Improve your productivity

Maximising your productivity won’t always revolve around long hours at work. Try our tips to make the most of the time you have.

What you will learn

  • Ways to build reliable working patterns that make the most of your time
  • Why you might be lacking in productivity
  • Why a work-life balance is the key to a switched on mind in work

Do you ever feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day? It might be your job or life in general but developing good time management can make all the difference. It can help you feel more in control, less stressed and let you get things done.

What is time management?

Time management means to plan or organise your daily activities or tasks in the most efficient and productive way. Think how good it would feel to get through everything you need to do, without feeling stressed about it. That’s why time management is important.

We’ve pulled together some of the best techniques to help you build good working foundations.

Set goals

When you know where you want to go, you can determine what needs done and in what order.

You may have personal goals or these may be about how you fit in with the goals or objectives of your employer, but having a vision to work towards means you can break it down into short and medium term goals. It will make it much easier to focus on what you need to do to meet each goal.

Your goals should be challenging but achievable. Try using SMART goals. This means your goals should be:

  • Specific – well defined and clear
  • Measurable – able to track progress
  • Achievable – should be challenging but attainable
  • Relevant - supports what you, or your employer, want to achieve
  • Timely – should have a clearly defined timeline

It will take time to think about and set goals for yourself. But in the long run it can save you time, and you’ll feel a real sense of achievement as you meet each goal.

Make a list

To-do lists are a great way to stay organised. It can be paper or electronic, but writing one at the start of each day can help focus your mind and quickly see what you need do at a glance.

If you lose focus, check your list.

It also lets you track your own progress and the satisfaction of ticking something off the list never gets old.
Make sure your to-do list isn’t just a list of tasks in no particular order.

For an effective to-do list prioritising is essential. See the next point for all the reasons why.

Prioritise

Prioritisation is vital for good time management. By listing your tasks in order of importance you can be sure you’re focussing on the most important jobs first. You’ll never have to clock watch, worry or get stressed when a deadline is looming and that important job is still unfinished.

Don’t procrastinate

How often do you find yourself saying ‘I’ll do it later’ and then get stressed when you need to do it at the last minute? Or maybe it doesn’t get done at all? We’ve all been there.

If you’re prone to procrastination try asking yourself why. The first step to fixing it is to recognise why you’re doing it.

Most people procrastinate to some degree, ignoring a particular task in favour of one that’s easier or more enjoyable. Maybe it’s a difficult task or you’re not sure how to approach it. Or maybe it’s a fear of failure.

Try talking any concerns you have through with someone – a friend or colleague. Sometimes having a chat about something can help make things clearer and make you think about them in a different way.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by something on your to- do list, try breaking it down into more manageable chunks. This might make it feel less daunting. Then, as you start ticking off each sub-task, it will give you a boost and make you feel more motivated.

Don’t multitask

Many people will tell you they can multitask well. But, in reality, it takes our brains time to refocus, so jumping between tasks can be bad for your concentration. You lose momentum and it ends up costing you time.

Studies have shown it can take 20-40% more time to multitask than it would to complete the tasks in sequence.

See a task through to the end and not only will it take you less time, you’ll probably produce higher quality work too.

Avoid interruptions

Studies have shown that it can take around 25 minutes to get back into a task after an interruption. Just think how much of your day this could waste!

Of course, some interruptions are unavoidable but think about the ones you can control. If you’re constantly hearing the ping of IMs from colleagues, turn off chat or switch to ‘do not disturb’. Let people know you need to focus.

You should also avoid checking emails, looking at your phone or browsing social media. These are perfect activities to schedule in when you’re taking a break.

Take breaks

Have you ever worked through lunch thinking it would give you more time? The reality is that taking regular breaks and splitting your day into more manageable chunks will help you be more productive.

It goes without saying that we can’t be at optimum productivity all day. We all have times of the day where we work better. If you feel more energised at a particular time of the day, work your schedule to make the most of that if you can. Try different timing patterns to find what works for you but aim for a break at least every two hours.

Go for a walk, grab a coffee or even do some exercise. A break will help renew your focus and give you a boost, ultimately making you more productive.

Getting into a state of flow

Also known as being ‘in the zone’, being in a flow state means having the ability to focus on just one thing and becoming fully immersed in it. Positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described it as ‘being completely involved in an activity for its own sake.’

To get into a state of flow you need to have:

  • Just the right amount of pressure, not so much that you feel stressed
  • Control of the task, so you know it’s something you can complete
  • No distractions so you can fully focus on the task
  • No negative thoughts around what you’re doing

Achieving all these things might seem impossible in a busy office so try making these small changes to your work environment.

  • Use a quiet area or meeting room
  • Use headphones to block noise
  • Put your phone away, switch off notifications for emails and IM chats
  • Have your to-do list at hand so if you do lose focus it just takes a quick glance to remind yourself of your priorities.

How to manage stress

Life can get stressful. The more we try to cram into our lives, the more we risk feeling stressed.
Stress is not a trivial matter. It can cause health conditions like headaches, high blood pressure and in more serious cases can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
That is why it’s vital to know how to deal with stress.

Poor time management can contribute to your stress levels. Even the smallest tasks can become stressful if you feel overwhelmed by your workload. Using some of the time management techniques in this article can really help. We go into more detail about the causes and ways to manage stress in this article.

Work-life balance

Work-life balance is where you have enough time for both work and personal interests. This could be family, hobbies, study or relaxation. If one side of your life starts taking up too much time you can become stressed and productivity can be affected.

Your career might be important to you but it’s also vital to find a good work life balance between work and personal life. Not having that balance is a major cause of stress, illness and low productivity. It can also take its toll on your personal life, relationships and self-esteem.

Benefits of having a good work life balance:

  • It reduces your chance of suffering from stress
  • Your productivity will increase
  • You’ll enjoy work more
  • You’ll have more time for yourself and your interests

By making use of the time management techniques in this article you should have more time in the day and be able to maximise productivity at work while still having time and energy to pursue interests outside of work. Hopefully these tools will help you to establish your own rules that allow you to strike the perfect balance.

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