Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On productivity and working smarter

We only get eight hours in a workday (unless you're on a 9/80 schedule and then it's 10, or unless you're a workaholic that can't stand to leave at 5).  All too often these days, we're asked to work harder with no additional compensation.  So, short of completely giving up our lives and bringing a sleeping bag to work, how can we get a handle on a crazy workload?

Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule that will help everyone. But here are some tips that I've found to work for me over the years--I hope you will share your tips in the comments!

Time Management
  • Try to spend a chunk of time on a project before moving on to the next. It could be a half hour or three hours, but multi-tasking, while it sounds great in theory and looks nice on a resume, isn't necessarily your friend in the fight to fit more in your day.
  • If you have a project with a long lead time, try to get started early and do a little each day. This will make things much more manageable near the end (because you know by then that new projects will crop up, eating into your cram time).
  • While it's tempting to respond to every email the second that it hits your inbox, most people won't mind if you get back to them later in the day.  Sure, screen your emails to catch any that do warrant an immediate response, but don't worry about typing up a response to each and every one. Take another look as you're transitioning between projects--not too distracting and people will still get a pretty timely response.
Daily Duties
  • Use noise-reducing headphones (with or without music) to help tune out ambient noise. Even the sporadic sound of a nearby printer can disrupt a train of thought. I have a pair of these and I love them, even when I don't have the music on.
  • If you're not in a direct customer service role, fight the urge to jump up at any request that is made of you. Often it can wait.  But be civil about it, please?
  • Break down your to-do list into bite-sized chunks. Make one on paper--it will feel good to cross things off. Need some more to-do list tips?
  • This probably sounds a little silly to some, but watch what you're eating. We all know what food coma feels like and how it just knocks you out after lunch if you're not careful. If I know I need to be on my game around 2 p.m. (prime food coma time for me), I'll try to eat lighter for lunch. Sure I might get hungry later, but it's a lot easier to grab an extra snack than try to stay awake when all my blood is rushing to my stomach.
Keeping Cool
  • We're all under stress, but we don't have to let it take over.  When you find yourself panicking, take a few deep breaths and maybe a brief walk around the hall or to grab a hot chocolate.  We can only do as much as we can do, and as long as you're doing your best, something good can come (even if it's just the relief of getting something off your desk).
  • Speaking of quick breaks--take some.  Maybe not every hour, but once or twice a day (not counting lunch and bathroom breaks).  Say hi to someone.  Walk outside and around the block.  Most workplaces (in California at least) allow one 15-minute break for each 4 hours worked, which pencils to a 15-min morning break, 1-hr lunch, and 15-min afternoon break. I use these breaks to move my car (yippee) but at least it gets me out in the fresh air and gets my blood pumping from walking.
Things to Remember
  • Your coworkers are probably in the same boat.  While it's fine to commiserate (heck, sometimes you just have to), avoid playing the victim or overdramatizing. Coworkers can be a great support system or a drag--don't be the drag.
  • Talk to someone (preferably your supervisor) if you are feeling completely overwhelmed. A burned-out employee is a less productive employee, so if there is something that your boss can take off your plate that will enable you to complete everything else (by giving it to someone else or putting it on hold entirely), it is in his or her best interest to do so. Just make sure you deliver on the other projects to justify your ask.
  • Trust in yourself and your abilities.  I know that sounds super self-help, but seriously. You were hired to do your job because you have the skills.  Stop fretting about your ability to do you work (yes, I'm talking to you).
What tips do you have for staying productive at work?


  1. I am literally living day by day. It's been a while since I even kept my scheduler. I need to do better time management. Thanks for the tip!

  2. If we have 9/80 it's officially 9 and 8 every other Friday not 10 like you said above.
    But if you are on 4/10s then it is 10.

  3. @ miss studios - hang in there! I find that not having a to-do list makes me more nervous and less productive...find a system that works for you.

    @ colleen - oops! thanks for catching that. I used to be on the 9/80 schedule but it's been a while, so I must have forgotten :)

  4. I find that trying to keep sanity outside of work is helpful- not overcomitting, working out, eating right, enjoying the sunshine, and getting a healthy amount of sleep all help me stay energized. Then, I can tackle just about any annoying task that comes my way at work! I also like making lists on paper- not digitally. When things are done I get satisfaction of crossing them off.

  5. @ ashley laurel - So true! I definitely try to use my after hours and weekends to do things that replenish myself. I think that's the key to balance--not losing yourself. :)


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