Ever feel like you’re treading water at work? Like you’re doing a million things, but nothing seems to actually ever get done?
When you’re in the middle of this, it is SO easy to blame other people or your circumstance (trust me, I’ve done the *ahem* research…).
“So-and-so is giving me too much work.”
“There just aren’t enough hours in the day.”
“If only so-and-so would pull their weight…”
Now, of course sometimes this blame throwing and excuse reaching is justified – BUT, it won’t help you get more done and it certainly doesn’t mean you are powerless to change things.
This was a lesson I learnt quite quickly in my job. I used to be defensive and spent more time coming up with excuses than actually just doing the work. This changed once I got promoted to a management position – I learnt that there are, actually, lots of things you can do when work piles up.
Tips to improve productivity at work
Assess the situation
First and foremost, you need to block a day out in your calendar so you can look at your situation and, if you manage a team, your team’s situation. What is being asked of you? What do you need to delegate? What can you say no to? What do you need help with? What are your timescales? What’s realistic?
Being able to delegate and say no are skills in themselves, so if you struggle with this, I would work on it as a priority. Remember, you are hired to work a certain number of hours a day – if you can’t do what’s needed in that time, something’s gotta give and you need to call in reinforcements or have an honest discussion with your manager.
When do you work best? For me it’s the morning. Try and get me to write a page about attachment disorder (or something equally as heavy) after 3:00pm and I will find every procrastination tactic in the book.
Plan out your days according to your rhythms and when you do your best work. If something just isn’t happening, drop it and move on to something else. Sometimes we need to step away from a task and let it breathe before we can go back to it and give it life.
Note your time-sucks
A coffee and catch-up with my team recently revealed what they found distracting and what was taking up their time. Asking yourself (and your team if you’re a manager) what tasks you do that take the most time for the least benefit can help you trim the fat.
Sometimes this will involve other teams, so try to think of solutions that work for everyone. For example, a time suck for one of my team members was getting last minute/ad-hoc design tasks from other teams. We didn’t want to say no to these, but needed more warning so it could be scheduled into her workload. So, we came to the decision to allocate certain days a month for design work. This would force other teams to think ahead and give my team member time to plan her workload – and we didn’t have to say no to the tasks.
Try batch days
Batch days are where you focus on just one or two tasks in a day. This certainly isn’t for everyone, but when our team tried it I loooooved it. It means I only have a couple of big priorities to worry about for the day ahead and I get to fully immerse myself in a job.
It isn’t a perfect system, but have a go at allocating certain days to certain tasks (for example scheduling social media for the week ahead on a Monday) and see how you get on.
Thanks to our open-plan office loving culture, distractions come at you thick and fast. Instant messages, colleagues on the phone, someone popping over to ask a quick favour – it can be hard to get shit done sometimes.
While sadly, you can’t build a wall around your desk (trust me, my team considered it!) you can do your best to limit distractions.
For us this means coming away from Slack (our instant messaging platform at work) and setting our status to ‘page writing’ so people know when we’re trying to get our heads down. We’re also getting laptops soon so if necessary we can move to a meeting room or a nearby cafe to get work done in peace.
Talk to your manager and think of solutions – there’s always something!
You can’t be productive when you have to wade through a million documents to find the one you need. Spend a few hours just organising your online shiz. If you don’t have labels for your inbox already (*gasps*) get on that pronto, and yes, you can change the colours of these folders on Gmail (hover over label until little box appears, click on this and select ‘change label colour’).
And please do the same for your Google Drive documents – not having folders here gives me palpitations.
Enter hermit mode
This comes hand in hand with the ‘limiting distractions’ point. For me, this means getting a coffee on the go, sticking my headphones in and setting myself to away on Slack. For you it may mean earplugs, going to a cafe or switching your phone off.
I’m always shocked at just how much work I can get done when I really knuckle down and rid myself of any distractions.
Yes, getting organised, entering hermit mode and all of the above will help increase productivity – but so will taking regular breaks. I can normally trundle along quite happily in hermit mode for a certain amount of time, then – blergh, I can’t focus. We aren’t designed to work solidly for eight hours (or more!).
We’ve started taking walking breaks at work (as well as our full hour lunch which we always take AWAY from our desks) and it has certainly helped my productivity. Whenever I feel I’ve stared at my screen too long or I simple can’t ‘word good’, I get up and go outside for a lap around the building.
Just getting away from your desk into nature and getting some fresh air makes such a difference – you clear your head and come back feeling refreshed. And I hope it goes without saying that taking your lunch break away from your desk is a must, however busy you are, you’ve got to take breaks to stay productive.
Ask for help (but have solutions in mind)
There are times when we use every productivity tool in our arsenal, and we’re still drowning in work. When this happens – don’t suffer in silence, speak up and talk to your manager. If you simply need more resources, explain this and do the work to justify your request.
If you aren’t able to get more resources this way, think of other solutions. Can you outsource anything? Can another team help you out? Could an intern help lighten the load? Managers don’t want you coming to them with problems, so give them solutions and be honest.
Your health and wellbeing should always come first – if it doesn’t at your company, consider moving on. There’s so much more to life than work. Spend time with loved ones, book a holiday, have an adventure, reconnect with your non-work self and gain a little perspective.
Any productivity tips you guys use that I’ve missed?