Work Productivity

| July 11, 2011 | 3 Comments

Productivity at the office is a common issue, especially among knowledge workers sitting in front of computers all day. Regardless of what your job title, we’ve all found ourselves mindlessly clicking through Facebook albums, checking personal email, or scrolling through online articles at work.

I will be the first to admit that it’s not healthy to focus on work all of the time. However, non-productive activities are usually addictive and lend themselves to procrastination. Ultimately, procrastination can lead to missed deadlines, excuses, and overall poor performance. Here are some easily implemented tips for improving your own productivity at work.

Improve Work Productivity

Improving your work productivity is closely tied to the satisfaction you derive from your job. If you’re not enamored with your job, then you will always struggle to stay truly focused at work, but I’ll save that discussion for another post. In the mean time, I’ve written 10 easily implemented strategies and tips for improving work productivity.

Tips that can be implemented quickly and easily are indicated below with the text “5 minute fix“.

  1. Pick up the phone – Quite often, a brief phone call can resolve a problem more quickly than communicating through email. I’ve seen too many email chains waste monumental amounts of time because no one picked up a phone and explained themselves fully.
  2. Just say “No” – Coworkers and bosses will make requests without fully understanding your workload. If you keep saying “yes” to them, then you will be overloaded and never get anything completely finished. There is a right way and a wrong way to say no to work. Make sure the person you’re denying understands your position and why their request increases your workload beyond your capacity to complete quality work.
  3. Decrease default meeting time length (5 minute fix) – When you open up your calendar in most email clients (e.g. Microsoft Outlook), any meeting you create will usually default to one hour in length. Suddenly, one hour becomes the “anchor” and you are forced to come up with reasons why that length of time is not accurate. Wouldn’t you prefer to start at 30 minutes and decide if you need more time? Unfortunately, many people have arbitrarily accepted one hour as normal for a meeting simply because a developer at Microsoft or IBM decided to make it the first option for meeting times. Considering Parkinson’s Law, we should really pay more attention to default meeting times. Set your default meeting time to 30 minutes and increase it as needed.
  4. Only do what matters – If you ever wonder if you could be doing something more important, you probably could be. Think about your weekly, monthly, or annual goals. How does your current activity help you achieve your goals or complete your current project? If you can’t answer that question, then start doing something else.
  5. Disable email reminders (5 minute fix) – What happens when you get an email? Is there a sound? Does a shiny icon appear in your task bar? Does a notification slide up in the corner of your screen? If you’re like most people, at least one of those events occurs when you get an email. Now ask yourself: What would happen if none of those events ever happened? Would you never check your email again? Of course not. The unfortunate truth is that emails tend to distract us from our tasks and prevent us from achieving the focus required to create our best work. Emails are important to read and respond to, but try doing so at a few allotted times throughout your day. Assuming you don’t get mission critical emails that need to be addressed in a matter of minutes, do yourself a favor and try turning off email reminders.
  6. Break everything down – Every single project can be broken down into a series of relatively easier tasks. If you’re presented with a large, daunting project at work, dismantle it into small tasks and spread them out among your team. Suddenly, that large project doesn’t seem so bad!
  7. Increase email-checking interval (5 minute fix) – Many email clients will check for new email all the time by default. The easiest way to minimize email distraction is to limit how often it’s received. I have personally increased this interval to two hours so I’m only getting new emails 4-5 times per day. There are others such as Leo Babauta and Tim Ferriss who advocate checking email even less frequently. Adjust this setting according to your job responsibilities.
  8. Find and utilize your “brain drain” time – Since no two people are alike, it’s unreasonable to expect that everyone’s brains function on the same schedule. Figure out what time of day your brain tends to slow down and knock out your monotonous tasks in batch mode during this window of time.
  9. Minimize Smartphone Distractions (5 minute fix) – Our precious smartphones are a blessing and a curse. An easy solution is to turn your phone upside down to hide the obnoxious indicator light. I’ve previously described more effective methods to minimize smartphone distractions.
  10. Use white noise (or pink, or brown) (5 minute fix) – White noise is not a proven science but many people swear that it helps minimize distractions and increase focus. If you are having trouble concentrating while your neighbor is talking all day at work, trying drowning them out by listening to some white noise on your headphones or speakers. provides free white noise with an excellent interface.

For most office workers, email ends up eating a large part of your day. Many of my suggestions address email for that exact reason. Good luck with your quest for productivity and let me know your best work productivity tip in the comments section!

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Category: Productivity

Comments (3)

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  1. Samantha says:

    I love the email tips, Joe I’m going to set those up right now!

  2. Leslie says:

    One of my biggest pet peeves with staff is the ridiculous number of back and forth emails with other departments or worse; clients; when a simple phone call would have been faster, less confusing and a lot less frustrating. Great list!

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