You arrive at the office each morning with a resolve to accomplish more. By noon, you’ve abandoned plans for lunch, and by 5 you’re phoning home (again) to inform the family to go ahead and eat dinner without you. What’s wrong? Why can’t you get everything done? As it happens, a few changes can make a tremendous difference in your productivity, and you’ll spend fewer hours at the office to accomplish more.
1. Learn to Prioritize Tasks
Much of the average worker’s time is spent on non-essential tasks that don’t produce noticeable results. For example, does answering those 150 emails actually get work done, or just consume your time? Make a list of the tasks you do that actually accomplish measurable results, and block 80 percent of your time for these tasks. Reserve the other 20 percent of your time for busy work, such as returning phone calls or answering emails. This prioritization assures that the important stuff actually is finished.
2. Create Systems for Common Tasks
Many of your tasks are likely repetitive. Outlook, Word, Excel, and other common office software offers ways to streamline redundant common processes. Group similar activities, such as writing tasks, answering questions, or planning sessions together, because your brain is more efficient when switching between similar tasks than when switching between unrelated ones.
3. Avoid Multitasking
Workers often believe that they are more efficient when multitasking, but studies show that workers multitasking are actually less efficient. As discussed, the brain has trouble switching between unrelated tasks. Additionally, when multitasking you’re never fully focused on any one task, increasing both the time it takes to do each task as well as the errors you make on each item.
4. Tackle the Hardest Tasks Early in the Work Day
There are two reasons to take on the hard stuff early. First, it’s when you’re the freshest, and second, once the big obstacles are out of the way, the rest of the day seems more manageable. Studies show that successful people make a habit of tackling the toughest things first, then managing the rest as they are able. Just think how easy your afternoon will breeze by if those miserable reports aren’t looming over you.
5. Don’t Skip Your Breaks
One way workers try to cram more work into the day is by skipping breaks. However, this habit actually reduces your level of productivity in several ways. Breaks give your mind a few moments to wander, which is critical to creative problem solving. Breaks also give you time to nourish your body, and to move around, which pumps more oxygen to your brain cells. The best breaks include a reasonably sized healthy meal or snack and a brisk walk or other physical activity. Studies show that just 10 minutes per day of moderate exercise can improve heart function as well as improve your mental power and emotional outlook.
In addition to these steps, make sure that you’re doing what you love. If you’re unhappy with your job, you’ll likely never be productive at it. Looking for a new career path? Consider the online accounting degrees at UAB for a fresh start in life. Quit being your own slave driver and learn to master productivity in easier ways. Your health, your productivity, your coworkers, your boss, and your family will thank you for the effort.