Research suggests that on an average eight-hour workday, we spend just 2 hours, 53 minutes doing productive work. The rest is wasted reading the news, checking social media, chatting with colleagues, and making tea. On top of this, the time we do spend working is often spent wastefully and inefficiently.
To help you make the most of every day at work, here are some quick and easy ways to improve productivity that you can implement now.
1. Give clear instructions
Given the busy nature of modern work, it’s natural to cut corners wherever you can. But when it comes to giving instructions, being too hasty can cost you later. Rushed emails can result in confusion, crossed wires, and an eventual barrage of questions coming your way.
It may take a minute or two longer initially, but be clear in your instructions to others. Ensure that nothing is ambiguous or vague. This will save you much time and bother in the future.
2. Streamline meetings
Let’s be honest, meetings are rarely an effective use of time. Most drag on longer than they should, or involve people that don’t need to be there.
To make meetings more productive, reduce the numbers to the bare minimum, go in with clear objectives, and stick to the allotted time. In many cases, you’ll find that a ten-minute chat between three people achieves the same result as 30-minute meeting with ten people. And to keep things dynamic, try stand-up meetings wherever possible.
3. Step away from the phone
Research shows that the average American adult racked up 3 hours, 25 minutes of in-app smartphone use every day. That’s pretty scary when you consider all the other stuff we have to do – you know, stuff like work.
To boost productivity, set some ground rules about your smartphone usage – for example, only check your phone during screen breaks, and leave social media alone until lunch. And believe it or not, phone usage tracker apps are a great way of monitoring your screen time.
4. Set aside time to reply to emails
The steady stream of incoming emails can be a constant distraction for anyone attempting to focus. Just when you get into your groove, up pops another one to knock you off course again.
Instead of reacting to each email as it arrives, take a proactive approach and set aside some time each day to respond. This could be half an hour in the morning and half an hour at the end of the day, or whatever suits you best.
5. Take regular breaks
When faced with a mountain of work, it can be tempting to dig in and, with gritted teeth, banish all notions of a break until the work is done. After all, breaks are a waste of time, right?
Wrong. Breaks are essential. They help you clear your head, regain focus, and recharge your energy. So as counterintuitive as it sounds, you’ll get more done if you take regular breaks.
6. If it’s not working, move on
Sometimes, things just don’t click. You stare at the screen, asking your brain to give you an idea, a sentence, a word – something. But your head just groans in response. When this happens, it’s time to cut your losses and move on to something else. Chances are, when you return to the task later, that idea will come to you straight away.
7. Follow the two-minute rule
The two-minute rule states that if a task takes less than a couple of minutes to complete, get it done now. This could be scheduling a meeting, confirming an appointment, or replying to a short email – all those small tasks that take hardly any effort to complete, but if left to mount up, can start to make us feel overwhelmed. Once you’ve cleared these off your to-do list, you can focus on slaying the bigger beasts with a clear head.
8. Zone out with ambient noise
If you work in a busy open-plan office, chances are it’s pretty hard to concentrate. From time to time, we all need to zone out and put our headphones on. But depending on what you listen to, you could be making your job even harder.
If you listen to something involving words – songs with lyrics, podcasts, or live radio – you may be stifling your productivity further. Our minds naturally focus on what’s being said, taking our attention away from our work. Instead, try listening to ambient noise. There are loads of handy apps out there that allow you to construct your own background noise from a wide range of samples – everything from waves and seagulls to the rattle of a train.