Global events like coronavirus present new challenges, daily. For those working in new ways, and in new environments, it’s important to consider how to maintain productivity under pressure.
Here are 13 tips that may help with productivity.
1. Plan ahead
Consider planning your day’s work the night before, to give your mind the time to turn things over before you act. Create a list of the work you need to do and what you’d like to get done to hold yourself accountable. Repeat this process every day so that it becomes part of your routine.
In times of great uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to focus on essential work that will add value. There’s a fundamental difference between busy and productive; working without clear prioritisation is likely to leave you feeling busy, without a sense of achievement.
The Getting Things Done® (GTD®) technique recommends that the most powerful way to prioritise is to look at every task and ask, ‘is it actionable’? If not, deprioritise it, and move on to other tasks. If it is, you should immediately decide the very next action required. This whole process should take less than two minutes.
3. Set a routine
Studies show that we're better equipped to perform different tasks at different times of the day, and if there's one thing the human mind likes, it's a good pattern1. There's a lot to be said for completing the same work at the same time each day. While it’s different for everyone, some people find it easier to complete complex tasks that require more active brain power in the morning. Some find they’re at their creative best and work better with others in the afternoon. Find out what works for you and order your day accordingly.
4. Do one thing at a time
The human mind isn’t set up for multitasking. In fact, research shows that multitasking kills performance2. People who do more than one thing at any given time may find they are slower at switching from one task to the next. Instead, the key to productivity may be to give one task your complete attention; finish it, then move onto the next. To be even more productive, you can even try “batching” or grouping similar tasks together, completing them in one hit.
Once you have a good sense of how much work you need to get through, you should ask which tasks really need to be done by you. If there’s a task that you simply don’t need to be involved in, consider delegating it. If you're worried about the time it will take to brief someone else, or train them to do it the right way, you may wish to consider it an investment. Putting in a little time upfront may bring about a big lift in productivity over time. By delegating you free yourself up to work on more important tasks, while also creating the opportunity for higher output.
6. Set deadlines
Almost everyone is more motivated when they’re working to a deadline, so even when a project is open-ended, it pays to set your own. Communicating deadlines with your broader team will also ensure you feel accountable – making you more likely to complete tasks without delay.
7. Cut distractions
No one’s productive when they’re interrupted. Take time to understand the things that interrupt your thought processes and allocate adequate time to the tasks that require your full attention. If you need help resisting temptation, why not use an app to help you, such as RescueTime.
8. Take a break
No one can concentrate for hours on end, especially for tasks involving mental effort. Taking regular breaks is a vital part of maintaining productive.
The power of taking breaks is the centrepiece of the Pomodoro method of time management. It encourages you to break every task into half hour blocks called ‘pomodoros’, which consist of a 25 minute ‘sprint’ followed by a five minute break. After two hours, or four ‘pomodoros’, it’s recommended that you take a longer break to stay focused.
9. Embrace procrastination
We usually think of procrastination as the enemy of productivity. However, that may not always be the case. Sometimes, we procrastinate because our ideas aren’t fully formed, or the task we’re meant to be doing isn’t critical. Procrastination might be telling us that this is something outside of our skill set, or something we could delegate. If you’re procrastinating about getting a task done, ask yourself why, and then then address the underlying cause.
10. Segment your life
In an age of 24-hour connectivity, it can feel as though we’re always at work, which can be very bad for our productivity. But people who don’t switch off tend to be less productive, more anxious and more error prone3. Try to separate work from your personal life, which may help you keep energised and focused when it comes to getting work done.
11. Organise your space
Disorganised spaces may cost you time, and hamper your efficiency. As some move to working in their homes, consider separating your work space into zones (with a computer and computer-free area as a minimum) as may you may find you give yourself greater control over your workflow, which may make you more productive.
12. Get appy
These days, there’s an app for almost everything, including workplace productivity. There are apps to help you combine calendars and diaries, manage workflow, or compartmentalise your inbox.
13. And finally, feel comfortable to say no sometimes
It’s human nature to try to please others, but if you agree to take on every task, you may be letting others dictate your schedule. One of the keys to being productive is staying in control of the way you spend your day. That may mean saying no to some things.
Being more productive isn’t a one-off; it’s an ongoing process that involves dedication and constant evaluation.