We all know what it feels like to start the day knowing we won’t even come close to tackling all the tasks on our to-do list. Sure, you might be able to kick off the morning on the right foot by checking off a task or two. But you know it’s only a matter of time before meetings — some more necessary than others! — and other hiccups — employee questions, client calls, fires that need extinguishing — will pull you away from your agenda and make your productivity a wash.
How do we combat this? How can we boost our productivity when we’re barely able to stay afloat? The answer is actually quite simple.
Having too many tasks and not enough time often causes people to lose focus and motivation and drift away from pursuing their highest priority work. The amount of information that must be managed, the multiple responsibilities that must be juggled, and the high volume of decisions that must be made can and often do add up to an overwhelming tide that swamps willpower, the ability to concentrate, and, most of all, the ability to make reliable, high-quality decisions. However, making a few tweaks in your work day can make a huge difference.
Here are six strategies to help you boost your productivity:
1. Stop having so many meetings.
In a survey reported in Industry Week, 2,000 managers claimed that at least 30 percent of their time spent in meetings was a waste of time. Therefore, if you’re meeting once a day for an hour, you’re wasting an hour and a half of work every week. The solution? “Unless you’re really needed, don’t go,” Core advises. “Meet less often with fewer people. Limit your time and stick to it, and most importantly, have a clear goal for your meeting and strictly stay on topic.”
2. Answer your emails only two or three times a day.
Do you find yourself clicking back and forth between your email and work tasks twenty-seven thousand times a day? If so, you’re not alone. You don’t want your email to pile up or for your colleagues to think you’re ignoring their emails, and while that’s understandable, it’s not productive.
This is so important, because too often, we become slaves to our emails. If I were to answer every email instantaneously, I’d literally be answering them all day. This would increase my stress levels and scatter my focus, causing me to get less done throughout the day. Plus, I’d be answering them so quickly that I’d do so without being mindful of what I was writing, causing me to reply in error or unnecessarily. Instead I have three periods during the day (right before lunch, 3:00 p.m., and right before I leave for the day) where I check my emails, and after the third period, I stop. Meaning that when I get home, I stay present and recharge my batteries.
3. Get big things done before 9:00 a.m. (instead of snoozing, procrastinating, and lurking at the water cooler).
Ever notice how your morning sets the tone for your whole day? As Sir Isaac Newton famously said, “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion.” So if an object (you) gets a groggy, frustrating start, you’ll probably feel sluggish and behind the eight-ball all day long. However, if you start your day with positive and productive ideas, actions, thoughts, and feelings, you’re likely to gain momentum throughout the day.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. I know a top salesman named Barry whose daily pattern involves getting up early, exercising, eating breakfast, spending time with family, and accomplishing several meetings or other work activities before 9:00 a.m. By the time his colleagues are settling into the starting blocks, Barry has already blown through several important tasks on his to-do list, and he’s geared to continue that pace for the next several hours.
The point here isn’t how early Barry’s alarm rings — it’s that he makes the most of the first several hours of his day instead of snoozing and procrastinating, as so many of us do. The truth is this: What you do first matters. And since the sun will keep rising earlier and earlier for the next few months, this is the perfect time to kick off a new morning routine.
4. Work in a quiet place.
Working in an office can often feel like a mad house with your boss yelling for you to come see him, your cubicle mate making conversation, and everyone else having constant conversation, pulling your focus in many directions.
Instead of battling this challenge every day, decide when you’re not going to be available for conversation unless absolutely necessary. Put headphones on, close your door, go to a coffee shop, or work from home. Do what it takes for you to not be distracted.
5. Own up to your junk hours.
“Junk hours” are a little like junk food: While they provide short-term pleasure, they contribute to long-term imbalance and exhaustion. For instance, junk hours might include chasing rabbit trails on the Internet, shooting the breeze with colleagues at the water cooler, checking email in order to avoid doing other work, or even attending an unnecessary meeting.
In order to maximize each day, you need to own up to your junk hours. You need to identify when you’re going through the motions of work, versus when real work is being done. Don’t be ashamed that your junk hours exist, because everybody needs to take breaks and shift gears. Your task now is to exchange your low-value ‘junk’ activities for ones that build greater health and value into your workday.
For instance, I know one woman who, instead of taking an endless string of coffee breaks, sets aside 20 minutes each afternoon to knit. I know another man who decided to spend his lunch hours either with friends or going to the gym, instead of trying to squeeze in more work around bites of a burger. In both instances, these scheduled breaks increased my friends’ energy levels and sense of well-being. They felt less of a need to take low-value breaks and began to experience more productivity. And yes, they began getting out of the office earlier, too.
6. When you do check a box off your list, celebrate.
It’s a given that you have a to-do list. Maybe it’s on paper, on your smartphone, or just in your head…but you have one. Whether it’s completing a PowerPoint presentation for your next pitch meeting, responding to a client about renewing his contract, or simply dropping your clothes off at the dry cleaners, take a little bit of time to celebrate checking a task off your list.
By celebrating, I mean getting up, giving your brain a break, and refocusing your energy to get started on your next task. There are lots of ways to do this: Taking a walk is perhaps the best way, but certainly getting up to stretch, cleaning off your desk, and reading something amusing are all great tactics to motivate you and keep the energy flowing.
If you aren’t sure what will energize you, check out Core’s infographic to find out what does and doesn’t increase your productivity, work-life balance, and overall well-being.
By making small changes in how you approach your day, you can begin to take back your to-do list and accomplish your goals more quickly. An increase in interruptions may actually cause a decrease in productivity, so do what you can to limit the number of disruptions in your day. I promise you’ll go home at night feeling less anxious and exhausted and arrive in the morning ready for the day.
Andy Core is the author of ”Change Your Day, Not Your Life: A Realistic Guide to Sustained Motivation, More Productivity and the Art Of Working Well“. He is an award-winning lecturer, author, television host, and expert in human performance and motivation. Voted a 2012 Top5 Global Health/Healthcare Speaker by Speakers Platform, Andy has a master’s degree in the science of human performance and has spent the past 23 years mastering what it takes to become energized, healthy, motivated, and better equipped to thrive in today’s hectic society.