secondary; which tasks we have to prioritise so they don’t become “urgent” and the alarm bells start to go off.
5. Learn to say “No”
In some societies there is a deep-rooted idea that saying “No” is discourteous. However, it is sometimes necessary and refusing invitations or offers politely is enough to avoid offending anybody.
6. Avoid unnecessary meetings
Meeting take up a lot of our time and they are not always justified. Limit yourself to the strictly essential ones.
7. Learn when to hold and how to run meetings
All invitations to meetings should contain an agenda and a start and finish time: state the purpose of the meeting, which issues will be addressed and how long we are going to spend discussing them. Contributions from participants should be constructive; if we have a criticism, we should provide an alternative suggestion for improvement.
Perhaps the meeting will include assigning actions. The team should be clear about who will be responsible for each task, when the deadline is to accomplish them, and who needs to be informed once they are completed.
8. Manage e-mails correctly
There is no reason why we must reply immediately to all the e-mails we receive. Common sense and good judgement can be used to decide which require a response straight away and which ones can be answered later. In some cases, it might be appropriate to send an acknowledgement of receipt, stating that we will respond to the matter at a future date. Having said that, we should never leave an e-mail without a reply for too long.
Video of the legendary 2005 speech given at Stanford by Steve Jobs, founder of Apple.
9. Establish good relationships with others
A pleasant working atmosphere, without frictions, provides the harmonious environment required to make the most of our time, to be more creative, and to ask for collaboration from others when we need it.
10. Learn to delegate
Being a department or project manager does not mean that you have to take on all work duties. Learning to let go and delegate tasks, especially when other people would do them more efficiently, is an intelligent way of managing time, responsibilities and teams.
11. Take breaks
Every hour we should take a small break to stretch our legs and disconnect our minds. When we start work again we will be more productive. Having a rest is not a waste of time; you recuperate the ability to work at full capacity, particularly when the activity at hand requires concentration.
12. Leave our surroundings if necessary
On occasion we may experience a mental block due to stress or tiredness. When this happens to responsible people, it makes no sense to stay in the office just to “clock up the hours”. Experts recommend overcoming these situations by taking a walk or simply going home to continue working from there.
13. Spend time on our hobbies
The people who have interests outside work are much more productive in their jobs, as well as being more creative in finding solutions to problems. This is logical, as creativity is closely related to the ability to establish relationships between ideas which seemingly have no connection. The more experiences we have, the richer our lives and the more possibilities we see around us for connection
14. Take care of our diet and doing exercise
Good eating habits provide us with the necessary energy to perform without suffering the toxic consequences of a diet based on fast food, while doing exercise contributes to keeping stress at bay. If we substitute a few coffees or teas for water, our bodies will thank us for it.
15. Be willing to take risks
Many organisations want to introduce changes to improve or innovate, but they are afraid that implementing them will be a mistake. We must be willing to take risks and to learn from possible errors. Great leaders encourage this culture in their companies.
16. Keep our workspace tidy
Knowing where everything is and having items we need on a regular basis to hand saves time.
17. Value our work and that of others
Every now and then it is a good idea to take stock and ask ourselves if we like our job. If the answer is yes, we can assess our options for development in our chosen profession. If the answer is no, perhaps we should consider a change. Likewise, good bosses know how to identify valuable employees and explicitly acknowledge this, thereby increasing motivation in good workers. Sooner or later an undervalued professional will end up leaving the company.
18. Decorate our office to foster wellbeing
Colours have an effect on our emotions. Ideally, the base colour is neutral and secondary colours are chosen according to the mood we want to create in each space. (Broadly speaking, white, blue, green, grey and earthy tones are relaxing, while red, orange and yellow stimulate activity. Consequently, the second group is recommended for meeting rooms and dining areas.)
Lighting is an important factor: take advantage of natural light as much as possible and avoid reflections on computer screens.
Noise can negatively affect many people and make it difficult to concentrate. We should be respectful of others.
Finally, other aspects we should consider include: ventilation, cleaning, odours, and the ambient temp