How can you become more productive at work ?
Productivity is one of the most in-demand skill of today.
You only have 24 hours per day so making the most of your time is important.
But how can you become more productive ?
Have you ever wondered how to become more productive at work ?
Through this article I will try to share my advices and tools to be more productive. Even if you have an expectional amount of work to do, you can remain productive and relaxed. The purpose of this article is to become aware of your way of working, to question it and to try to improve it.
The end goal is to work smarter, not harder.
Focus on what really matters
In today’s world, you are drowning in a lot of informations (emails, meetings…).
You must filter the important ones from the distractions to focus on what really matters.
This way you prioritize your time on the most impactful tasks.
Design a plan to identify long-term priorities
Plan everything you need to do during the day / week.
I like taking the analogy of the jar theory: start by filling your jar with the rocks, the big, important tasks, then you can add the pebbles which are the tasks with average importance and finally you can add the sand which represent the less important tasks.
This way you can focus on your main goals for your day / week and then it create space for the pebble tasks and finally the sand tasks. This technique also makes it easier to respect your plans and get things done.
Each week, make sure you schedule 30 minutes and 10 minutes each day to design your plan.
The Eisenhower matrix
This productivity tool lets you focus your time and attention on activities in accordance with their importance. This is called the Eisenhower Matrix (or time matrix).
The idea is pretty simple:
- You can represent the four quadrants like so:
- The top-left quadrant includes important, urgent work that have to be done the same day (or tomorrow at the latest).
- The top-right quadrant includes important tasks that are not urgent but sould be scheduled.
- The bottom-left quadrant is for the work that is urgent but not important and should be delegated to others.
- And finally the bottom-right one is the time you waste on pointless things.
Ideally you should spend most of your time in the top-left quadrant as this is where there is the important work that needs to be done quickly. This is also a way to focus on one task at a time.
In order to put a task in this quadrant you should put all your tasks on a list and go through them one by one using the Pause-Clarify-Decide method.
Pause for a moment and think:
- Will this task need immediate action ?
- Is this task important ?
It should give you the answer to know in which quadrant to put this task. This way all your tasks will be sorted according to their importance and urgency.
The 80-20 rule
Lets take an example, Microsoft discovered that by fixing the top 20% of the most-reported issues, 80% of the related errors would be eliminated.
It was also discovered that in general 80% of the results will come from 20% of the efforts.
In other words, 80% of the software you are writing can be written in 20% of the total allocated time.
In conclusion, find the most important 20% of your work and focus on it.
Break you work into smaller pieces
Did you ever think that you were going to put off your work until tomorrow ?
This is called procrastination.
One reason why you are procrastinating is that your to-do list contains too big tasks.
By breaking large tasks into smaller ones you set more short-term goals that gives you the feeling of moving forward and it also gives you more motivation.
Get to work
Have you ever felt without any motivation to work?
This feeling is quite normal ! Usually motivation comes after productivity.
It’s the same problem writers have with the “blank page syndrome”.
Start by doing something, anything, cut your work into small pieces and start with a small task, just to get into the “work” mode.
Do one thing at a time
People are bad at multitasking. (What research shows)
The reason is pretty simple, most of the time your are not doing multiple things at once, you are just quickly switching your focus between things. It means that each time you switch your focus, you need to re-focus on the previous task.
Organize your time
Dealing with time could be a hard task but if you apply the correct time management techniques and tips it can help you get more organized and consequently increase your productivity.
Working on managing your time is the key to take control of your work.
The Pomodoro technique
This technique is used by over 2 million people to manage their time.
The objective is to alternate focused work sessions with frequent short breaks which allows a regular concentration and prevent the brain from getting tired.
The idea is again pretty simple:
- Choose a task you’d like to do
- Set a timer for 25 minutes
- Work on the task until the timer ends
- Take a short break (~5 minutes)
- Every 4 timer, you can take a longer break (~25 minutes)
You can also go further by making the Pomodoro technique more effective:
- Try to estimate how much your activities requires (effort + time)
- Efficiently splits a task into multiple sub-tasks
In conclusion, the Pomodoro technique helps you:
- Handle interruptions (social media…)
- Estimate more easily the time that a task will take to perform
- Reduce the complexity of your long-term goals
- Make your job more motivating by setting short-term goals
Take deliberate breaks
The technique seen above will helps you take deliberate breaks.
By “deliberate” I mean that people often take breaks to justify that they are distracted. It means that their breaks were not scheduled and it’s possible that they are taking too much of them (or too long).
To get the full benefit of a break, you must disconnect from what you were doing. For example, to disconnect from your work, you can stand up from your desk and go for a walk.
This is a good way to detach your mind and your body from “work mode”.
Handle your energy
Organizing your time is also a way to organize effectively your energy.
Have you ever been stuck with a problem at the end of the day ? And usually you can figure it out the next morning…
In fact you should be better doing certain tasks at certain times in the day.
You can then determine which task suits the best for each time of day.
Productive people know how to manage their energy to handle the most difficult tasks while they have enough energy to handle them.
Remember that you have less attention than time during the day.
Build your technology radar
This technique is a little bit off topic as it is not a direct way to get more productive but it is something that you should care upstream to spend time learning the things that will have a real impact in your work.
This radar contains four levels of concern:
- Adopt: Strong recommendation for adoption
- Trial: Try this out on projects that can handle the risk
- Assess: Explore to understand how it might affect you
- Hold: It doesn’t matter
For example, as a frontend developer, you could have adopted React, whereas ReasonML is worth trialing on projects. Machine Learning doesn’t impact you yet so you can assess it. Finally you could have decided to hold off looking at Cloud Computing.
Each level of concern implies a more or less important investment on your part.
For the Assess level you could just read a weekly « overview » of the subject.
The trial level implies you to read more articles, try on projects… Get your hands dirty ! (You could have a sandbox workspace where you put all your experiment projects)
For the Adopt level you should be more than familiar with the technology, this is your your main expertise !
In conclusion, the technology radar allows you to organize your work in a hierarchical manner in order to put those with the most impact first.
This way you can focus on what really matters.
Take care of you
This advice may seem logical but you should take care of your body and mind.
All the tips I gave you above are useless if you don’t take care of your body.
For example, your brain consumes 20 percent of your energy but it only takes up 2 percent of your body. If you don’t have enough energy to feed your brain it’s a bit like having a car without gasoline…
So remember to take care of yourself by doing exercice, getting enough sleep and staying healthy !
I understand that these tips don’t work for everyone but they worked for me so why don’t you too ?
In addition, I only wrote about certain techniques and tips but there are many others that you can learn.
To sum up, here is how to be more productive:
- Focus on what really matters
- Organize your time
- Build your technology radar
- Take care of you
You must surely have to repeat some tasks during your day.
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