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8 Methods for Increasing Productivity

We all get the occasional “blahs” where we don’t feel like doing much of anything. This feeling has been exacerbated for many of us lately because of “pandemic burnout.” We might have trouble feeling enthusiastic or energetic, or we might get more easily discouraged or distracted. For some, it’s been difficult to keep a positive frame of mind or outlook.

And, the thing is, many of us WANT to be productive. We don’t enjoy feeling like we’re in a slump or that the days are long, yet unproductive.

So, how can we combat our listlessness, change our mindsets, and increase productivity? Everyone is different, of course, but I suggest trying one or more of the following approaches to improve your daily productivity.

1. Take Care of Yourself

I’m starting with a tip that may seem obvious, but to me, it is by far the most important. If you’re not getting enough sleep, eating well, or exercising regularly, your mental health and emotional health will suffer right alongside your physical health. There is a strong link between these health factors and personal wellbeing and, frankly, it’s nearly impossible to perform at your peak if you’re feeling unhealthy or mentally unwell. Take care of yourself! Do it for you, do it to help your productivity (and, in turn, feel better about yourself and your achievements!)

2. Tackle Difficult Projects at Your “Peak Time”

Everyone has peak times throughout the time—times when you function best, your mind is clearest, and you’re feeling mentally nimble (See Daniel Pink’s book “When” for more). For some people, that’s the morning (perhaps right after you awaken, or after you’ve had that first cup of coffee). For other people, that might be later in the day or even at night. Take note of your peak time(s) and set aside time to tackle difficult tasks for that timeframe. If you’re a morning person, for instance, it’s better to ignore your emails for a while (they can be answered when you’re not at your peak) in favor of more complex projects.

3. Do NOT Multitask

Have you heard this one before? That’s because it’s absolutely true! You won’t do your best work, and you’ll likely feel more scattered, if you try to field multiple projects or tasks at the same time. Don’t do it! Pick one assignment and put all your attention on that one thing.

4. Block Your Time

Time blocking is a method of setting aside chunks of time throughout the day to work on specific tasks, or a group of related tasks. You might, for example, set aside an hour from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. to type up a particular report. Or, you might set aside a half-hour from 1:30 to 2:00 to prep for a meeting. Putting a frame around an assignment is like making yourself a little promise: “I will focus on this one particular task from X time to Y time, and do nothing else.”

Keep in mind, you may need to adjust your time slots as the day progresses, but do your best to stick to them! Don’t overschedule yourself. Instead of blocking tasks back-to-back, be sure to schedule in some buffer time, just in case you need to reschedule. And don’t forget to take breaks!

5. Set Timers

An alternative to time blocking is setting a timer when you begin working on a particular project. See what you can get done in, say, 45 minutes. Ready, go!

Setting a timer gives you some incentive to plunge in and JUST WORK. It doesn’t matter how you approach your work or how perfect it is on the first go-around; the important thing is to forge ahead and do it.

6. Set Healthy Boundaries

What’s the one thing that derails you on a given day? For many people, it’s emails.

We see an email pop up from an important co-worker, client, or supervisor, and we automatically want to look at it and reply. I encourage you to be less reactive with your emails and more proactive. When emails control you, they also control your day. Instead of hovering over your inbox, do your best to only check it at designated times (3-4 times per day, if you can!). That way, you can maintain your focus and work on projects at hand, instead of being derailed by “the latest thing.”

7. Manage Meetings and Phone Calls

Like emails, it’s a good idea to only participate in meetings and phone calls that are scheduled in advance. If someone would like to talk with you, they can get on your calendar. Unless something is a true emergency (which, unless you’re a surgeon, this is rarely the case!), they can wait. If you are coerced into participating in a last-minute meeting, be sure to express how you feel. For example: “I can make an exception today and participate, but typically I prefer at least a day or two notice for meetings. I know you didn’t realize this, so I thought I’d let you know my policy. I appreciate it!”

8. Step Away

When you need to, take a break. Step away from your desk, stretch, exercise, eat a healthy snack—whatever it takes to rest and rejuvenate. Some workplaces even encourage naps when you’re feeling dead tired. If you’re working from home (as many people are these days), there’s no harm in stepping away for a power nap. As long as you can bounce back and continue your work, a nap can actually be quite beneficial.

If you’re hoping to increase your productivity, there are many methods and approaches you could try. Sample a few, and see what works for you. Here’s to a better week, month, and year ahead!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE. 

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Your Input determines your Output

After recently reconnecting with an old friend, I was reminded of what a huge difference it can make in a relationship to simply keep up with someone. It’s easy to say that life gets in the way, but sending a text or an email to check in on someone else’s life has such a positive effect on a relationship that it is absolutely worth the effort.

In work, as in life, what you put in determines what you get out. A friendship can’t flourish if you don’t put in time; likewise, your career can’t grow if you don’t nurture it. There is, of course, a certain degree of luck and chance to any career, but to leave the whole thing to the hands of fate would be to give up on yourself.

Input #1: Networking

Output: A stronger coalition of career advocates

One of the most important parts of career-building is networking, which certainly requires positivity and a willingness to put yourself out there. In some ways, it truly is a case of faking it ‘til you make it. You’ll never know how attending a networking event will benefit you until you try, but you can pretty much guess what staying in and watching TV will get you!

Input #2: Develop a system

Output: Efficiency and accuracy

Take time to learn your own natural rhythm. You’ll find different information all over the place regarding working in spurts versus staying steadily productive, but if you can find the system that works for you, you’ll see a marked improvement. Maybe you flourish by setting a timer for yourself and focusing on one task at a time for a set period, including your breaks. Experiment with different amounts of time and see how your attention span is affected.

The one thing to keep in mind is all the data showing that multitasking is not only ineffective but harmful to productivity. You may feel like you’re getting more done, but having to change your focus more frequently is keeping you at a superficial level of attention, rather than allowing you to dive deeper.

Input #3: Take care of yourself

Output: Better health and attitude

When it comes to your personal health, fewer things are more important. If you’re not getting enough sleep, eating well, or exercising regularly, your mental and emotional wellbeing will suffer. Take breaks when you need to; walk away from your desk, stretch your legs, and go mingle with co-workers from time to time.

Remember: Physical health isn’t the only health. You have to take care of your mental and emotional sides as well. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, underappreciated, or just plain worn out, your work will inevitably suffer. To get back in balance, I advise you to schedule intentional breaks. Whether this be an occasional afternoon to yourself (to drink coffee in a café, grab a massage, or go on a family outing) or a two-week vacation, it’s a good idea to distance yourself from the office every once in a while. This allows you to rest and rejuvenate, but it also gives you perspective—a chance to reflect on the bigger picture.

 

Ultimately, it all comes back to putting in effort before you expect positive results. Simplifying yourself down to terms of input and output may be a little reductionist—remember that you are a complex and wonderful being, and you need to take care of yourself as well. Take some time each day without any external stimulants coming at you—no television, no social media, no radio—just you, checking in with yourself. If you put energy into maintaining your own health, you’ll be able to put energy into your career. Like a renewed connection with a friend, you’ll find there are tangible benefits to revitalizing your approach to your work.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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