When it comes to doing a stellar job at work, it’s not always about working harder. More often than not it’s about working smarter.
Which is why—instead of working until 6:30 tonight—you should head home at 5:00 on the dot. And instead use that extra hour and a half to relax, have a drink, and make plans to put these tips on how to increase efficiency at work into action.
1. Make It Yours
Because a desk that says “you” is great for productivity.
There’s actually research that shows that a personalized office space is a happy office space. Making your desk a calm and comfortable place to be can make all the difference during that infamous afternoon drag.
A comfortable chair, soothing colors, live plants, and pictures of loved ones are all keys to a happy desk space.
2. Keep It Tidy
Because decluttering your mind starts with decluttering your space.
How often do you waste time looking for something that’s not where it’s supposed to be? How often do you lose important pieces of paper—or even computer files?
If you don’t have a system for organizing your physical space and your hard drive, it’s time to set one up. And it’s not just about the files, either; having a specific place for all your little knick knacks and office supplies makes for a more productive work environment.
3. Divide & Conquer
And by that we mean plan and set goals.
Going in without a plan is going in blind, so make sure to have a schedule and to-do list to go by today, this week, this month, and even this year.
Set goals for these time periods and plan out the tasks you need to complete to accomplish them. Succeeding at the big stuff actually isn’t so hard when you break it down into small, manageable steps.
So break it down. As in, plan out those small steps.
Then break it down. As in, bust a dance move. Because if you’re starting with a plan, you’re starting off your work day right. And that’s something to dance about.
4. Eat the Frog
We generally don’t recommend going outside and eating innocent amphibians, but we do recommend you conquer your most dreaded task first thing in the morning.Caption: No frogs were harmed in the writing of this article.
You know that incredible feeling of relief you get when you finish doing something you really do not want to do? Well, what if you got to enjoy that feeling all day?
That’s what eating the frog does for you.
So when you’re dividing and conquering as suggested in tip #3, do yourself a favor and make that dreaded phone call—or that big scary sales pitch, or the proposal you don’t even know where to start with—first thing on your list.
5. Time Box
Time boxing, while not as fun and sweaty as actual boxing, is a handy tool to have in your work toolbox. Give your to-do list items time constraints and watch your productivity soar through the roof.
Time boxing—by using both time limits for individual tasks and internal deadlines for those tasks—is a great way to combat perfectionism, as it’s essentially saying this: “I will not let this task consume my entire day. I will get it done so it’s just good enough and move on.”
Just like a gas, time spent finishing a task tends to fill the container you allow for it. So grab that container by the horns and whisper in its soft little ears, “I am the boss.”
6. Say Goodbye to Multitasking
Because trying to scoop yogurt into your mouth with a pen while filling out paperwork with a spoon is not the most productive way to kick off a Monday.
Multitasking just plain ain’t good for you, simple as that. Just saying the word multitasking stresses us out—how about you?
It’s like Parks & Rec’s Ron Swanson says: “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” A true productivity master.
7. Choose Your Fuel
Imagine your giant bowl of buttery pasta shouting “YOU’RE GOING TO BE SO SLEEPY THIS AFTERNOON,” at you, because he’s giving you a fair warning and that’s exactly what’s going to happen once you take that delicious bowl of nutritionlessness to the face.
It’s no secret that what you eat affects your levels of productivity throughout the day. That’s one more great reason to get your eating habits on track.
So stick to the wholesome stuff. Your brain will thank you.
8. Respect the Power of Coffee
There’s a point of diminishing returns with coffee. Find that sweet spot and stick with it.
Need more boost, but hit your coffee limit for the day? Try alternatives like green tea, matcha tea, or a green smoothie. That stuff is delicious. And won’t give you bad breath.
9. Take a Breather
Fresh air, a music break, a quick stroll—whatever your medicine, use it regularly to take a break from your work.
It’s unrealistic to expect you’ll get 8 hours of solid work in every day and you’ll beat yourself up trying to live up to those impossibly high expectations.
You know what’s more realistic? Getting a solid, way more productive 6 or 7 hours in—with about an hour or so total of relaxing mental breaks in between. Take a moment to recharge and your brain will thank you.
10. Be Comfy, Be Appropriate
Clothes. Sometimes, we’d rather not wear them. But until we all decide to migrate to nudist colonies, we’ve gotta do it. To wit, it’s probably a good idea to wear clothes to work.
Be comfy, be appropriate. Need we say more? Know your company’s dress code and respect it. It’s there for a reason.
Priority #1: appropriateness. Priority #2: comfiness. Because sitting at a desk watching your pants slice your winter belly in two while rubbing the blisters on your feet doesn’t bode well for productivity.
11. Draw (& Grow to Love) Your Boundaries
And enforce them with an iron fist.
You have a work life and a personal life, and in between them should be a line. Draw that line clearly.
Keep personal issues away from the office as much as possible. Deal with the urgent stuff, sure—but remember what we said about multitasking in #6? Put your mind at ease by knowing you don’t have to deal with the home stuff until you get home. Let’s focus on one thing at a time.
Likewise, try not to bring your work home. You’re there for half of your waking hours, so why should you?
Unless you knowingly got into a line of work that requires much more of a time commitment (and hopefully compensates you accordingly for it), remind yourself that there are other things that matter just as much as—if not more than—work. You know, like family, health, charity, spirituality, and play. Work on those things, too. An increase in productivity will be a happy side effect.
12. Deliver Yourself From Temptation
Did you know there’s software for tracking your time on (and sometimes even blocking you from) certain time-wasting websites?
There’s all kinds handy tools like this that are all about helping you focus when you’re on your computer during the work day. There’s even some for your phone.
Since willpower is definitely a depletable resource, we really do recommend using some kind of software or browser extension to help you kick your social media/browsing habits. Use your precious willpower elsewhere. Perhaps for, you know, being overall more productive.
13. Schedule Email Time
Because how often is it that you really needed to respond to that email right away?
Let us refer to #6 again. Multitasking = bad.
Checking every email as it comes in while working on something else = multitasking = bad = also just plain stressful. Unless it’s your direct supervisor, really no one should have this much control over your time (in a sense that when you get an email, you drop whatever you’re doing to give them your attention).
They can wait. Take control of your time, or others will control it for you. Schedule 1 to 3 times per day to check your email—and then time box it! (That’s an inside joke we have together from tip #5. Remember?)
14. Use a Project Management Tool
Obviously we can’t help but recommend our favorite tool: ours. Workzone’s your right hand man in the office and helps you grow more efficient at—well, everything.
15. Communicate Efficiently
Another tool we love is all about communication: Slack. Slack makes communicating easy and we definitely recommend it.
But it’s not just about the software you’re using—it’s also about your own personal guidelines for communicating in the office.
Here’s a few good rules to stick with:
- Be mindful of how long water-cooler chitchat lasts and cut it off after a certain amount of time.
- Because we’re sometimes mindlessly invited to meetings we don’t actually need to attend, ask yourself/the meeting organizer before each meeting: is my attendance here really necessary? What exactly is my role in this meeting? If the answer’s unclear, skip it.
- If you do go to a meeting, come with an agenda or ask the meeting organizer for one. The objective and timeline for the meeting should both be crystal clear to avoid aimless time-wasting.
16. Get Your House In Order
Deal with big personal problems at home and as soon as you can so you get to come to work in the morning with a clear mind.
Get your affairs sorted: invest in adequate insurance coverage, invest in your retirement plan as much as you can, and have an emergency savings fund. Not only is this just a healthy way to live in general, but it’ll help you keep your mind at ease when you’re at work.
Have that big talk you’ve been meaning to have with your spouse or your boss. Get this big scary stuff out of the way so you can focus on what matters most at work and in life.
17. Get Invested
In your colleagues, in your work, in your company.
Ask your coworkers about their personal lives. Ask to go for drinks after work.
Ask for stock options. Ask to volunteer at company events. Ask what you can do to help.
Anything you can do to invest your time, money, and interest into your company will have you putting your heart into your work and the people you work with.
Do this and you’ll feel like a greater part of the whole. And you’ll enjoy your work that much more.
18. Get Happy
Make leisure time a priority. Make family time a priority. Remember what matters most. Because happy workers are better workers.
Your office may not have yoga classes like Twitter or dog-friendly offices like Google. But you can still get happy at home and at work by enjoying the little things. Things like drinks out with coworkers, a tidy desk, and the perfect program management tool.
And all the little things like that? They’ll start adding up. And they’ll make you that much more productive.