Maybe you're one of those people who springs out of bed moments before your alarm goes off, ready to face the day and annihilate your to-do list (after an intense gym workout and balanced breakfast of course), stunning the boss with your motivation. However, you're probably more likely to be in the majority who would admit they'd like to get a little more out of their work day.
While we can't promise you that these tips alone will have you bursting out of bed and completing your to-do list before noon each and every day, they are certainly effective strategies to increase productivity at work. If you're more productive, you're also highly likely to be less stressed, more satisfied with your job, and more likely to be leaving the office on time daily.
Increased productivity is also a great way to impress the higher ups and increase your chances of promotion (and a pay rise!).
Identify your distractions, and realistic ways to avoid them
We've all read those columns that provide helpful tips like the only way to become productive is to leave your phone far, far away so you won't be tempted to look at it. Now, honestly the reasoning is solid, but the tip kind of sucks. Why? Because it's not realistic to expect yourself to go from a "oh-I'll-just-check-that-notification-now" kind of guy to a "phones-strictly-in-downtime-only" kind of guy. Plus, you probably use your phone for work so leaving it locked in a cupboard across the room is probably not a viable solution.
Instead, be realistic and work out how to restrict distractions. For example, allow yourself to only check your phone once per hour, or something similar. The same tactic works for emails – trust me, if it needs a response within an hour, you're getting a phone call, not an email.* (*Usually. If this is not true for your work, adapt accordingly. We don't want you fired.)
If you want to cut out distractions but willpower alone is not enough (don't worry buddy, we've all been there), there's a ton of great apps that use gamification to entice you to leave your electronic devices untouched. My favourite is "Forest", an app that allows you to grow a tree for every time you go without phone use for 20 minutes. Sound ridiculous? Probably, but gamification works a treat for me and it may for you too. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it.
Work out a "to do" list strategy that works for you
No matter how many productivity apps, smart watches and concentration music come out of Silicon Valley and elsewhere, the humble to-do list is still a winner for most. If you're someone who loves technology, you're living in the golden age – there is a to-do list app to suit every possible style and occupation – and then hundreds more. Yes, some of them are even gamified (like Habitica, where you create a little warrior by knocking off to do list tasks. Can you tell I like reward-based apps?).
Of course, you may be more of the pen and paper type, and that's totally fine. It's you who'll be laughing when the internet cuts out and you don't even lose a productive second! Plus, everyone loves the satisfaction of emphatically crossing off an item from your list. Really, the key is identifying what works for you, and then sticking with that. Don't try to work against your own preferences, just develop your own system and stick with it.
Take regular breaks, especially at lunch time
At the risk of sounding like your mum at a family barbecue, if you're not eating, sleeping and taking breaks, you're going to feel like crap, and that is 100% going to affect your productivity. When you have a huge list of things to do it can seem really tempting to skip lunch altogether or at least eat it at your desk, but this is very counterproductive behaviour. The human mind is not good at concentrating on one task for too long, and even just a short break can really refresh the mind and improve your motivation and productivity. This is especially so if you're hungry. Even if it's only for 10 minutes, give yourself a real, proper lunch break – and then get back to your task list.
Do the crappy tasks first
So, you get to work prepped and ready to smash out a solid days work. Forest is on in the background, and you're growing a killer tree, and your to do list is written up. Chances are, you'll probably pick the easiest or most enjoyable tasks first – it's human nature. Why call that really aggressive client when you could put the finishing touches on an awesome report first?
Well, because generally you're more refreshed and productive early, whereas by the end of your day – and thus the end of your to do list – you're probably feeling much flatter. This is not the optimum time to be having that conversation with the difficult client. In addition, it means you're likely to do all the better tasks with a niggling feeling, as you're dreading the thought of dialling that number once it's all done. Personally, I assign everything on my to-do list to letters (from "A" for most, to "C" for least) in the categories of 'urgency' and 'difficulty'. Obviously, urgent tasks come first – but I also prioritise the hard ones so they're out of the way and not becoming roadblocks to productivity.
We all know the feeling where you've got so much work on that you stare at your perfectly organised to do list and feel totally and utterly overwhelmed. You're not sure where to start, so after a few minutes of procrastinating (oh look! The perfect time to tidy your desk!), you start trying to do it all at once. Stop. Take a deep breath, as this is a quick way to stress yourself out producing less than ideal work.
Prioritise what you actually need to do, and then start on the first task only. Divert your phone if you have to and tell the front desk you're only answering calls from people who are literally on fire. Otherwise, they can wait. There's no point trying to fight against the basics of human nature – we don't do well when we try to do a million things at once. It's better to take an hour each to do five tasks well, than it is to take eight hours flicking between tabs and trying to do everything. Trust me, and yourself, to get everything done on time. You will thank yourself for it – and hopefully, so will your boss when they're giving you that promotion!