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13 workplace productivity tips to keep you on track (and sane)

You hear it constantly. Boost your workplace productivity. “Get more stuff done in less time! Work smarter! Be faster, better!” It doesn’t have to be that way.

Yes, you’ll always be called upon to increase productivity, but you don’t have to stress out to do it. One of the best things you can do to meet the demand from your bosses, employees, and peers is to keep a holistic view of your workplace experience. So take a deep breath, relax, and consider these work productivity tips that help you to also take care of yourself.

1. Pobody’s Nerfect: Understand perfection is impossible

Go into your day with the knowledge that mistakes will be made. By you. By others. Stuff will go wrong. And you know what? That’s okay. Even if your project isn’t perfect, moving forward and meeting a deadline is better than getting stuck and completing nothing. You can always go back and fix things later. Seeking or expecting perfection—especially from yourself—is not only unproductive, but it guarantees a stressful workplace experience.

2. Have a daily plan of action

You go into your office, get some coffee, and sit down at the computer. What’s the first thing you do? For many of us, our early-morning reflex is to check email. A daily brain warm-up. But it’s not necessarily the most productive approach. Instead, think like a quarterback and plan a strategy. Understand what you need to get done each day, and focus on that. Remember, if something were indeed an emergency, they wouldn’t have let you know about it with email. 

3. Know your body rhythms

Are you a “night person” or a “morning person”? If you’re useless after 3:00 in the afternoon and you know it, don’t try to push yourself to do heavy brainwork late in the day. If you have some flexibility about your work hours, try to negotiate times that are conducive to your natural rhythms.

If you’re a manager, note employees who are bleary-eyed at 8:00 a.m. and humming along at the end of the day. Know which ones are nodding out by 4:00 p.m. If you can offer alternatives, you’ll see happier employees, and your team’s workplace productivity will soar.

4. Examine your relationship with caffeine

Is caffeine is your workplace productivity drug of choice? According to AARP, 90 percent of adults consume caffeine daily. But, no evidence directly equates caffeine and productivity. There is, however, a lot of scientific evidence that caffeine gives you an energy bump and increases your focus.

If you need to think creatively, though, look elsewhere. A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) showed that the more focused we are, the less likely that we’ll be able to access our creative brain. 

5. Give yourself a break

Taking scheduled breaks doesn’t make you appear lazy. Regular breaks actually help improve your performance or at least maintain your stamina longer. Think about your smartphone. If you use it constantly, the battery drains faster, and you have to stop and plug it in. Your brain needs to recharge, too, and the way to do it is to allow yourself some quiet time. Stand up, walk around. Talk to someone else, or do something away from your desk. If you don’t pay attention to your brain, you might run out of juice before you’re finished.

6. Use distractions wisely

If you’ve ever seen a group of writers working collaboratively, chances are good you wondered when they do the writing. Their workplace experience probably includes toys, games, shared videos, articles, and images. The amount of chatting and joking might have surprised you. The truth is, they’re actually working. Distractions like this keep free association flowing, and that is the secret sauce in the creative process. 

Take a page from the creative team and see what small distractions do for your productivity. While you can never overestimate the power of cat videos, you do need self-control to use distractions as a productivity technique. You have to be able to know when enough is enough and pull yourself away. 

7. Use apps—but not as a distraction

There is no shortage of workplace technology to help you stay on track. But the trick isn’t downloading them, it’s using them consistently. In their recently-released Ultimate Productivity Guide, workplace productivity company Evernote consolidated a list of apps that have proven useful over the years.

The list includes apps like project management tool Trello, and SelfControl (Mac) / FocusMe (Mac and Windows), which are apps that keep you away from sites that distract you. RescueTime helps you understand where time is being wasted. Develop some positive app habits to help increase workplace productivity.

8. Quiet your mind

Are Slack messages and emails and texts bombarding you every minute of the day? Office workers have had to struggle with noise and interruptions for centuries. Workers in the past didn’t have noise-canceling headphones, so how did they stay productive? 

One trick to try is setting up an internal workspace. Hindus use the practice of samadhi to find inner quiet. It helps you filter out the noise around you–or inside your head. Our minds can wander, and our thoughts can scream for attention. Once you get in “the zone,” it’s easier to concentrate. When your brain is prepared, the location doesn’t matter.

9. Do you really need another meeting?

Elon Musk sent an email to every employee at Tesla in 2018 with direction about meetings. “Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time,” he wrote. “Please get out of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short. Also,” he continued, “get rid of frequent meetings unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter.”

If a meeting is truly irrelevant to you, can you take care of routine tasks that otherwise clog up your day? If you’re a manager or department head, ask yourself, “can anything that can be solved using email or chat?” The more you can solve using workplace technology instead, the more time you and your employees will have to do more important things.

10. Multitasking much?

Doing a bunch of things at once might not be helping your productivity. We humans aren’t cut out to be multitaskers, and all that switching between tasks costs us in lost time and cognitive fatigue. Instead of trying to be a superhero, why not determine your priorities and allocate enough time for each job? You can work on what’s urgent first and finish the rest of your tasks after the fires are out.

11. Garbage in, garbage out: eat healthy foods 

Remember those commercials that suggested you eat a candy bar to satisfy hunger? How did that work out for you? The sugar crash wasn’t worth the few minutes of energy it bought you, and it definitely wasn’t worth the calories. The food we eat affects workplace productivity, too. Take note of what software engineers always say about code: garbage in, garbage out. Junk food really does cause decreased productivity and energy crashes. Keep healthy snacks at your office to stay productive.

12. Complete tasks in batches

Productivity experts differ on the best way to increase productivity. Tim Ferris, author of The 4 Hour Work Week, suggests working in 90-minute sprints. Ferris says that since it takes time to fall into a rhythm, you lose precious time whenever you stop and start.

However, another popular time management technique, the Pomodoro Method, prescribes work sprints of 25 minutes with five minute breaks between. The thought behind that is the same as doing reps at the gym. Doing 10 and resting keeps you going longer and builds stamina. Obviously, these two techniques have opposite philosophies. Try them both and see what works best for you.

13. Automation: bots that get stuff done for you

Automation stands today as the gateway to the workplace of the future. If you can offload repetitive and time-consuming tasks to workplace technology, that leaves more time for productivity.

For example, visitor management software speeds up guest processing and host notification. With the right technology and a cellphone camera, it’s possible to automate mailroom services. You can even have your own AI assistants Amy and Andrew schedule and manage your meetings. Use browser extensions and add-ons to sort and prioritize email. And don’t forget about older automation like IFTTT and Zapier to help with organization, create bridges between apps, and more. 

Consider this list as a buffet. Take a little of this, a bit of that until you find what works for you. These aren’t tips to be followed in order—increasing workplace productivity doesn’t work like that. It’s a personal journey for everyone. But getting there shouldn’t be stressful. Take care of yourself on the way. 

What advances will you see in the workplace in the next five years? Get a glimpse by downloading our latest report, ‘The workplace of the future: Human happiness and high-tech spaces.’

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