How to be More Productive at Work

4 minute read

Feel busy all the time? Of course you do. But here’s the secret of how to be more productive at work: ‘busy’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘productive’. Some people love to wear their busy-ness as a badge of honour, bragging about the amount of overtime they’ve done, or their 5am starts. But you can be very busy and still be quite inefficient in how you work—even creating more work for yourself.

Fed up with never feeling on top of your workload? Here are three research-saturated suggestions that’ll turn you into a productivity powerhouse, capable of logging-off on time.

1. Time-blocking

Meetings have a nasty habit of dominating your working day—doubly so in the charity sector. Couple this with an under-resourced team and you’re essentially kissing all semblance of productivity goodbye.

Calendars, therefore, are magical. Time-blocking your Monday to Friday schedule is the key to keeping all your plates spinning, focusing on the important over the urgent and finishing at a reasonable time.

First, pick a digital calendar and a task app that work together to allow you to schedule repeating tasks and sync across devices. I use Google Calendar and Google Tasks.

Then use them to list every recurring task that you do each week. You can’t complete what you can’t define, so break tasks down into their smallest possible units.

Each task should give you the option to add a description. Here, write down how long it usually takes you. Now multiply that by 1.5. We naturally underestimate the time things take, so this will build some margin into your schedule.

Hands of a group of people working on a display with the word 'productivity' in the middle.

How to time-block your week

Next, you want to time-block. Using your calendar, divide each day into one or two-hour periods. Start with the non-negotiables like lunchbreaks and meetings. Around these, put in blocks of time in which you’ll complete similar tasks. For example, ‘writing newsletter’ may occupy one hour and ‘calling prospective donors’ another. ‘Batching’ related jobs together, like responding to emails, is the most efficient way to work through your list.

Once you’ve allocated a type of work to each time-block, simply schedule your recurring tasks into the appropriate block, based on how long you estimated each will take. You’ll then have an at-a-glance, pre-prepared weekly plan for you to play with. Sorted.

Setting up your calendar like this is one of the ways to increase productivity at work. It will ensure that you know exactly what’s coming your way each week and empower you to say ‘no’ when there’s no gap to slot something into.

If you want to take things to the next level, why not map out your energy levels for the week? Using a traffic light system, record the times when you’re most alert and the periods when you find your energy dips, to know when your ‘peak productivity’ times are. Schedule your most complex tasks accordingly.

2. Working more efficiently

All of us, whether frequently or infrequently, have experienced the joy of full immersion in the job at hand. During these precious minutes, time flies and our focus is razor-sharp. This is called flow, and it’s in this state of flow that we can achieve ‘deep’ work.

The good news is that flow can be triggered. The bad news is that it can be lost. Interruption is the enemy of deep work: one study found that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on track after being distracted. Yikes.

Obviously, some distraction is inevitable. However, when it comes to those tasks that require full concentration, operating while you’re in flow is a game-changer.

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How to work more efficiently

One of the best ways to do deep work is to use the Pomodoro technique. All this involves is working in timed chunks of 25 minutes, followed by a five-minute break. Before you start an interval, decide exactly which task you’ll be working on. Close your emails, switch your Slack or Teams status to ‘busy’ and enjoy some uninterrupted deep work.

Then, enjoy a five-minute rest. Rinse and repeat for four intervals, then take a 15-minute break, ideally with some fresh air and stretching. You’ll be shocked at what you’re capable of!

3. Switching-off

At charities, there’s always more work that could be done. No matter what you accomplish, that underlying feeling can taunt you to keep going and finish work later than you should. So how do you get a sense of closure at the end of each day?

Following a suggestion from Michael Hyatt (the brain behind the Full Focus Planner), decide on your ‘Big Three’ for each day. These are the most important tasks that, if completed, will allow you to make serious progress through your to-do list.

Woman relaxing with her feet up, next to her desk

How to successfully switch off

Identifying your Big Three removes that end-of-day guilt when you don’t manage to cross off every task from your to-do list, as you can feel assured that you ultimately got the most important things done.

Next, you want to establish healthy warm-up and cool-down routines. This subconsciously warns your brain and body that work is about to begin or end.

In your morning warm-up you might:

  • make a cup of coffee
  • set up your workstation
  • put your phone on airplane mode
  • look at your Big Three for the day
  • look at your calendar for the week.

And in your cool-down:

  • reset your workstation
  • stretch
  • write your Big Three for tomorrow
  • clear all emails
  • close all your tabs and shut down your computer
  • get changed.

Still find work worries creep into your thoughts? Couple your cool-down routine with a few declarations to remind you that you’ve completed all that’s required of you and you won’t start work until 9am the next day.

These suggestions for how to be more productive at work will take a bit of time initially. But they can transform your working week, helping you thrive and feel in-control of all the tasks at hand. Why not try them for yourself and see how much time they save you?

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Tom Cruickshank

Tom Cruickshank is a Religion and Philosophy Teacher at the Michaela Community School in London, an inner-city school with the best progress results in the country.

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