Whether you’re working remotely or (eventually) in an office again, here are four sure-fire ways to up your efficiency and productivity!
1. Use a timer for strict enforcement of your schedule.
Remember when we were in school and the buzzer went off because it was recess or time to get to your next class? I recall maybe once in a while taking an extra minute or two to wrap-up and leave but, for the most part, it was an almost immediate, “drop what you were doing and move on.” This was a simple habit that we formed, and the school bell was the cue.
Many of us are working out of our homes and even home-schooling our children now because the schools have been closed. I use an alarm/timer that sounds like a school bell to start and stop school and periods. It’s amazing how the children respond to it. No more having to corral them to start school or keep an eye on the clock during class. The children are preprogrammed with this habit so as soon as it goes off, they respond, and things fall in order.
I’ve reused this bell and timer technique for my own work schedule, and I’m amazed at what a difference it has made in my ability to stay focused and on point with my time and my meetings. I have more energy to go from task to task and do not experience the fatigue of planting my butt in the chair for hours on end.
Try using an alarm or timer to manage your schedule, be present and focus on your work without distraction and rebuild your habit to halt work when the bell rings and move on. You will feel great!
2. Remove distractions.
Put your phone in “do not disturb” mode and put it face down or away from the space where you’re working. Resist the urge to check and respond to it and, instead, perform brief sprints of focused work (ex. 20 or 30 minutes at a time, or 50 minutes straight with a 10-minute break afterwards to check messages and alerts).
I understand this may not be possible for some folks who are in key operational roles. I was in a variety of operations leadership roles for 20 years and it was an expectation that I check and respond quickly to critical events and inquiries in a timely fashion, so I get it. But, if you have the ability to do so, try putting your phone in DND mode for focused activities.
I’ve found a tremendous amount of productivity out of using this technique and I complete my activities with a sense of satisfied accomplishment from going all-out for that given period of time. Try it and you won’t regret it!
3. Take regular and timed breaks.
I once read an article about the value of working in 20-minute, focused intervals. It boasted an increase in productivity and reduced fatigue.
So, I trialed the approach of working in 20-minute sprints – that is, working undistracted for 20 minutes at a time and then focusing on something else for 20 minutes and so forth. I did this for a long while.
While I did feel like I enjoyed a productivity boost, knowing I only had to be full tilt for 20 minutes at a time, I found myself with a lot of brain energy remaining after each session. I felt like I could easily go another 20 on whatever I was working on at the time. So, I would end up allotting another session to the same activity, and so on, somewhat defeating the purpose of the 20-minute sprints.
I now tend to take 5 to 10 minutes at the end of each hour to stretch, clear my mind, eat or check alerts and messages. I also eat/snack during these times and never take a full lunch break (unless it’s a lunch meeting). I’m a grazer and eat small portions maybe 5 or 6 times a day so I don’t get the energy spikes or crashes associated with consuming larger meals in one sitting.
I find this approach is well-suited for my personality and the type of work I like to do.
If you are a regular employee working an 8-hour day, and if your employer is ok with this it, experiment with this approach and leave a comment with your feedback! I’d love to hear if this works for you and helps increase productivity, energy and focus!
4. Ensure meetings have an intended outcome and/or a structured agenda.
I’ve had the pleasure of leading many meetings over the years, and it is my observation that the most successful meetings are the ones where we didn’t take that much of people’s time and each participant gave and received value.
Although many of us perhaps have more time on our hands currently (due to layoffs or reduced work hours), we still don’t want to squander or waste it. There’s a finite supply of time that we each have in a day and we can neither get it back nor create more of it – the same goes for our meeting participants. With that in mind, it is possible to spend a great deal of time in meetings and still feel exhausted and unaccomplished at the end of the day, if we’re not paying close attention.
If you’re requesting a meeting, it’s a great practice to include either an intended outcome or a brief agenda. It’s even more thoughtful if you can clearly identify the role and expected contribution from each of the required participants.
I encourage you to utilize this approach, if you have not yet tried it. I’m confident you’ll feel better about attending meetings, your meetings will become more productive and you might even become the recipient of kudos and accolades from your participants (people love it when they know you’re particular about not wanting to waste their time)!
Have feedback and other suggestions? Leave a comment and share your opinion on what has or hasn’t worked for you and we’ll all be more efficient together as a community.
Your Friendly Neighbourhood Process Consultant