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How to increase productivity at work

How often have you thought, “I could achieve so much more if I just had another hour each day?” Every day at midnight, we all receive a new wallet full of 1440 minutes. We cannot earn extra minutes or carry over saved minutes. Therefore, we cannot “save time” we can only “spend” it. So how can we spend our time allocation more productively so we don’t have to wish for another hour each day?

It is important to remember that people are not machines; we can’t be switched on at the beginning of the working day or night and work through consistently until we are switched off at the end of the working day or night.

As humans we all have different energy levels and these can impact on our productivity. It is probably no surprise to you that when your energy is low your work suffers, but too high energy caused by constant interruptions and deadlines can kill your productivity too. Because energy fluctuates, knowing your optimum energy levels can help you to work in a more intelligent way.

Ask yourself the following:

  • Am I a morning person or a night owl?
  • What time of day do I do my best work?
  • What time(s) of the day does my concentration and/or energy flag?
  • What appears to cause my energy levels to flag?

It is useful to monitor your energy over a working week. By charting your daily energy levels you can identify your optimum performance times and plan accordingly. Being above or below your optimal energy rate can each cause personal productivity problems.

Improving productivity is not about working harder, it is about working smarter. Truly productive people are not focused on doing more things; their focus is about doing things more efficiently and more effectively.

Woman working in morning to increase productivity

Why is productivity in work important?

Private sector organisations exist for the primary purpose of producing a profit, whereas public and third sector organisations exist to provide a service within a defined budget and reinvest any profits back into the organisation.

Productivity involves getting as much as possible accomplished in as little time as possible for the best value. Improving productivity in the workplace not only saves money but also saves time so that the organisation achieves its goal.

Productive operations in organisations are good for employee morale, creating a sense of accomplishment and pride. Productive workplaces are also good for customers and service users as they receive efficient services from motivated staff.

Some statistics on workplace productivity

One of the most important factors in determining living standards is productivity, how much output is produced for a given input, such as an hour of work. The UK Government website shows comparisons of UK productivity with other G7 countries.

The UK is in 4th position, with France, the USA and Germany ahead of the UK, and Italy, Canada and Japan behind the UK. In Q2 2021, UK productivity fell by 0.5% compared with the previous quarter. However, productivity was 3.1% higher in Q2 2021 than a year ago (Q2 2020), the first quarter in COVID lockdown.

Earlier this year, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) surveyed 2,000 employers and conducted in-depth interviews with seven organisations in different sectors to establish the effect of COVID on workplace productivity.

The survey found that employers have had a significant net productivity benefit over the period. More specifically, 71% of employers say that the increase in homeworking has either boosted or has made no difference to productivity.

More interestingly, the perceptions of productivity differed between organisations that had offered line manager training in managing remote workers and those that had not. Of those employers who offered such training, 43% said productivity had increased during homeworking, compared to only 29% of those that had not offered training.

How to be more productive in the workplace

It doesn’t matter what you do or where you work, everyone is looking for ways to be more productive. There are lots of ways to be more productive. The following ideas will help you work more efficiently and, best of all, leave you with more free time each day.

Deal with time stealers

  • Procrastination – Is a typical time stealer; it serves no purpose and only delays the work outcome that you are avoiding, often causing additional stress which in turn affects productivity.
  • People – ‘Dropping in’ either in person or via the telephone, email or zoom calls and expecting you to be free are time stealers. It’s important to recognise that your time is as precious as theirs, and if it is not convenient to see or speak to someone, be strong enough to say so. Instead arrange a time that is convenient to both of you.
  • Meetings – Can be another time stealer. Though they are necessary across most organisations, poor meeting management and a reliance on shared consensus can result in unnecessary or overly long meetings. Before you automatically agree to the various meetings booked in your diary, ask yourself: what is the benefit or outcome of this meeting? Is the result all but agreed? Can the same result be achieved via a group email or a conference call? This is particularly relevant if you have to travel off-site to the meeting.
  • Social media distractions – How many times have you had a quick peek at your Twitter, Instagram or Facebook page only to end up wasting an hour? When your attention gets diverted while working on an important task, it will be harder for you to regain that train of thought, which leads to more time wastage. The best way to overcome social media distraction is to set a specific time during the day when you can log in to your accounts. It could be when you are taking a short break or after work hours.
  • Constantly checking your emails – You may not realise it, but checking your inbox is a huge time stealer; an average person spends about 28% of the workday reading and answering emails. Some emails are important, but the fact is the majority of them are not. When you check your inbox, you are diverting attention away from whatever else you were doing and when you eventually get back to that task later, it will take you time to get back in the right frame of mind to be at your productive best. Learn how to prioritise – the subject line of the email tells you if it is essential or not. Dedicate certain times every day to deal with your emails and try and unsubscribe from anything not immediately valuable to reduce inbox clutter.

Time stealers are common workplace issues that must be dealt with to help boost your productivity.

Business man tired from work

De-clutter your workstation

When things are unorganised, you can feel overwhelmed and this adds to your stress levels, making you less productive.

  • Clear papers, file what you may still need and shred or bin what you don’t.
  • Having too many signs, sayings and reminders hanging around your work area can be a distraction; leave out only what you need to see, for example a list of things to do that day.
  • Test all the pens that are on your desk and throw away those that have dried up; put away any spares and only have one or two on your desk.
  • Reorganise your computer’s desktop. Is it so cluttered with icons you can’t find what you need when you need it? Take time and open each one, file them or delete them.
  • Take a look around your desk surface. What doesn’t absolutely need to be there? Photos, calendars, books, mugs and food should all be considered. If it’s not essential, remove it permanently.
  • Take the last 5 minutes of every day to clear the surface of your desk and end each working day with a clear desk policy; it’s a great motivator at the start of the next working day to arrive at a clear workspace.

Planning

  • Having a schedule helps you to manage your workload, complete tasks on time and recognise when you can take on more work.
  • Having “to-do/task lists” are great for managing a small number of tasks, the problem is that, for most of us, these lists are a sort of catch-all for a lot of things that are unresolved and not really a planned, focused action list. SMARTen up your to-do list.
    – Step 1 Collect – This stage requires investing some time up front. Empty your mind of all the things that you are planning to do or that are demanding your attention and commit them to paper or screen in Outlook tasks.
    – Step 2 Prune – Look carefully at each item in step 1, decide whether you should, actually, take action on it. A lot of what comes our way has no real relevance to us, or is really not important in the scale of things. If that is the case, then either delegate or delete these things from your list.
    – Step 3 Organise and Prioritise – For any individual items that form part of a larger project, group these items together under one project title. What you will find is that once you start, items will almost seem to “organise themselves” into coherent projects. You should now have a list of project tasks and stand-alone tasks.
    – Step 4 Plan – Plan your day/week/month. Ensure that you take all factors into consideration, have contingency plans where relevant.
    – Step 5 Do – Take action; review, re-prioritise and re-plan where necessary.

When you have a well thought out plan, you don’t need to spend time questioning each and every decision as you take action. Instead, you can move forward confidently knowing that you thought out the entire big picture before you even began and the actions you take are the right ones.

Woman planning her days to ensure good productivity

Setting realistic goals and prioritising

Goals need to be specific and represent an end result. They should also be SMART.

  • Specific – The wording should leave no doubt about what is required.
  • Measurable – The goal or objective should be readily measurable, and the results should be available quickly and regularly.
  • Agreed – The goal or objective should be reasonable and within your ability to accomplish for you to agree.
  • Realistic – If the goal or objective offers poor chances of success then it will rapidly turn into a de-motivating force.
  • Timed – How much, how soon? A goal or an objective without a time constraint is little more than a wish list.

A key component in goal setting and improving productivity is prioritising. Prioritisation can be thought of as ordering tasks and allotting time for them based on their identified needs or value.

Take a clean sheet of paper and divide it into four sections or quadrants as follows:

  • Quadrant 1 represents things which are both urgent and important. This could be termed “firefighting”. The activities need to be dealt with immediately, and they are important.
  • Quadrant 2 represents things which are important, but not urgent. Although the activities here are important, and contribute to achieving the goals and priorities, they don’t have to be done right now. As a result, they can be scheduled in when you can give quality thought to them.
  • Quadrant 3 are distractions, urgent but not important. They must be dealt with right now, but in reality, are not vital. For example, when you answer an unwanted phone call, you have had to interrupt whatever you were doing to answer it.
  • Quadrant 4 are the things that are neither urgent nor important. For example, some meetings could fall into this category, they have been scheduled in advance, but if they achieve nothing, or you don’t contribute to them, then they have simply wasted time.

Consciously strive to maximise Quadrant 2 time and allocate time in your diary to carry out these tasks when you are at your best. Doing so can reduce the amount of time taken up by firefighting Quadrant 1 activities, since many Quadrant 1 activities could have been Quadrant 2 if they had been done earlier.

You can also seek to reduce time spent in Quadrant 3 by improving your systems and processes for dealing with distractions, and you can seek to eliminate as much as possible of Quadrant 4 activities, by either not spending time on these things, or changing the nature of them to make them more productive.

Delegating

Delegating involves authorising people to undertake activities which would otherwise be carried out by someone usually more senior. You entrust another person with a task but remain ultimately responsible for the outcome.

Delegation is not about off-loading unwanted tasks, that’s dumping. It is about empowering your team, building trust and enabling them to develop new skills and gain knowledge, which prepares them for more responsibility in the future.

Of course, delegating tasks can lighten your workload because you cannot and should not do everything yourself. Letting go can be challenging but accepting that you cannot do everything yourself is important.

Another common barrier to delegation is that it can take longer to teach someone else how to do a task than to just do it yourself. That may be true the first time you delegate the task, but, over time, the amount of time you have to dedicate to that task decreases because you won’t have to be involved with it at all.

To help you delegate effectively, make sure that you:

  • Choose the right person for the job.
  • Explain why you are delegating.
  • Provide the right instructions.
  • Provide resources and training if needed.
  • Delegate the necessary responsibility and authority.
  • Check the work and provide feedback.
  • Say thank you.

If you delegate well, you can increase trust and commitment with your team and improve productivity.

Woman eating breakfast to set her up for the day

Finally, taking care of yourself

In addition to the suggestions above, crucial to improving productivity is looking after your own welfare. Staying physically and mentally healthy can help you maximise productivity in the workplace.

Stress is terrible for productivity. Stressed out people are more likely to make mistakes. They are also more likely to get sick because stress suppresses the immune system. Take a 20-minute break each morning for a walk, a quick workout, or some simple stretching exercises. If you are working remotely, without the journey home indicating the end of a working day, it can become more difficult to switch off, so mark the end the day with another short walk.

Never skip breakfast, your brain uses up glucose as it works so after fasting all night, breakfast refuels your body so that you start the day with energy. Take frequent breaks to give yourself a moment to refresh when you feel you are flagging. Make sure you are eating a healthy lunch, preferably away from your workstation; you will come back recharged and ready to achieve greater efficiency.

Keep hydrated, drink plenty of water. Mild dehydration, that is, fluid loss of just 1-3% can impair energy levels and mood, and lead to major reductions in memory and brain performance; and losing as little as 2% of your body’s water content can significantly impair your physical performance.

Take time for some fun. As the saying goes, “All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy and Jill a dull girl”. Whilst work is an important part of life we also need to do things we enjoy and that help us to unwind and relax.

Get a good night’s sleep of between 6 and 8 hours; this will improve your physical and mental health and increase both physical and mental performance, which in turn improves productivity.

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About the author

Evie Lee

Evie Lee

Evie has worked at CPD Online College since August 2021. She is currently doing an apprenticeship in Level 3 Business Administration. Evie's main roles are to upload blog articles and courses to the website. Outside of work, Evie loves horse riding and spending time with her family.



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