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  • Writer's pictureNick Howell

Work Productivity Tips - Using Your Time More Effectively

Updated: Apr 7, 2023

Our environment tends to suck our attention, not necessarily to the right things. Be that email demands, collaboration tool conversations in tools such as slack and MS Teams, meetings, requests for assistance, ad hoc conversations, the list goes on.

To help with your career happiness and success, it helps tremendously to utilise the finite time you have at work in the most effective way.

The more productive we are with our time, the more we can do with it and the better chance we have to invest in ensuring we have a healthy work/life balance.

So to help us, listed below are twenty-one pieces of guidance that I know work well. This curated list will hopefully provide you with some interesting areas to explore further…

1. Eating The Frog – There is a good book by Mark Twain called 'Eat That Frog' which I would recommend. Basically, the premise here is that it can be useful to focus time at the start of a working day on one of your biggest, most important, and most challenging pieces of work.

Making progress on this (by eating the frog in front of you) will set you up for a more productive rest of the day. It will help avoid procrastination, provide progress on your most important items, and help avoid the pitfall of working on something less important.

2. Ivy Lee Method – This is a very simple concept (the simpler concepts can sometimes be the ones that are the most useful and effective to implement). Assign yourself no more than six important tasks per day, preferably at the end of the preceding working day.

List them from most important to least important, and then work on and complete each one in that order. This ensures we remove decision fatigue, forces us to prioritise our daily goals, provides focus, and avoids excessive multitasking.

3. Big Rocks and Little Rocks – The theory here is that you place the most important work priorities in your calendar first. That way you are spending less time filling up your diary with the less important activities with no room left for the important items. A video that demonstrates this theory can be found here.

4. Time Blocking – Take your calendar and block out time for your important, prioritised tasks. Just like you would block out time for a meeting. In this way, the time for your prioritised tasks is scheduled before anything else less important takes the time away from you. Remember to block things out such as breaks, and downtime slots to aid thinking.

5. Work To Your Rhythm – Everyone is different in terms of how they feel and where they may be the most productive in the working day. Pick up on your rhythm and choose to work on different types of things at certain times of the day. For example, you may feel the most productive mid-morning and less so after lunch. Use this awareness when planning what to do when.

6. Work Using the Pomodoro Technique – This simply implies that you work with time blocks of 25-minute sessions, then have a break. This helps with procrastination as you are telling yourself you are only committing to a 25-minute focused session. This helps with focus and allows your mind to take a break at regular intervals.

7. The Two-Minute Rule – This works well for those procrastinators out there. Research has stated that starting is one of the hardest parts. So, try breaking down the start of your activity into an action that takes just two minutes. The idea here is that this initial action will slide you into the next step and then the next.

8. Day Categories – Choose certain days in the working week to work on specific activities. This may work better for certain roles and not for others. The benefit of this approach is that you can become laser-focused on a specific area for a sustained period, thus becoming more productive.

There is a common view that multitasking is great for productivity. This is can be correct to a degree. Multitasking if overused can have the opposite effect. Single-tasking also has its place as a useful technique to ensure focus is placed on completing your most important items.

9. Don’t Be Afraid to Change Tack – It can be a very easy pitfall to fall into the feeling that you need to keep working on a task, goal, or strategy because you have invested significant time in it. Things change. You learn from progressing a piece of work.

It’s sometimes the better decision to change direction than sinking yet more time into something when you know a change of direction is needed.

10. The Art of Effective Delegation - The art of effective delegation is an important one. If you are in the position to be able to delegate, one of the first things you must ask yourself when a task comes to your desk is ‘Can I Effectively Delegate This?’.

Remove the thought (if it’s there) that you must action everything that comes your way, even if you have the skills and knowledge. Effective leaders know how to empower and utilise their workforce. It should be a team effort after all.

It pays to ensure whoever you are delegating to has the necessary training and understanding on how to perform the task, of expectations (being clear with this can help to avoid over complexity in the result if it is not needed), ‘why’ the task is being asked, expected timescales, an opportunity for them to ask questions and is aware of escalation by exception routes if required (and this does not necessarily need to be you!).

Provide your direct reports with a clear view of role responsibility and expectations. Importantly recognise and celebrate success and never take good work for granted.

Effective delegation, rather than trying to do everything yourself, can empower and motivate your employees. It should also serve to empower and motivate you. Effectively delegating will free up your time to focus on the things that will make you successful and productive in your role.

11. Build In Downtime – When structuring your workday, it’s important to build a little downtime into your schedule. If we are constantly motoring at full speed every single day, we lose the opportunity to think about the bigger picture and to feed our creative thinking.

We need blocks of free time, for our mind to wander a little to feed our creative mind, this in turn will allow those new thoughts to come in that can generate the best ideas.

12. Email Response - Do you have the feeling that you need to automatically respond to all emails as soon as they come in? You can easily get caught up with spending time conversating and replying, which may be on others' priority lists but not necessarily yours.

It can take the average person twenty-three minutes to get back into the flow of what they were working on after a short distraction.

Instead, choose times in the day when you focus on catching up with your email and action the right ones.

Converse with your work colleagues to ensure expectations are set on how email is to be used and agree on a communications policy with your line management and team.

13. Effective Email Use – Do you fall into the situation of using email as a conversation tool, rather than using more productive ways of holding a discussion?

Instead, if you see the start of an email thread that is more of a conversation back and forth, try a different medium to speed up the discussion. Pick up the phone, hold a short group conversation, and use collaboration tools.

This is usually far more productive and avoids becoming a slave to your emails. Emails should be used as part of a collaboration toolset, not as a de facto conversation tool.

14. Reducing Communication Noise – Over time we can sometimes generate an environment where we are overwhelmed with communication from many sources.

Regularly review what emails end up in your inbox, what you are copied into, what groups you are a part of in your collaboration toolsets, and what notifications are set up to ping at you. Unsubscribe to things that are not relevant.

Removing clutter and noise calms your mental space and reduces the need to feel that you must keep up with all correspondence, some of which will not be important.

Consider your working environment, is it free from distraction? It’s not always possible to avoid distraction completely, consider though how you can create an environment for even part of the week that affords you quality time where you cannot be distracted to work on the things that need your focus.

Turn off notifications, and change your availability status to reflect that you cannot be disturbed. Change locations if you are able.

15. Meetings – Don’t assume a meeting is necessarily needed and don’t assume that you need a full hour to hold the meeting, try 45 or even 30-minute meetings. Make sure each meeting has a very clear agenda and an effective chair to keep the discussion on track.

Ensure that the right participants are there to input into the discussion and ensure everyone has the chance to speak. Create concise minutes for those people that don’t need to necessarily be part of the meeting, giving them back useful time.

Make use of effective collaboration tools to get things done instead of falling back on meetings. Implement a meeting-free day (or suggest this with line management), this will free the day up for everyone for better immersion into important work.

16. Schedule Time For Rest and Recovery - Lunch times for example are important. Getting away from your desk for a stretch and walk can reset your concentration. You will be more productive in the long run.

17. Be Realistic – Be realistic about what you can accomplish each day. This will help with your mindset in terms of how much progress you are making. It’s better to feel accomplished with a smaller list than unaccomplished because you didn’t tick everything off a larger one. This will feed your motivation levels and general happiness.

18. Don’t Say Yes to Everything – A sure way of becoming unproductive is to say yes to everything that comes your way. In fact, saying yes to everything is actually a disservice if you do not have the capacity and if you in turn become a bottleneck. If the task clearly should not sit with you, it does not serve your own effectiveness.

There are ways in which you can say no in a positive way, thus protecting your boundaries and time. You can provide direction on where the task should live, provide advice and knowledge on how the requestor can own the task, or provide alternative options for resolution.

If it is your line management, explaining what may need to alter to accept the task can be useful (i.e., “sure I can work on this, but it will mean x, y, z will be impacted”, and agree on re-prioritisation. Redefining the makeup of activity can also be useful.

Don’t allow Monkeys to get on your back. By that, I mean taking on problems and pieces of work that while may need your direction, should squarely be owned elsewhere. Read this great Harvard article to understand more.

19. Perfection Is Not Always Needed – Successful organisations work with pace and efficiency. To help this, it’s important to agree on the requirements of deliverables. If you spend too much time polishing a deliverable, you or your employees will potentially waste considerable time.

Would something less perfect meet the requirements just as well? Not everything needs to be perfect for it to meet the need at hand. Be clear with what good looks like when you are effectively delegating and agree on what’s required if work is assigned to you.

20. Over Engineering Your Tracking – The systems and tools for tracking and dealing with your work activity are there to serve you well. Pick a system that works but do ensure you select just a short time to review and update each day and a weekly maintenance exercise.

Avoid the feeling of over-tweaking and spending too much time in your system, spend time doing what is on the list rather than too much time managing the list.

21. Be Kind to Yourself. No matter how much we look to effectively plan our day, curve balls come up and that is life. Plans are just that, they are the best estimate of how we can make the best use of our days.

If a day goes astray, recover your positive thoughts, and keep moving forward knowing that the road ahead is not always in a straight line.

Do try these tips and see which ones work for you in combination. If you feel it would be beneficial to explore your productivity or work/life balance further, do feel free to reach out to me. I would be happy to discuss where I can help you.

Nick is a Life, Personal Development, Career & Leadership Coach based in Norfolk, England. Through his work with individuals and businesses, he helps unlock potential. Helping his clients achieve success and happiness in their personal lives and careers -

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