If you feel you need to be more productive in work without overstretching yourself, Hays’ Alex Shteingardt can help you.
Being productive at work is not about working harder, it’s about working smarter. It’s about careful preparation, smart use of your resources and the effective streamlining of tasks. But even before any of this, it’s about your attitude.
In order to maximise your productivity, you need to have a yearning to do better and succeed. I can provide you with a multitude of ways by which you can increase your productivity, but they aren’t going to count for much unless you’re prepared to go the extra mile to further your career.
1. Plan ahead
Schedule your routine tasks around low-energy periods. Such a large part of being productive comes down to being organised. Plan tasks for specific times of the day based on their difficulty.
I often tackle my most challenging task of the day first. The sense of achievement I get from doing so helps to sustain my energy and productivity for the remainder of the day.
Similarly, schedule your routine tasks – those you can do with your eyes closed – around low-energy periods. I spend my low-energy periods – which normally occur at around 4-4.30pm – signing papers or reading market analytics. Most people experience a mid-afternoon lull at around 3pm.
I would also recommend always creating agendas for meetings, conferences and calls. This saves you and whoever else is in the meeting from veering off-piste.
2. Put pressure on yourself
A really great way to make sure you don’t slack on your schedule is to let your team members know when you plan on completing a certain task.
Now it won’t just be yourself you’re letting down if you miss the deadline.
3. Look after yourself
Many workers feel increasingly under pressure to go to extraordinary lengths so as not to appear lazy.
This is a phenomenon that is prevalent in lunch breaks also. Desperate not to appear idle, most of us eat lunch at our desks, while an alarming number don’t even venture outside the office.
Reclaiming your lunch break is vital to getting your adequate nourishment, which the World Health Organization believes leads to a 20pc increase in productivity.
Working to your maximum capacity for excessive periods will quickly lead to mental fatigue and exhaustion. The mind is a muscle also, and as such requires intermittent periods of rest throughout the day.
If possible, try and work in 90-minute blocks with 10 to 15 minutes of downtime in between, helping to sustain your productivity for a longer period. A study found that even very brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve your ability to focus on that task in the long term.
Those who are familiar with Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People will remember the story of the golden egg-laying goose. In order to enjoy full productivity, we need to know not to cut the goose open (overwork) for the few golden eggs in the short term, but to nurture the goose (foster a healthy work-life balance), thus enjoying one golden egg a day for a longer period.
4. Be punctual
Just as many of us feel peer-pressured into relinquishing our lunch breaks, many of us are also coerced into working long into the night – to such an extent in Japan that the government has had to intervene.
It’s important that you think about the bigger picture. If you leave in good time today, then you’ll feel fresher and more capable tomorrow. Being productive is about making the most of the time available to you, not working for as many hours as possible without any sort of urgency.
Be punctual with your meetings also. Don’t hold them unless necessary – I’ve known quite a few people who schedule meetings simply because they think it’s the proper thing to do – and keep them brief when you do.
5. Optimise your workspace
Your workspace has a significant impact on your overall mood and, consequently, how well you’re able to perform. We spend so much of our week at our desk that it’s foolish not to make an effort to create a warm and pleasant atmosphere for yourself during this time.
The most valuable tool a leader has at their disposal is delegation. Richard Branson once remarked that “if you want to learn as an entrepreneur, then you’ve got to learn how to delegate” – I would go one step further and say that this applies to not just entrepreneurs but all leaders.
Don’t shirk responsibility for tasks, but don’t overburden yourself either. Focus on the most important tasks to you, and defer everything else to your most competent team members, thus letting you get more done in less time.
Teach your people how to hold the rod properly instead of fishing for them all the time. By spending time helping them grow in the short term, you can reap the long-term rewards of their added value and expertise.
Work on one task at a time, starting a new one only once the previous one has been completed. Juggling tasks has been scientifically proven to “decrease the performance of workers, raising the chances of low output, long duration of projects and exploding backlogs”.
Having the resolve to stick with one task is actually not that simple, especially when people are pestering you to lend a hand with theirs. You have to know when to say no to colleagues and even your boss.
The Pareto principle (or the 80/20 rule) observes that most things in life aren’t distributed evenly. In business terms, this could mean that 80pc of your revenue comes from 20pc of your customers or that 80pc of your bonus depends on 20pc of your responsibilities.
Decide which tasks are most important to you and then focus the majority of your energy on them.
Sometimes, you can get so caught up in a project that you can’t see the wood for the trees. Seeking the feedback of others can help you to gain a clearer perspective on the task, both helping you to complete it in quicker time and, from soliciting their feedback, to make the task as successful as possible.
9. Change your thought process
A real mark of someone’s professional merit is how well they’re able to perform under pressure. Changing the way you think about stress can increase your productivity and overall chance of success.
Reinforce positive thoughts and discard the negative. Instead of thinking, ‘I’ve got so much work on, how am I ever going to manage?’, put together a manageable plan of action, tackling each task in order of priority.
A systematic approach such as this will help you to rationally assess the urgency and relevancy of each project. Negativity is highly infectious, so try and resolve the problem at its stem by coaching those who are prone to negative outbursts into becoming more positive and optimistic.
10. Get things right the first time
Getting things right the first time can be helped by remaining cool and keeping your focus. If you’re struggling with your workload and think that blitzing through each task might be the solution, then think again. Your colleague, client or boss is unlikely to be happy with work that’s been done without your full attention and effort.
11. Just do it!
Last but not least, just do it. The previous 10 points are of no use unless you’re determined to put in the extra effort required to maximise your productivity.
You’ll often find that once you’re in the groove and are busy getting on that it’s easier to keep working than it is to stop. “Immediate action fuels a positive feedback loop that drives even more action,” says author and leadership expert Robin Sharma.
The need to succeed
There are many different ways you can increase your productivity but in order to benefit fully from them, you need to be truly committed to the cause. A desire to succeed is essential to maximise your output.
If you’re someone who is used to cutting corners and doing the minimum required, then all of the above might be difficult at first. That’s OK. Change can be uncomfortable but reward is never too far round the corner – new habits are created after just 21 days of constant practice.
Stick with it and you’ll soon create a profitable cycle of productivity and success to drive your career forward.
Alex Shteingardt is managing director at Hays Russia.
A version of this article originally appeared on Hays’ Viewpoint blog.