Ah, the modern world. There’s nothing quite like a productive day in the office – mostly because these often seem few and far between. Here are a few tips and tricks to keep you on top of your workload while minimizing daily distractions.
1. Keep Your Work Area Tidy
A messy desk reflects a messy mind. It’s amazing how much your surroundings can affect your productivity. Try keeping your workspace clear of papers, electronic devices and random objects, and see how much more efficient you feel.
2. Close Your Door
Should you be fortunate enough to work in an office with a door, close it when you want to concentrate. That will stop other people from coming and bugging you when you just really need to get those reports done. It’s amazing how distracting other people can be.
3. Use Headphones
If you’re more of an open-plan or cubicle worker, try using headphones to signal to your colleagues that no, you really don’t want to be disturbed. Failing that, try working in another location. Bonus points for noise canceling headphones.
4. Avoid Office Gossip
Although this one is mostly covered by tips #2 and #3 above, it’s worth reiterating: try to stay out of office gossip. Water cooler conversations can be fun, but talking about your colleagues behind their back not only fosters a negative work environment, it can also be very distracting.
5. Avoid Instant Messages
Turn them off, or don’t respond to them. This is a very tricky thing to master, as we are so used to being available 24/7 these days. But a better way to deal with intrusive IMs is to schedule time to respond to them rather than being at everyone’s beck and call all the time.
6. Avoid Social Media
In the same way, the urge to check Facebook every 5 minutes can be overwhelming, but seriously: how many pictures of babies did you want to see today anyway? (Or, depending on your current life stage, substitute with: engagements, weddings, divorce parties, etc.)
7. Schedule Email Times
Like instant messages, emails can be extremely tempting to respond to immediately. But if you respond to everything immediately, you won’t’ be able to get anything else done, as your focus will be ruined. Again, schedule times to respond to emails, and don’t let your inbox run your life. (This is the actual meaning of the oft-misquoted Inbox Zero.)
8. Turn Emails into Actions
When you do respond to your emails, try to avoid the trap of clicking on one, reading it, leaving it there and then reading another. Instead, attempt ‘one-click’ email management: deal with the email immediately by turning it into an action, or, if it’s something that can’t be dealt with straightaway, put it in a separate folder for action after you’ve finished the quick ones.
9. Track Your Day
Try planning what you’re going to do with your day before you do it, and check in with yourself periodically to see how you’re keeping up with the timetable you’ve set. The more you do this, the better you will get at estimating the time it takes you to get a task completed, and the more productive you will be.
10. Prioritize Your To-Do List
Similar to the above, once you have got better at tracking your workload, learn to prioritize: what is urgent and necessary, and what can be left a little longer? Figuring this out is the key to getting everything done on time.
Unless you’re the very bottom rung on the corporate ladder (and we all have to start somewhere), it’s unlikely that you have to do everything yourself. Trust other people to handle certain tasks for you if it’s in their remit, and remember that delegation is the key to success.
12. Get Enough Sleep
Fairly self-explanatory, but many people just don’t get enough rest at night, which severely impacts their day. It’s thought that one hour of sleep deficit is the cognitive equivalent of taking a shot of vodka before work. And as tempting as that might be sometimes, it certainly doesn’t make for increased productivity.
13. Stay Hydrated
The old saw about needing eight glasses of water per day is mostly a myth, but it is important to stay adequately hydrated. Surprisingly, tea or coffee is often fine for this: caffeine may be a diuretic, but you absorb enough water when you drink a full cup that it minimizes the effect. Just don’t expect it from downing shots of espresso. Now you can feel a little less guilty about those extra trips to the office coffee machine .
14. Go for a Walk
Spreadsheets aren’t doing it for you right now? Well, get up, flip your desk (actually, please don’t) and take a walk for a bit. It will help to clear your head and get you back on task.
15. Watch your Diet
You are what you eat, as another old saying goes. This one is actually a little more accurate. Ensure that you’re eating a healthy balanced diet, so that you get all the nutrients your brain and body require to function optimally. You wouldn’t put the wrong type of gas in your car; why would you do it with your body?