Constant connectivity has changed our professional lives. In the course of the working day, it’s estimated we check our emails an average of 15 times a day—and that doesn’t include messaging apps that keep us even more plugged into the minutiae of the working day of our colleagues.
With this in mind, it can be overwhelming to try and manage this alongside our actual work and at the same time the demands of our jobs have risen, interest in productivity solutions have unsurprisingly also skyrocketed.
Now more than ever, people and their workplaces are buzzing with the term ‘productivity’. But what are we actually referring to when we use this term? And how can we take control of our week in order to produce work while keeping ourselves from overwhelm? These are the questions we’ll tackle in the article below.
What is productivity?
Productivity refers to the output of a person or workplace over a period of time.
The concept is often confused with efficiency, which describes how that output is generated—if something is done quickly or slowly, for example, it relates to efficiency, not productivity. You are productive if you produce, not if you simply produce more in a fast amount of time.
How can planning create a more productive environment?
Like most things in work and life, careful and considered planning can help us achieve our goals. Often just knowing what’s ahead down the road can do wonders for how to navigate your path, especially when you can effectively anticipate how much time and energy should be dedicated to each particular task.
Implementing a set of strategies to help you become more productive ensures that work your tackling is the right work—as in, the most pressing or more important—is carefully considered and thought out, leading to a higher chance of success, as well as the fact that your time is planned and managed properly to ensure optimum efficiency and avoid potential burnout.
Ready to get planning? Start with a Canva template such as Yellow Black Floral Feminine General Weekly Planner or Violet Simple Elegant Work Schedule Planner to jot down your aims for the week.
Common myths about productivity
In the quest to get more things ticked off your list, you might be thinking of ‘productive time’ as something that will alter the course of your day or week.
Certainly, well-planned and well-spent time can positively impact your workload and your energy levels. But in the endless quest to fit more into every day, there’s a temptation to do more just for the sake of more.
There are a few myths that are counter to the idea of true productivity. One is the confusion between productivity and efficiency. In short, the concept of productivity measures the results over a period of time whereas efficiency measures how those results are generated, with resources, such as time and money, is a big factor. Being more efficient doesn’t always mean being more productive and it doesn’t necessarily mean more work will get done. It’s about getting things done properly, rather than getting many things done in a short space of time.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that more time doesn’t equal more work, especially as your days stretch on. In fact, working longer hours in a block of time makes for a staggeringly less productive output than a standard stretch. Studies confirm that longer hours actually have a detrimental effect on work, proving that overwork isn’t the answer. Bear this in mind when planning your week for the ultimate productivity.
Need some motivation to get started? Try pinning an inspirational quote to your workstation to keep you focused. Canva’s Gold Corporate Quote Productivity Hack Social Media Post or Bisque and White Traditional Life Quote Poster template can help.
There are many strategies that aim to assist you with ticking off some tasks. All or some (or none) could work for you, so try to be flexible when working them into your day. Here are 10 of our favourites.
It may seem obvious to ensure that you allow yourself no distractions while working on tasks that require a particular ‘flow’, often referred to as ‘deep work’.
But these distractions aren’t limited to just the constant pinging of your email—it’s about anything that will take you away from your flow, even if it seems to be related to it. Meetings or phone calls relating to the task should wait, too—once your mind is derailed from the task at hand, studies show that it takes an average of 25 minutes to recalibrate and get back on task.
In the context of a day, if that happens even just twice, that’s a lot of time to lose in a busy working environment. Try to dedicate one day a week to meetings so as to not chop into important blocks of time that could be dedicated to deep work and, it goes without saying, that muting notifications during those periods is non-negotiable.
Follow the ‘rule of three’
The Rule of Three, or ‘three wins’ as Microsoft’s J.D. Meier has dubbed it, is the idea that all days should be funneled into completely or achieving just three things—nothing more, nothing less.
At the beginning of your day, record just three things you want to have achieved by the close of it and work towards ticking them off. There’s nothing more powerful than focus and a list of anything more than three things becomes overwhelming—keep it simple and achievable and you’re more likely to see results.
Start saying ‘no’
Most modern workplaces are structured to function as part of a team environment and our place as a particular cog in that machine can subject us to an ever-growing pile of tasks before our actual work has even begun.
When you have work to get done, however, it can be helpful to finally employ that magic word: ‘no’. You don’t have to cut yourself off from your team or colleagues completely but just in times when you’ve scheduled work that requires no distractions—saying ‘no’ can empower you to focus on just the work you have at hand.
Begin with the things you hate the most
Or the easiest, depending on your mindset. If you’re someone who needs to be driven by little wins, plan to start your day by completing the easiest task to build your confidence and drive your day forward. If you’re a heavy procrastinator, starting with the day’s hardest task could be your secret to success. After ticking that off your list, all tasks that follow will seem like a breeze, comparatively.
Try a new technique
Do you always rely on the same technique to get your work done? Or do you rely on a complete absence of technique? It’s time to try a different approach. Parkinson’s Law, for example, is the simple idea that: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. What this looks like in practice is you giving yourself more time to complete a task that would likely be necessary.
Why not try switching it on its head and allow less time than you think you’ll need? The chances are you’ll speed up your process and get the task done in a shorter amount of time, leaving you open for other things on your list. If not, simply adjust your expectations and work until it’s done.
Work in bursts and group tasks in batches
Another technique that’s proved popular for many productivity enthusiasts is the Pomodoro technique, conceived by Francesco Cirillo, as a way of effectively managing time and completing tasks in a burst. The technique relies on the timing of work and the subsequent reward of a timed break, typically applied in a cycle such as this: set a timer for 25 minutes and work until the buzzer goes off, then take a five-minute break. Repeat this four times and at the completion of the fourth work cycle, take a 15-20 minute break.
The reason the technique has dedicated devotees are many: allotting a specific amount of time to a task minimises distraction and forces focus because you’re aware you only have a certain amount of time to finish something and the timed breaks allow the mind to have a break and rest and the sprint-style cycle encourages a certain amount of speed. Fans of this technique include Sue Shellenbarger of The Wall Street Journal and neuroscientist Daniel Levetin, who has adapted the technique to meet his own personal style of working.
A production line is effective because when you’ve got several of the same task types to complete, you can get into a rhythm. This is why the grouping of work in ‘batches’ can be so effective. The best example is checking your emails—responding to emails or deleting the ones clogging your inbox typically requires the same type of focus and therefore is best done in a batch, rather than at several intervals throughout the day. It’s a far better use of your time to schedule a wedge of time and dedicate it to answering and deleting emails, rather than popping in and out of your inbox all day.
Change your thinking
The concept of ‘triage’ relates to dealing quickly and efficiently with the most urgent tasks so as to be able to focus later on what is important. This approach has been borrowed by productivity experts to describe how it could be effective in tackling your daily tasks—if there’s a lump of a few tasks that are urgent, attack them first before jumping into deep work. Once those are ticked off, you are free to delve as deep as necessary without being bothered by those niggling demands that have been hanging over your to-do list for hours.
Do (some) things once
Those notifications aren’t going anywhere. Sometimes it can be helpful to commit to a rule of time and make a pledge to yourself to check your emails or chat notifications just ‘once’—it could be once a day on a quiet Monday, or once every full Pomodoro cycle, to help alleviate being cognitively dragged off the task at hand.
Adopt a new mantra
Procrastination is a sneaky beast and when we feel vulnerable about the work that we’re doing—due to fear of failure, overwhelm or lack of insight—procrastination takes hold and drags us almost everywhere except our desks. A helpful way to look at work as it metaphorically piles up is by applying the mantra: ‘done is better than perfect’, a favorite of everyone from Thomas Jefferson (who is reported to have uttered the phrase originally) to Sheryl Sandberg and Facebook’s Ben Barry. Sometimes a way to shove the creative block to the side is to shelve ideas of fabulous failure or sweeping success and just get it done. Once you release yourself from the burden of having to do something well or even the pressure you feel around doing it badly, you might be able to get more done than you expect.
Keep your mantra close by putting into an eye-catching Canva template to keep you focused. Yellow and Pink Mountain Photo Quote Instagram Post or Beach Photo Quote Summer Facebook Cover could be just the thing.
One of the most important things to add to your schedule are breaks. Whether you’re working them into your routine as part of the Pomodoro technique or as a slab for a yoga class at the end of each day, energy is an important component of true productivity and breaks are what re-energizes you enough to continue to work at your best. You’ll notice your ability to feel motivated for tasks dwindle when your energy is low and the converse is true when you prioritize downtime for yourself during your growing list of tasks. Consider recharging to be as, if not more, important than any task you’ve been given, and schedule accordingly.