Ugh. It’s Monday morning. Again. The weekend came and went so fast you didn’t even have time to enjoy it and now you’re back at your desk, staring at a blank screen with a million and a half things to do and zero motivation to get anything done. The clock, on the other hand, is doing its job tremendously — it just keeps ticking away. 9 a.m. 10 a.m. 11 a.m. And all you have to show for it are jittery hands and a sweat-pitted dress shirt from too much caffeine. It’s okay — being productive is really hard sometimes. The good news is there are tons of tips out there to help us streamline our efforts and maximize productivity. In this article I’ve compiled some of my favorite productivity tips that help my colleagues and I stay on task and avoid those motivation-sucking Mondays.
1. Make a List and Start with the Easiest Thing
I love lists. Shopping lists, grocery lists, to-do lists, shit lists — they all serve an important purpose, help you stay on task, and keep you from forgetting things you need or need to do. I make lists for everything, and I always feel better about getting to work after one of the things on my list is already checked off. So, after you make your daily, weekly, or monthly to-do list, do something easy that doesn’t take much time or effort first and put a big ‘ole check mark next to it. Heck, if you think it’ll help you get things done, put something on your list that you already did just so you can check it off. It’s your list, do what will help make you more productive!
2. Get a Calendar and Plan Your Days
Organizing your day down to the half-hour may seem a little neurotic, but when you think about how much work you can get done in half an hour, it kind of makes sense to take advantage of every little bit of spare time you have. So, set up a calendar (digital or paper doesn’t matter — whatever you like better) and map out every part of your day. Refer to your list to see what you need to get done that day and organize blocks of time throughout the day to work on your project so you don’t accidentally spend too much time on something that doesn’t matter that much. Time management is paramount in improving productivity.
3. Challenge Yourself with Deadlines
I don’t know about you guys, but if someone’s not kicking me to get something done — I won’t do it. But, as I get older I’ve learned sometimes you have to be the one to kick yourself to get something done. Set hard deadlines for yourself that are challenging. Don’t give yourself all day to do something that could easily be done in a couple of hours just because you can. Instead, push yourself to finish on a deadline so you can invest more time in other things. Now, I’m not saying to rush through your work and be careless, but you should always strive to finish something in a timely manner if you can. The more tasks you get done, the more things you get to check off your list, and the more motivated you’ll be to keep working on shortening that list.
4. Work Hard, but Treat Yourself
A good rule of thumb is to work hard and stay focused for a good 90 minutes without taking any breaks and without pushing yourself much further than that at one time. After 90 minutes of good, hard work — treat yourself, you’ve earned it. Take a break, walk away from your desk for 10 minutes. Get your blood pumping a bit with a walk around the office or around the block if you’re lucky enough to have outdoor access. Go grab a coffee or piece of that chocolate you saw in the break room. Build breaks and rewards into your day, put them in your calendar if that helps you. Have something to look forward to so the day doesn’t drag. You’ll stay more motivated throughout the day when you always have something to look forward to after just another 90 minutes.
5. Don’t Let Emails and Notifications Control Your Day
Emails and social media are evil when it comes to productivity. If you need to get stuff done and really be productive, turn off your notifications until you’re ready to stop working for the day. Minimize the distractions of social media by avoiding looking at it. Don’t let yourself get sucked in, and just save it for the end of the day instead. Now, emails are a little different because they can be work-related. But, that doesn’t mean you should answer every email as soon as it hits your inbox at all times of the day. It is actually more productive to schedule times in your day to check/return emails so you’re not wasting time switching back and forth between projects and refocusing your brain to get back on task. If you don’t get many emails, maybe just check your email in the morning or the evening before you head home. But, if you get a lot during the day, maybe check it once in the morning and again in the afternoon. But, don’t spend all day returning emails. It may be faster than snail mail, but that still doesn’t mean you have to respond immediately.
6. Take Advantage of Your Free Time
We have a lot of extra free time during the workday we don’t use because we often don’t realize how much that time adds up. But, next time you’re on a long commute to the office, waiting in line for coffee, or even taking a long morning bathroom break — you can always be doing some type of work and using that scheduled work time. If you don’t have your materials on you or can’t use them at that time, be thinking about your project. Be brainstorming ideas. Be expanding on your platform. Don’t waste work time just because you’re not in the office or at your desk.
7. Multitasking — You’re Not as Good at It as You Think
Studies show people actually are less productive when they are trying to do multiple things at once instead of just focusing on one project at a time. So, next time you have 20 tabs open and 10 notebooks scattered across your desk like some kind of crazy person trying to solve a murder mystery, close some of those tabs, put away some of the notebooks, and turn your attention to just one project at a time. Give all your brainpower to one task and see how much faster that one thing will get crossed off your checklist than if you tried to do it plus five other things simultaneously.
8. Minimize Meetings
Meetings are a notorious time suck that we employees often can’t control and thus are left to the mercy of our superiors. But, if you find yourself in a position to make a difference in this workplace tradition — you should. Meetings can be great for collaboration and exchanges of ideas, but not when they occur every day when people need that work time to get things done. Just look at how much time the employees in the show The Office waste in their conference room meetings. While it may be a comedy sitcom, it does speak some truth about meeting culture. So, what can an employer do if not hold a traditional meeting? They can call a phone, Slack, or launch a Zoom meeting. This way, no one has to waste time commuting to all meet in the same location, interruptions are cut out, and topics of discussion are streamlined. Technology is, after all, a great resource — why not use it?
9. Give Yourself a Pleasant Work Environment
This tip is so important in improving both productivity and motivation. Do you think you’ll be inspired and driven to get work done if you have to spend all day staring at a white, blank wall? Of course not, and no one would. Instead, fill your workspace with things that make you happy and comfortable. Plants, flowers, pictures of your family or pets, candy dishes, candles, colorful pens, whatever puts a smile on your face. Decorating your space is a great way to feel more comfortable in your work environment, which will then encourage you to be more productive throughout the day.
10. Stop Pressuring Yourself to Be Perfect
And, lastly, leave the perfectionist in you at home. Of course, ideally, we would want all of our projects and assignments to turn out perfect every time. But, at some point in your career, you’ll have to embrace the fact that nothing is ever perfect and everything can always be better. The most important thing is to get done what you need to get done by the deadline. You can always come back to a project and improve it later, but you can’t always extend a deadline. Perfection is a fairy tale. But, with these tips, productivity can be a reality.
Chad Q. Brown’s Profile is a retained consulting firm incorporating distinct team building and talent strategies utilizing proprietary technology and behavioral assessment infrastructure. Our mission — help people get better at people.
Chad Q. Brown