These days there is a lot of pressure on us to be productive and save time. When time equals money, and work output is synonymous with performance, we need to not only be doing great work; we need to be doing efficient work.  B But productivity isn’t just some capitalist ploy to get workers to turn better profits. There are ten principles for improving productivity at work.

Being productive can improve our work/life balance, job satisfaction, and our personal fulfillment and sense of pride over the actual work that we do. The problem is, being productive is easier said than done. Luckily, there are a few principles you can keep in mind and put into practice, to be your most productive self.

1. Remember the law of diminishing returns.

When it comes to using productivity tools, more doesn’t always mean more. Studies have found that on average, enterprise business employees use 60 tools for “productivity” and workplace collaboration. Think about how much onboarding time is required to implement and learn each tool for each employee. And also consider the time it can take to use so many tools for each individual task.

Look to consolidate. Where you can find ways for better integrations, and how can you utilize more systems that serve multiple purposes. Multi-tasking is not necessarily a principle of productivity, but using tech and tools that do the multi-tasking for you, certainly is. By reducing the number of tools you use and relying on just a few excellent, easy-to-use tools, you can significantly improve productivity simply by not trying to do too much.

Remember the law of diminishing returns.
Remember the law of diminishing returns.

2. Reduce task switching.

One of the greatest stealers of time in working culture is task switching. Task switching is the time you waste when you change from one uncompleted task to another. It’s a form of distracted focus usually driven by an inability to pay attention to any single item for too long. You can inadvertently succumb to task switching inefficiencies when you have too many alerts or notifications turned on, and feel a need to address incoming issues immediately.

A study by RingCentral found that we can lose, on average, one hour per day just by switching between tasks and tools (that equals 32 whole working days a year). The reason? While it may seem like it only takes mere moments to close your email tab and open your project management system, then switch back to your email, think about the extra time it takes actually to change your focus. The time lost in task switching has less to do with the physical switching as it does the capacity for your brain to identify the new target for concentration in front of it.

Generation Z and Their Technology Consumption
Generation Z and Their Technology Consumption

Instead of switching between browser windows or tools, try to stay focused on one task at a time. If you need to take a break from one thing, instead of switching between several tasks so that nothing ever really gets done. Think: take a quick moment to get some water, take a lap around your office, or close your laptop to be in your thoughts for a second.

3. Limit your external distractions.

While smartphones may be one of the greatest innovations of our time, they can also sometimes feel like the bane of our existence. Many of us feel the pain of phone addiction, where we can find it difficult to completely disconnect from social media, messaging, gaming, or any other apps and networking programs we use regularly. FOMO drives some of this, or the “fear of missing out” but a lot of us would just instead be perusing Instagram than tackling a to-do at work.

Your phone may be a significant contributor to the reason you are unproductive, procrastinate too much, and can’t seem to stay focused on any one thing for too long. Because of this, you need first to identify how bad the problem is. New feature updates on most smartphones now mean you can see your actual statistics on how much screen time you’re using, and on what types of activities.

If it’s hard for you to break the habit, use a blocker tool that can limit your access to certain apps or functions on your phone, set for specific periods, or between particular hours of the day. So even if you are tempted, you’ll be physically unable to get distracted by your phone.

4. Productivity should be purpose driven.

A big reason for lack of productivity at work, or even in our personal lives, is a lack of purpose. When we know not just what we need to get done, but why, we can become much more motivated. When you strive to hit a goal, you may often think about the reason you want (or need) to achieve it. When we lack direction, don’t understand the need for something, or are confused about a resultant outcome or follow up activity, we lose the sense of purpose.

Most of us don’t like busywork. We want to know that what we do is contributing to something or is part of a bigger picture. When our work doesn’t seem to have a purpose, productivity plummets. Sometimes these things are out of our control, but to be your most productive self, try to consider the purpose for why you need to get something done and use it as a motivator.

5. Identify your priorities.

A big reason for lack of productivity (and task switching specifically) is that we can be unaware of what our priorities are. To limit procrastination and ensure you can be productive in the things that matter, you need to prioritize.

Prioritizing your to-do list based on urgency can be a good start, but also by thinking about priorities, you can altogether eliminate activities that you may realize aren’t important at all. It’s also crucial for identifying the tasks that need to be completed first, for subsequent activities to happen.

You can think about priorities in terms of what is important to you to improve productivity. Since our abilities to be productive can be very individual, some of us do better when our least favorite tasks are completed first, getting them out of the way. For others, saving long or tedious projects until last can ensure we first get the momentum going, or feel good about checking off easier or more fun tasks from the to-do list.

6. Make collaboration work for you, not against you.

We’ve all sat through meetings that feel like they have no point (or end in sight), and we’ve all worked with team members who make it feel as though we’d rather do everything ourselves. These scenarios are very common disrupters of productivity, but in most organizations, collaboration is necessary.

To ensure that collaborative projects aren’t actually draining you and your ability to be productive, there should be clear task delegation, and a working process or system in place to ensure completion of tasks and triage of issues. In honesty, we could all use a collaborative guide to 2019

When you can create an environment in which fellow employees or your management team are helping you to be more productive rather than working against one another to get things done, you’ll also improve results. Coupled with a truly integrated tool for proper collaboration, you can ensure that communication and productivity are ingrained in all that you do.

7. Know your backup plan.

A major killer of productivity is not having a backup plan when things don’t go as they should. In work, as it is in life, things rarely go according to plan. It’s crucial that to stay on deadline, ensure the completion of tasks, or to keep up productivity, you know exactly what to do when your first option doesn’t work out.

Without having backup plans, we can often spend too much time scratching our heads and wondering went wrong in the first place. Then, we take time to figure out a new solution or come up with a new plan of action. By preparing for the worst at the start, even just at least have an idea of what to do when things go wrong, means that when you need to change your plan you can take action immediately.

8. Have a method for measuring productivity.

As with most areas of business, you need a way to measure productivity. Without understanding how to measure productivity, or at the very least know what the indicators of success are, it can be challenging to see if you are staying the same, improving your productivity, or falling behind.

Productivity measurement varies drastically between company, industry, and individual because productivity doesn’t look the same to everyone. But the important thing is to have either an industry standard to measure against, or an expectation set within your organization, or for yourself.

What this can look like is perhaps reduced screen time hours on your cell phone every day, more to-dos checked off your list in a given time period, or time tracking for individual tasks where you can compare completion time for recurring tasks over a specified period. For some organizations, productivity directly equals real dollar amounts, so if possible, you can also try calculating how much you save (or earn) for being more productive.

9. Be a little less optimistic.

We all know a time optimist – someone who is perpetually late simply because they just aren’t realistic (or are confident) about how much time an activity will take. Part of being more productive is letting go of making promises on delivery that we may not be able to make, and being more realistic on our availability, our capacity to be productive, and when we can complete deliverables.

Sometimes, when you are too optimistic about the amount of time you need to complete a task (meaning you estimate too low), you can lose productivity by merely being stressed about getting the task done. Or, you worry about a task being completed rather than the actual quality of work. To improve productivity, try to be more realistic about what you need to get certain activities done. Then if you complete the task in less time, you can look to knock something else off the to-do list.

10. Take better notes.

Have you ever had an excellent, productive meeting, where you felt very focused and as though a lot of good ideas were said or action plans were made? But then you thought you could keep every detail fresh in your mind, only to wake up the next day and you realize you forgot everything that was said.

Needing to rehash conversations you’ve already had is not only a waste of time for you, but it’s also a waste of time for everyone else who needs to remind you of what was done and said. To hit the ground running after a productive meeting, you need to take better notes, and be sure that when you look at those notes later, you know what they mean and what you need to do to get things done.

Another productivity trick can be to simply write down ideas when you get them. There’s nothing more frustrating than having your morning coffee at home and coming up with a great idea, only to sit for 30 minutes wracking your brain to remember it at lunchtime. Just a moment of jotting down a note can save you loads of productivity time later.

Being productive often comes down to reducing the number of distractions while finding your priorities and purpose. When making conscious decisions to improve your productivity, look to consolidating the tools you use, emphasizing collaboration that works more effectively, process documentation oriented, and always have a backup plan.

Joe Martin

Joe Martin

VP of Marketing

Joe Martin is currently the GM and VP of Marketing at CloudApp, a visual collaboration tool. He has more than 13 years of experience of marketing in the tech industry. Prior to his role at CloudApp, Martin was the Head of Social Analytics at Adobe where he led paid social strategy and a research team providing strategic guidance to organizations within the company. He has an M.B.A. from the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business, Executive education in Entrepreneurship from Stanford Graduate School of Business, a B.S. in Finance from the University of Utah and a digital marketing certificate from The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. His work has been published in the Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, NY Times, and other top tier outlets.