Want to learn how to increase productivity? In this article I will share tips on how you and your employees can boost productivity in the workplace by fighting distractions, improving physical & mental health, and changing the way that time is managed.
Workplace Meeting Tips
Verizon’s white paper Meetings in America gives us concrete proof of what we already know all too well – meetings are a major time sink! They estimate that busy professionals attend over 60 meetings each month. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of meetings and improve productivity in the workplace.
1) How to reduce the length of meetings
Set an agenda
- Prepare your agenda well in advance of the meeting and send it to attendees at least three days before the meeting to give them an opportunity to suggest topics, provide feedback, and prepare themselves for the topics that will be discussed
- Set specific start and end times for the meeting, with a rough timetable for how long you expect each topic to take. Make sure to leave buffer room to provide ample opportunity for contributions
- Determine who the critical participants are and who can afford to miss the meeting. Clarify in your invitation who these members are and make the meeting optional for those that aren’t critical to the success of the meeting.
- Define a clear and concise meeting objective to keep everything on-task. Keep track of the objective as the conversation evolves and confirm that the objective has been met before the meeting concludes.
Try stand-up meetings
A standing meeting is exactly what it sounds like. Rather than sitting around a table and getting cozy in an office chair, have everyone stand for the duration of the meeting.
If you want to keep meetings brief and on-topic the minor discomfort that comes from standing will discourage unnecessary time wasters. This tip works best for meetings that are intended to be short and simple such as progress updates on projects and daily prioritization check-ins.
2) Take advantage of meeting summaries
Not all meetings warrant formal meeting minutes, but some form of documentation should be prepared. Documented meeting summaries are critical for tracking decisions, actionable steps, and the topics discussed during the meeting. These documents also provide those that did not have the opportunity to attend with a high-level overview of the important takeaways they need to know.
- Note the topics discussed and any key decisions made
- Outline the action items and deadlines discussed
- Make clear and concise notes that provide sufficient details for anyone that may need to refer back to them.
- Provide attendees with a convenient way of accessing the meeting minutes or summary such as an email distribution, a shared project planning folder, or the company’s intranet.
3) Determine if the meeting is even necessary
- Are my primary objectives getting answers to a list of questions? Can they be sufficiently answered with an email or will they require back-and-forth discussion?
- If the meeting couldn’t be held, what would your other options be? Are these alternatives sufficient for meeting the objectives of the meeting?
- If the meeting is called by someone else, what is the impact of your lack of attendance? Are you a key decision maker or would the meeting minutes suffice to keep you in-the-loop?
- If a meeting is truly necessary, does it have to be in-person or can it be done virtually?
Time Management Tips
4) Manage your energy and focus with the Pomodoro technique
This time management technique is incredibly valuable for cutting out distractions and generating a much-needed sense of urgency for those of us that need to feel a little external pressure to perform our best.
- Set a Goal or Task: Determine what you will solely focus on for your work period. This can be as specific or as broad as you want, the important thing is to set clear boundaries as to what is considered on-task and what is a distraction.
- Start Your Work Period: Set an interval of time where you’ll be fully engaged with your task. This is typically 25 minutes, but you should experiment a little and see what works best for your productivity. I personally find that 25 minutes isn’t enough time for me to both feel in the zone and stay there for a meaningful period of time, so I set my intervals to 30-45 minutes.
- Short Break: Once your work period is done, wrap up that last little bit of your task and add a mark to a tally sheet before taking a 3-5 minute break. Stand up, stretch, do some pushups, drink water, eat some fresh fruit, or anything else that invigorates you.
- Repeat x3: Keep doing steps 1-3 until you reach four short break periods, then take a longer break of 10-30 minutes. Continue this process as many times as needed to complete your task or project before moving on to the next one!
The pomodoro technique is excellent for managing energy levels and preventing burnout. It forces you to be fully focused on your task while also giving you a much-needed break to reset your intentions and prepare yourself for the next focus period.
Pomodoro timer tools
- A completely free to use web-based app
- Pre-set with the traditional 25 minute work period, 5 minute short break, and 10 minute long break
- Customizable intervals and sounds as you see fit
- Desktop notifications for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari
- Option to automatically start and stop pomodoros
- Free to use mobile app for Android and iOS with an optional paid tier for more features
- Pre-set with the traditional 25 minute work period, 5 minute short break, and 10 minute long break
- Customizable intervals with some restrictions (10 minutes is the shortest work session, etc)
- Fun achievements and ranking system to provide a little extra motivation
5) Get rid of distractions and interruptions
Even brief interruptions in your workflow can cost as much as 40 percent of your productivity due to a phenomenon known as context switching. Regardless of your role and working location, there are guaranteed to be distractions and interruptions that are getting in the way of your productivity. Here are some common distractions and tips for managing them.
Conversations with Coworkers
Social chats are an important part of developing interpersonal relationships with your coworkers, but they can also be a massive time sink. If you have a particular coworker that is prone to becoming an unwanted distraction, you need to set boundaries.
Have a candid talk with them about your productivity concerns and let them know when a better time for conversation would be. If you have an office door you can close it to provide a clear signal, otherwise you may need to get creative.
Whether you’re a remote worker trying to tune out noisy housemates or you’re in an office building surrounded by all matter of chatter, noisy machinery, and all other sorts of hubbub, background noise can be a serious distraction. While much of this noise is out of your control, there are some things you can do to manage its impact.
- Play motivating music through a pair of noise-cancelling headphones
- Close your office door to reduce the intensity of sound that enters your workstation
- Have a candid discussion with coworkers that are being consistently disruptive
- If a nearby event in the office is creating unwanted noise, see if you can work in another room or building.
Pop-up notifications from cell phones, workplace chat apps, and email programs hurt productivity more than most of us realize. If you find yourself feeling an inflated sense of urgency to respond to these notifications, you’re not alone. One in four respondents in a ReportLinker survey said they feel pressure to answer IMs right away, even if they are currently engaged in more important tasks. This feeling is known as telepressure and it can be a major productivity killer if not addressed.
- Turn off notifications or customize notification settings to only alert you when relevant keywords or senders are part of the incoming messages.
- Rather than answering emails and IMs immediately, designate a set period of your work day where you will respond to incoming messages.
- Reduce the temptation to go off-task by setting your personal phone to silent
6) Plan your schedules in advance
This time management tip is absolutely necessary for increasing productivity and efficiency in all aspects of your life, not just at work. Without a clear outline of what you want to accomplish you will be more susceptible to distractions and non-critical requests from others. The level of detail you go into will change depending on your time management context, but ideally you will have at least a week-by-week understanding of your core focus.
7) Batch your tasks together
If you have types of tasks that happen frequently such as responding to emails, planning social media posts, or writing blog content, you can save time by batching these tasks together. For example, if you are a social media account manager you can increase your productivity by planning and writing social media posts for the entire month rather than on-demand. By batching similar tasks together you can take advantage of the “flow state” that will naturally occur once you’ve settled into the process behind the tasks.
Task Prioritization Tips
8) Prioritize tasks with the Eisenhower Matrix
When you’re overwhelmed with incoming requests and competing demands, it can be difficult to properly prioritize your tasks. The Eisenhower Matrix – also known as the “Urgent-Important Matrix” – is a simple way to prioritize tasks by sorting them into one of four different buckets.
- Urgent-Important: These are the tasks that will take the top priority. This bucket is known as the “Do First” quadrant as it reflects the tasks that are the most critical for you to do.
- Less Urgent-Important: These tasks are prioritized second. This bucket is known as the “Schedule” quadrant as it reflects the tasks that need to be addressed in a timely manner but they are not as immediately urgent as your tasks in the Do First quadrant.
- Less Important-Urgent: These tasks are not important to you as an individual, but it is important that they get done. This bucket is known as the “Delegate” quadrant as it reflects the tasks that need to be addressed urgently but they distract you from your tasks in the Do First quadrant.
- Less Important-Less Urgent: These tasks should not be done at all. It can be difficult to determine what tasks belong in this category, so it’s best to use a process of elimination. If it doesn’t fit any of the above categories it likely belongs here in the “Don’t Do” quadrant.
This decision matrix is the perfect tool for determining whether or not you should accept an incoming request. The next time someone asks you to gift them a portion of your time, refer back to your to-do lists, priorities, and the decision matrix to see if you’re willing and able to accept.
9) Eat the frog
I don’t mean a literal frog here. The phrase “eat the frog” comes from a famous Mark Twain quote:
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”Mark Twain
What does this mean for time management? Simply put, do the tasks that you are dreading the most (so long as they’re important!). By tackling the most important tasks first, even if they’re unpleasant, you can give them the best of your energy and fight the temptation to procrastinate. Once you’ve eaten your frog you can spend the rest of your day working on the tasks that you enjoy more rather than spending the day dreading your upcoming tasks.
10) The Pareto Principle
The Pareto Principle – also known as the “80/20 rule” – refers to the observation that 80 percent of results will come from 20 percent of efforts. In the context of time management and managing the productivity of employees this means that 80 percent of your most notable results are going to come from how you spend 20 percent of your time. Once you figure out what that 20 percent is you can shift your habits and time management to prioritize the tasks that fall within that range.
Project Management Tips
11) Manage scope creep
Scope creep is when the parameters of a project change over time as requests for additional outcomes are tacked on to a project. Scope creep happens when the scope of a project is not properly defined, documented, or controlled. By setting explicit expectations for deliverables and intended project outcomes well in advance you can help to keep projects manageable.
12) Set self-imposed deadlines
Whether working on projects at home or in the office, having a clear deadline helps prevent projects from being placed on the backburner and being drawn out more than necessary. If the project you are working on already has external deadlines in place, try setting your own personal deadlines that occur sooner and plan accordingly to provide buffer room for unexpected delays.
Mental Health Tips
13) Embrace mindfulness
Mindfulness is all about being aware of the present moment. When you get caught up in your day-to-day life you can become fixated on past events and become anxious about what is coming up in your future. By making a habit of grounding yourself and focusing on the present moment you will gain a better awareness of how you’re feeling and the factors that are influencing your current state of mind.
You can get started with mindfulness by focusing on your natural body state. Without judgement, simply take a moment to observe your breathing patterns, your body sensations, and your current emotions. Try not to apply a label to what you observe (bad, good, etc) and instead simply take notice of where you are presently.
14) Make time for yourself
A lot of productivity talk focuses on how to get the most out of the time that we have in the context of work and projects. While improving productivity and efficiency in this matter is important, by being more efficient in our personal life we can also afford to make more time for ourselves. Dedicating time to things that relax you and make you happy is important for your mental health and wellbeing, which in turn will make us less likely to become burnt out.
15) Just breathe
Deep breathing is incredibly important for managing stress. As stress accumulates and begins to trigger our fight-or-flight response our breath naturally becomes more shallow as our bodies literally prepare to run from what our brain perceives as a threat. With the stressors of today being something we can’t necessarily physically escape from, this stress tends to accumulate and cause all matter of mental and physical discomfort.
Deep breathing calms us down and provides the primitive side of our brains with an indicator that we are safe and comfortable, reducing the amount of stress we hold. Pay attention to what your normal breathing pattern is – are you breathing shallowly and in your chest or are you taking deep breaths into your diaphragm?
Physical Health Tips
16) Get frequent exercise
Regular exercise greatly benefits our physical and mental health, making it a critical habit to form if you want to increase productivity. You do not necessarily have to be incredibly athletic to see the advantages of an exercise routine either. Start by making a habit of taking frequent walks, using the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further away from the office doors, and finding physical activities that you enjoy doing such as cycling or sports.
17) Get sufficient sleep
Making time for sleep can be incredibly difficult for hard working professionals giving the high amount of demand placed on them between their work and personal lives, but poor sleep hygiene is a disaster for productivity. Studies have shown time and time again that those that do not get enough quality sleep have less energy, react slower, and have difficulties staying focused.
18) Declutter your work environment
Visual clutter around your working space can be stress-inducing, distracting, and unnecessarily time-consuming when the clutter prevents you from finding necessary documents and tools. Your work environment doesn’t need to be pristine, but having a clear organization system and a fairly tidy working environment well help keep you focused and make it easier to find what you need.
19) Listen to music or ambient noise
Listening to music or ambient noise while you work not only helps you to reduce your distractibility, it can also help keep you energized when working on monotonous tasks and improve your mood.
If you find that you perform your best when working in a coffee shop, library, or other locations with a bit of ambient chatter in the background, you will love Coffitivity. This web-based tool provides you with pre-recorded ambient noise tracks sampled from popular working spaces such as coffee shops and university campuses.
Tools for Improving Productivity
If you’re susceptible to going off-task and losing valuable time because of excessive unproductive web surfing, consider installing a web filter such as BrowseControl to force you to only visit productive websites. BrowseControl can be configured to prevent you from accessing the most distracting websites during specific times of the day, allowing you to make the most of your high-productivity periods.
You may not think that you are losing a meaningful amount of time when you are casually browsing the web, but an objective report on your web habits may completely shock you.
BrowseReporter is an employee productivity software that lets you see how you are spending your time when working on your computer. It automatically logs the time that you spend on websites and computer applications, allowing you to generate computer monitoring reports that you can use to measure productivity.
The most popular use of BrowseReporter is for employers to monitor their employee’s computer usage, but it can also be installed on a standalone computer to allow employees to self-manage their own productivity. Computer monitoring reports can also be automatically sent to your manager to show them the breakdown of your work day and demonstrate that you’ve been working productively.
Toggl is a simple time tracking application that is great if all you’re looking for is straight-forward manual time tracking. Toggl provides a mobile application for iOS and Android phones, a web console, integrations with other popular apps, as well as an extension for Google Chrome.
With Toggl you manually start and stop timers for each of your projects. Time entries can be readily categorized based on project, tags, and billable vs non-billable, making it a great tool for freelancers to track their billable hours and see how long each stage of a project took to complete. Toggl offers free plans for individuals as well as paid plans for teams and enterprises.
People Also Ask
What is productivity?
In the context of productivity in the workplace, the Oxford English Dictionary defines productivity as “the effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input.” Simply put, productivity metrics are used to determine the effectiveness of a given worker. Employees that are considered productive meet or exceed a baseline set by their employer such as units per hour or the time it takes to complete a given project.
How do you calculate productivity?
Productivity in the workplace can be calculated with a variety of different formulas and metrics, though they generally focus on a ratio of the amount of input required to generate a desired outcome. Productivity metrics are typically focused around Key Performance Indicators (KPI) that are used to compare the relative productivity and efficiency of an organization’s workforce over an expected baseline.
- Labour Productivity: Total output divided by total input (eg. 1000 widgets produced per hour of labour)
- Revenue Per Employee: Total revenue divided by the amount of employees ($1000 of revenue for 10 employees gives a RPE productivity metric of 100)
What is the difference between productivity vs. efficiency?
Productivity measures the quantity of work produced.
Efficiency measures the resources required to produce that work. It is also tied to the quality of the work produced.
Producing 1000 widgets in an hour can be considered productive in the context of your workplace, but if that output came from consuming far greater resources than typically expected the process can still be considered to have poor efficiency.
- Joseph produced $1000 worth of units at the cost of $800
- Paul produced $800 worth of units at the cost of $100
In this example Joseph can be said to be more productive as he made more units than Paul, but his process was less efficient as it took more resources to produce his outcome.
Modern business demands pressure employees to improve their productivity. There are plenty of things that can be done by employees to boost their productivity in the workplace and in their personal lives such as improving their time management skills, taking care of their physical and mental health, and prioritizing their tasks.