The fact that optimizing employees’ productivity and efficiency at work is so important in today’s corporate world is maybe best testified by the number of tips on how to improve workplace productivity that you can find out there. On every corner, there’s an article on multitasking, desk organization, how to get rid of distractions, the optimal kind of music you should listen to, the order of tasks, all the way to things like the color of your office walls and whether you should take your cat to work.
However, this article will have a slightly different approach to the topic of productivity at work. Instead of giving you specific tips that you can find a million of, we’ll be discussing some fundamental principles that you should try to wrap your head around before you even attempt any of the tips for boosting productivity. These concepts will put you in the right mindset to understand what workplace productivity is all about and how you should approach improving it. So, we won’t offer you any advice that you can try out right away, but rather a general path to better understanding the concept we refer to as productivity.
With this in mind, we hope you’re ready to dig in!
1. Productivity Can and Should Be Measured
When you mention the word ‘productivity’, many people have a rather abstract concept in mind. Like it’s something that can’t be measured or is at least measured in different ways for different people. Some consider productivity to be one of those either-or concepts - you’re either productive, or you’re not. The truth, however, is that the idea, in essence, is simpler than the first view but a bit more complicated than the second.
Productivity is a spectrum - you can be extremely productive, somewhat productive, not particularly productive, etc. Even more importantly, it can be quantified. For the work context, the basic formula is usually as follows: productive time is the percentage of doing work-related tasks relative to the total amount of office time.
This exact principle is adopted by a tool called productivity tracker. It’s a time tracking software that lets you categorize different apps and websites as productive or unproductive, and then it tracks the time you spend in them and calculates your productivity. This is one of the best and easiest ways to objectively gauge how productive you are at work.
There are also other metrics provided by the productivity tracker that are valuable to have in order to better approach increasing your efficiency. You can understand where exactly your time goes when you should be working, what you’re most often distracted by, what time of day you’re most or least productive, and so on.
2. Creating a Routine Turns Productivity into a Habit
Another fundamental misconception that many people have is that productivity is something that you should wait around for. That it’s a matter of inspiration, and that you can’t force it to come.
While it might be true that productivity can’t be forced, at least not effectively or sustainably, it can be trained. In other words, instead of waiting for motivation to come, you should aim to teach yourself when it’s time to be productive. This is primarily done by creating a routine.
You can check your productivity tracker data to see what the most productive time of day is for you and organize your day around that. The most important thing is to be persistent and consistent. A certain kind of workflow can only truly become routine if you do it every day and vary it as little as possible. Of course, you won’t have the same tasks or the same amount of work every single day, so you won’t be able to organize your time in such great detail, but making a general plan goes a long way. This plan should include time slots for important tasks, menial jobs, breaks, as well as thinking.
Sticking to this routine for long enough will help you practice getting in the zone, instead of wasting time by sitting around and waiting for a ‘natural’ burst of productivity.
3. It’s Not About How Much You Work, but How Focused You Are
The next concept you should work on internalizing is the fact that productivity isn’t measured by how much time you spend in the office, or even how much time you spend trying to work. It’s all about how much quality work you manage to squeeze into the time you do spend working. This is known as ‘deep work’.
Two hours of deep work is much better than eight hours of going back and forth between distractions and your actual tasks. This way, you’ll manage to do more, and the work you do during this time is also more likely to be of higher quality because it wasn’t interspersed with sessions on social media. So, in general, when you aim to improve productivity, you shouldn’t be looking for ways to make yourself spend more time working, but to make the time you do work really count.
4. Multitasking vs Monotony
There’s quite a lot of debate over multitasking, so we found it useful to address this concept here as well. For most people and in most cases, multitasking actually comes down to switching between tasks, and this process wastes quite a bit of time, which doesn’t really make it the most effective tactic. As the opposite practice, we have monotony of tasks, or forcing yourself to stay on one task until it’s finished.
Obviously, neither of these is likely to produce good results if used against your natural workflow or in isolation. The best course of action is to first try to discover which of these ways of working, or rather what combination of both, better suits you. You can track your performance within your productivity tracker while you try to multitask or while you try to stay focused. You’ll see that you sometimes feel more motivated to work if you put in a little variety and at other times you’ll feel more productive when you let yourself concentrate on one task. The productivity tracker will give you a hint as to which situations are better suited for one or the other.
5. Learn How to Prioritize
Lastly, it’s crucial that you accept the fact that you can’t do everything. No matter how efficient you are, the harsh truth is that there will always be more work waiting for you. So, don’t ever try to do everything that comes your way, but instead, learn how to prioritize and say no to less important tasks.
The first thing to do is to determine what the most important assignments are. Do them at the beginning of the day, and don’t worry too much if you don’t have time to respond to every single email or read every document that you’re only remotely connected to. Delegate if you can, if not, just let it go. If you managed to do your top priority tasks, your day was successful.
We’ve provided the five most important ideas that you have to adopt in order to effectively improve your productivity in the long term. Whether you choose to use tools like productivity tracker, or whether your next step is to look for some more detailed tips on what you can do to be more efficient, keeping these five things in mind will help you get into the right mindset to make any tactic work for you.