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If you’re anything like me, keeping a high level of output and productivity at work can be challenging week after week. There are so many readily-available distractions in the age of social media and smartphones. Some days it can feel near impossible to remain focused on the task at hand for more than a few minutes.
Without the interruption of coffee shops or a change of scenery at the office or library in 2020, ways to increase productivity at work are more relevant than ever. Now is an excellent opportunity to mix things up with new methods of structuring your time in the days and weeks ahead. Being a bit more intentional with planning your time can result in huge productivity gains and higher quality output.
The Top Techniques to Increase Productivity at Work
Overall Productivity Tips to Remember
Before we dive into each technique, let’s cover some of the constants when creating any type of dedicated focus plan.
- Stay Consistent. Give any new process a try for at least one week to understand if it’s making a positive impact. You will rarely know if a technique is suitable for the long term in less than a week.
- Let Life Happen. Keep in mind that changes in your mental state or forces outside of your control might throw you off your plan. One morning when you’re feeling extra tired and stressed, your favorite neighbor will pop by for a chat, followed by the cat vomiting three times in the hallway resulting in the need for immediate clean-up on aisle 2. Speaking from experience, you will have days like this. But don’t give up on your new productivity method because you missed an hour and now everything is off. Take a deep breath, hop back in, and get started again from where you left off.
- Silence Notifications. This goes for your mobile device and any push notifications sent on your computer that aren’t urgent. Consider a setting like “Do Not Disturb,” which can allow calls from a select group of favorites to make sure you won’t miss any urgent calls.
- Resist the Urge to Check Social Media. When implementing these productivity techniques, do your best to give yourself the best shot at being successful. This means saving non-work-related social media checks until breaks or after working hours.
“The urge to check Twitter or refresh Reddit becomes a nervous twitch that shatters uninterrupted time into shards too small to support the presence necessary for an intentional life.”Cal Newport, Deep Work*
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro method, named after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer* of all things, is the process of breaking work blocks into 25-minute productivity “sprints,” followed by a 5-minute break. These 5-minute breaks offer a small reward. Some standard rewards are a cup of tea, a quick snack, or even a round of push-ups or some other brief exercise. The prize trains your brain to stay on task to reap the reward that follows the next sprint.
Who should try the Pomodoro method: Office Workers, Stay-at-home Parents, Teachers, anyone trying to accomplish mundane tasks that take more than 25 minutesEx: writing an article, cleaning the house during naptime, or grading papers
After 2 hours worth of sprints, you’ll pause for an extended 30-minute break. This means that each “session” of Pomodoro is 2 hours long. Translated to an average 8-hour workday, a worker would be able to complete 3 full Pomodoro sessions while still taking a 1-hour break, as is the norm for most companies.
Some people might be thinking, “but that’s only 5 hours of actual working time”. That’s entirely right. On average, Americans claim to work about 44 hours per week, but it’s unknown how much of that time is solely focused on work. A study out of the UK suggests the average office worker is clocking less than 3 “productive” hours per day. The rest of the time, employees are socializing, scrolling through social media feeds, making snacks, or any number of other non-work related behaviors.
“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.“C. Northcote Parkinson (Parkinson’s Law)
While that’s only one study of many, there’s some real science behind the fact that working in shorter sprints with more frequent breaks could lead to long-term employee happiness as well as higher productivity. This article from the Huffington Post cites adverse outcomes from working the typical 8 hour day or longer. Among these, potential health issues, higher instances of errors, and overall greater inefficiencies.
Chunking is a method that’s a bit less well defined than the Pomodoro technique. But it operates under the same assumption that blocking off time to perform tasks is preferable over context-switching. You’ll begin your morning by defining chunks of 30 minutes or more where you’ll attack a specific project or task. Then, take the time to write down or put those chunks on the calendar for the day.
You can add blocks across the entire day or leave blocks open to deal with unknowns that will inevitably come up. It’s especially helpful to leave open blocks if you work as part of a team or in management.
Who should try time chunking: Managers, C-level Executives, Customer Service Teams, any individuals who need to complete tasks but balance responding to inquiries throughout the dayEx: A customer service team of three employees could allow each member a 1-2 hour chunk for a certain project while the others cover phones and emails. The other chunks would then be allocated to phone and email time.
Cal Newport, productivity expert and author of Deep Work*, emphasizes the importance of allocating periods for uninterrupted work without distraction. In Deep Work, Cal explains that “Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.” People must be able to focus during the chunks allocated to performing tasks. Cal shares some daily time logs in a blog post that’s worth a look to see an example of this method playing out in real life.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to add time blocks for taking walks and eating lunch. It’s very easy to see your day as a continuous 8-hour working block. But be kind to your brain and body and set aside some quiet time too.
Day blocking is just what it sounds like, blocking entire days to perform a single function or aspect of work. For example, let’s say you are operating a business where you need to tackle writing, marketing, sales, and administrative tasks. You can block Monday for marketing, Tuesday and Thursday for writing, Wednesday for selling, and Friday for administrative tasks. By allocating all of Monday for marketing-related activities, you can go extremely deep and get more done. Your only focus on Mondays will be deliverables for marketing.
Who should try day blocking: Freelancers, Writers, Web Developers, Self-employed Small Business owners, Individuals who need extended periods of uninterrupted time for deep knowledge work.Ex: A Web Developer could block Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to do deep work and coding from home, then go into the office Tuesday and Thursday for meetings and collaboration with the rest of the team.
Keeping day blocks consistent week over week can train your mind to expect certain activities. It also allows your brain to rest, which can spark new ideas. If you’re working on marketing for a little while every single day, it can stifle any opportunities to be creative, which generally happens when you step away for a bit.
Which will you try first?
Remember that everyone’s work style is unique. So the method you love may not work for your co-worker, partner, or friend. It’s essential to test out several techniques before deciding on your go-to strategy. One thing is for sure, any process that allows for focus and deep thought over mindless social media scrolling is destined to increase productivity at work.
Do you have a technique that you swear by to increase productivity at work? Did you try one of these strategies and find success in implementing it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
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