What are some simple steps we can take to maximize our productivity at work?
Focusing specifically on our productivity at work
I’ve received a few emails in the last couple of months asking really good questions about being productive at work. I’ve been pondering this for a few weeks. Obviously our work–whether we’re employees, bosses, professionals, or volunteers–is a really important part of our life.
You might have noticed that I don’t often talk specifically about productivity at work–although I have devoted a small handful of episodes to it. (Check out TPW288 – Adjusting to Working from Home; TPW258 – Workplace Productivity; TPW389 – Workplace Productivity)
Part of the reason I don’t often focus specifically on productivity at work is it’s hard to address in a way that will be broadly applicable. There are so many variables, in terms of the kinds of workplaces and the workplace roles. Work can encompass everything from part-time work in service industries like food service, hospitality, retail, and childcare to full-time work in traditional professional roles like nurses, doctors, lawyers, executive assistants, educators, and so much more. Many of us run our own businesses; others work from home in jobs across the spectrum. It can be difficult to talk about workplace productivity in a way that captures the huge variety of scenarios
Yet in most cases, the same principles of productivity apply regardless of where you work or what kind of work you do. Today I’m sharing some of the principles and tips that have helped me in my work life, whether in my current career as a lawyer or in my past jobs as a pastry baker and deli cook, office assistant, or fast food restaurant manager.
1. Get to work early
This gives you the chance to start the day on an un-rushed footing, perhaps to get some priority work done before interruptions begin.
2. Do your best to establish a reputation as someone who can be relied on for consistent, quality work, even to go above and beyond
Good for the future of your career, of course. Also, though, makes it more likely that you’ll be given some grace if/when those times come up when you need an accommodation
3. Be strategic about managing communications
Email is an essential tool, yet in some ways the bane of our professional existence (interruptions; floods of emails to wade through, other people’s to-do list for us). Conventional wisdom is to only check email twice a day–e.g., mid-morning after you’ve spent some of that first morning time on priority work, and mid-afternoon. Some of us can’t do that, though, because the nature of our work is such that we often need to be responding quickly (e.g., me when a closing is in progress). In that case, you can at least assign certain hours of the day when you don’t check email; time allocated to priority tasks; might not be the same time every day, but everybody can find some time slots each week. Also, use the tools your email program provides for archiving, searching, auto-replying, etc.
When it comes to phone calls and meetings, to the extent you have control, batch them. Try to keep one day a week (or at least a half day each week) with no meetings. Consider whether you can turn off your phone ringer and schedule certain times each day to return phone calls.
Consider establishing office hours. College educators do this, and it can be valuable for others as well. One of my partners who works with a distributed team has established office hours–an hour each day where her team knows she’s available for questions, etc.
4. Keep your workspace decluttered and organized
Clutter interferes with focus, increases stress levels, wastes time, can be a health and safety hazard, and looks unprofessional. Maintaining a clutter-free and organized workspace, on the other hand, allows you to work efficiently and effectively, not losing time while you search for that tool or paper you need. Also less distracting. (Check out some resources listed in the show notes for episode 258 for evidence.)
5. Eliminate as many distractions as you can
- Visual (stuff in your office, piles on your desk or counter) – remove it;
- Auditory (background noise and conversations) – wear noise-canceling headphones; alerts on your computer or other devices (turn them off, other than those that are crucial — and most aren’t)
- Internal (ideas, etc.) – keep a notepad nearby where you can jot notes to yourself rather than stopping what you’re doing or worrying you’ll forget; establish certain time(s) each day to scan that notepad and either take action or move things onto your calendar or task manager
6. Find a mentor (and be one)
Who do you see in your field who seems to have a good approach? Buy her (or him) coffee and ask how she’s doing it? Not about mimicking other people or measuring yourself by them, but learning from those a bit farther down the career road than you are. Don’t forget to pay it forward!
7. Make good use of the resources your company makes available
The more you know about your job and the tools you use to do it, the more effective and efficient you’ll be.
8. Take breaks!
Get away from your workspace, even if it’s only for 10 minutes. Get outside if you can, or just walk up and down the stairs or a loop around the halls.
9. Establish work routines
Habitual ways of doing things over time create automatic, more efficient actions
“I can’t swear to what I did in this situation, but I can tell you what I always do in situations like that.”
- Morning routine – I used to get to work early, boot up my computer, go get a cup of tea, look at my calendar and to-do list for the day, and then get to work.
- End of the workday – clear your workspace off except for perhaps the materials for the task you plan to do first; review your calendar and to-do list for the next day; identify your top 2-3 priority tasks for the next day and make a tentative decision about what you’ll start with.
- End of work-week – Clean and reorganize your workspace; restock materials/supplies. Scan your calendar for next week; adjust as needed; make tentative plan for Monday morning.
Some final thoughts
As I said at the beginning, the productivity guidelines for our work track the same principles that apply throughout our lives. How each of us implements them will vary depending on our specific work situation. Maybe the most important thing we can do is to focus on those things we can control, rather than getting caught up in stewing about those things that we can’t.
What do you think?
How do you manage your work to maximize productivity and effectiveness? Post your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me
Resources and Links
- TPW258 – Workplace Productivity
- TPW288 – Adjusting to Working from Home
- TPW389 – Workplace Productivity
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