Have confidence in your productivity
People aren’t born productive. It’s not an innate quality that you either have or don’t have. Productivity comes from a set of skills and habits that protect your time and energy.
Looking around your workplace, the chances are that you’ll know someone with a laser-focused attention span, usually surrounded by perfectly coordinated folders and labels, who is always on top of their workload… or maybe that person is you!
In today’s culture of always being ‘on’ and going above and beyond, it can be easy to overlook your successes whilst you’re hustling ahead with the next task. If you ever feel overwhelmed at work, or want to run away at the sight of your to-do list, you’re not alone. This is a common side-effect of the modern working environment.
The good news is that if you are thinking about your productivity, you care about your work. The better news is that if you’re self-aware enough to acknowledge all of this, you’re on the right road towards balance. Are you a whiz at mind mapping your to-do lists? Do you manage tasks using task boards? Then you’re already winning.
Bonus points: If you can identify with any of the statements below, you can be safe in the knowledge that you’re probably a lot more productive than your peers!
You set goals and let them lead you
Goal setting is a skill in itself. Being clear, specific and including sufficient detail is tricky enough, but when you start to consider what’s realistic and achievable… sometimes, it feels like too much work to bother.
However, if you can get the hang of goal-setting, it pays off. People who set (and stick to) daily, weekly or monthly targets and project-specific goals are a lot more productive. Edwin A Locke, who is regularly lorded as the Godfather of goal setting, suggests you can increase your productivity as much as 25% simply by setting goals and sticking to them.
What’s more, if you spend some time setting your goals then a lot of the heavy lifting is done. You know what your priorities are, how long you have for each task and who should be taking responsibility for what.
You set boundaries and can handle offline interruptions
Research has shown that the biggest time suckers at work include colleague interruptions, office noise and smartphones. You can only minimise these to a certain extent but you can put things in place to reduce them.
Whether it’s working from home, using a private meeting room, or is as simple as some noise cancelling headphones, there are easy steps for reducing distractions. But when they come, how do you deal with them?
The most productive people are never scared of making work a priority. If that means focusing on their current task instead of water-cooler chat, replying to emails or returning phone calls, then that’s what they’ll do. It’s all about setting boundaries.
You’re rarely surprised by how fast time flies
It’s 5pm on Friday and you still haven’t finished the work that needed to be done. Do you stay late, pick it up over the weekend, or accept that it’s not going to happen and suffer the consequences on Monday morning?
Perhaps you don’t know what that feels like. If that’s the case, you probably set realistic plans that you track your work against, which involves checking you are on track regularly to ensure you deliver your tasks within the deadline.
You avoid context-switching
Context-switching is when you stop what you’re doing to check your email, phone, or chat to someone about something else. This is a black hole for productivity. Not only do you lose those few minutes out of your planned task or activity, but there’s a cost to your attention too. The time it takes for you to focus on one task, then adjust to the next one, and back again, is time you won’t get back.
Think of it in terms of using a phone whilst driving. Even if your car is stationary when you look at your phone, it takes upwards of 15 seconds for your eyes to adjust from a phone to the road again. Until then, your brain can’t catch up to take in all the information it needs for you to drive safely.
Flitting between different tasks means that you cannot immerse yourself fully in one or the other. You’re working on both, but less efficiently. Avoiding context-switching means more focus for productive outcomes.
You get enough sleep
It was documented in The Cost of Poor Sleep: Workplace Productivity Loss and Associated Costs by Rosekind et al. that sleep and productivity go hand in hand. Sleeping well allows you to be more productive, and being more productive allows you to sleep better.
Productive people tend to spread their time-saving habits into most areas of their lives, which means they have the time to do everything they need in the day and still get to bed before midnight. By staying on top of your workload, stress will be lessened and you get a better night’s kip.
You believe you are in control of your life
Whether you believe in fate, karma, free will or pure randomness, taking control of your life can dramatically change it.
Instead of hoping to strike it lucky or blaming misfortune on outside forces, productive people take responsibility for their lives.
They don’t waste energy on worrying about what might happen, they make things happen. If they don’t like something, they either change it or accept it and move on.
You know when to ask for help
There’s no point in going round in circles with a problem that someone else could fix with a few clicks. Teams often work best when there are many diverse skill sets amongst them, but to make the best of those skills, you have to ask.
Even if someone else doesn’t have the answer, sometimes just saying things out loud can help you work through a problem in your own head, so why waste time keeping it to yourself?
Overtime doesn’t happen
According to the TUC, Brits work the longest work week in Europe, which adds up to nearly 2 and a half weeks a year more than the average! Unfortunately, the UK is only getting three hours of work per day finished in that time. The numbers just don’t add up.
Productivity drops when you reach a certain threshold, so you might as well stop at that point. Productive people know this and make the most of their time in the office. Realistically, the instances when you truly need to work late are rare and you probably just need to manage your time better.
You’re not a fan of meetings
Rumour has it that Elon Musk holds all his meetings standing up and if someone does not speak, he’ll ask them why they’re there. Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not, but the point still stands. If you don’t need to be in a meeting then don’t be, and if a meeting can be avoided altogether, even better!
When managed poorly, meetings and conference calls may not achieve any more than an email would. Give them a miss when you can.
You are a problem solver
Rather than taking things personally, or trying to find someone to blame, productive people see problems and fix them.
Brainstorming and mind mapping are a productive person’s favourite techniques for problem solving. They provide a unique perspective and allow you to work through challenges in creative ways.
Explore challenges and find solutions by mind mapping with Mind Doodle, and use the integrated online chat for an alternative to meetings, with the task board to set and achieve weekly team goals.
Improving your productivity
Productivity is a transferable skill. No matter what your job is, your area of study or lifestyle, honing your productivity can help you.
Whether this means you gain precious hours at work, or come home to a kitchen that is perfectly ordered, everyone can experience the joys that a little bit of smart, productive work and practice can bring.
Next up, read through our guide for improving wellbeing to encourage better productivity, or find out how to improve productivity with play, with food or with music.