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It’s that time of day again: The clock clicks closer to 5pm, and you glance over at your ever-growing task list, now longer than a CVS receipt. You haven’t made nearly as much progress as you wanted to – where did the time go?
Productivity isn’t a superhuman gift, but it does require being intentional about managing your time. According to a McKinsey Global Institute study, employees spend only 39% of their time on role-specific tasks. The other 61% goes to wading through emails, gathering information, or syncing with team members. So how can you cut down on wasted time and accomplish more with the time you have?
Here are 5 ways to improve your productivity at work:
1. Cut Down on Meetings
How much time do you spend in meetings, and how often do they feel productive? Studies show that middle managers spend a whopping 35% of their time in meetings. Workers spend up to 4 hours per week preparing for routine meetings. And executives find 67% of all meetings unproductive because of multitasking participants or a lack of adequate structure.
Before you attend or schedule another team meeting, ask yourself these questions:
- Is this meeting really necessary? Can I communicate through other means, like a Google doc or a chat software like Slack? If it is necessary, can I shorten the length of the meeting?
- Who really needs to be there? Can some team members skip the meeting and be updated later?
- How can I make the meeting more focused and engaging? Do I have a clear agenda? Can I send materials to team members in advance?
2. Be Strategic About Your Task List
You’ve got a mountain of tasks on your to-do list. But a task list is only the first step – it’s not enough to adequately manage your time. Here are 2 ways that you can get more out of your task list:
- Schedule tasks: Put tasks in your calendar and assign them a window of time. Scheduling forces you to confront the reality of how long a task will take and how much time you have. You’re also less likely to procrastinate. If you expect be interrupted, build in buffer time. It won’t be perfect, but without a plan, you’ll end up wasting more of your precious time.
- Plan your week: Every Monday morning, go through your email inbox, task list, and calendar, and come up with a plan for the week. When you are scheduling your tasks, think about what day of the week and what time of the day you are most productive. Most employees are most productive on Tuesdays and focus better in the morning. Ask yourself at what times you are most productive, and schedule more intensive projects then.
3. Unplug from Distraction
Are you frequently being interrupted by email, phone, and chat alerts? When you get a new alert, it’s hard to resist dropping what you’re doing to respond. But one study showed it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back to your task, depending on the type of interruption. And most of the time, notifications or interruptions are not urgent or time-sensitive. Consider temporarily disconnecting from social media, chat software, and email for 30 minutes at a time to focus on your task at hand. If you find this difficult, consider extensions that allow you to block such sites.
4. Take Short, Intentional Breaks
Though this seems counterintuitive, taking breaks can actually increase your productivity. Productivity experts recommend taking a 10-15 minute break every 50-90 minutes. Breaks are more than stopping your work; they are intentional and refreshing. Get away from the computer and phone screen. Get your body moving by walking around the building or doing some stretches. Grab lunch with co-workers or friends. Taking just a bit of time to recharge every 90 minutes is a small investment that will pays off in the long run.
5. Quiet Your Inner Perfectionist
Your inner perfectionist can be helpful, but when not kept in check, it can also be dangerous. A piece of work can always be better. But think about the time and energy you are sacrificing while grinding over slight improvements. Rather than chasing after the illusion of perfection, do the best you can within a reasonable amount of time, and then move on. If necessary, you can come back and improve it later.
Regardless of where you work and the demands on your time, with a little bit of intentional planning and time management, you can improve your productivity and feel more accomplished on a regular basis.
What is your favorite productivity strategy?