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We’ve all had days when nothing has been achieved. It seems like you barely made a phone call or answered and email, well-meaning colleagues with their endless requests have tripped you up and left you wondering why your stuff seems to be less important that everyone else’s.

Hopefully, these kinds of days are few and far between. But what if they become more frequent? What if you’re increasingly leaving work knowing you haven’t come close to achieving your goals for the day?

If that’s the case, you may need to look at how you work to ensure you’re maintaining your productivity before your boss starts asking questions.

By examining working practices you could complete a swift, career-enhancing turnaround. Any number of hurdles could appear during the working day – here are some of the most common:

  1. Too many ‘to do’ lists. We all like, and need, to be organised for our tasks during the day, and it’s a good idea to jot yours down when you get to work. But if list-writing, ticking off and amending takes up too much time it becomes self-defeating. You’re preparing when you could be doing. Limit yourself to one brief list and get on with the first item. Fast.
     
  2. Not having a plan. Making a plan for your primary task should be at the top of your list – well before making the tea or coffee. Unless you have a clear idea of your objective and how to reach it, you could spend half the day strategising. Your plan should include details of how you will approach a given task and also how much time to allot to different aspects.
     
  3. Putting off your most important work. Morning is the time to tackle the biggest, most important tasks. Your energy levels are higher, your mind is clearer and you won’t have become bogged down by the day’s distractions. The longer you leave it in the day the less likely you are to embark on a major piece of work – which means it gets left till the following day and your plans are in ruins.
     
  4. Checking your phone/emails/notifications. In an age of instant communication, this might feel like a tough one to implement, but it’s all about self-discipline. Asking yourself a few questions might help – how many calls a day do I really need to pick up? How many text messages need an instant response? Same goes for emails. And do I need to check every time Twitter or Facebook tell me something’s been posted? Wean yourself off instant response by identifying windows in the day to check devices and, more importantly, respond to non-urgent emails.
     
  5. Multitasking. You might feel like you can take on a number of tasks at one time but you’re wrong. Attempting to multitask cuts your productivity by 40%. You can’t do it – no-one can. Just identify your most important task, get it done as efficiently and quickly as possible then move on to the next.
     
  6. Too many meetings. How many meetings do you really need to attend? Are you using them to avoid more important work? Even if your manager calls you to a meeting, you should to be prepared to ask whether you really need to be there if it’s conflicting with an important piece of work. The same goes for coffee meetings. Sure, they’re a great way to network and catch up with contacts, but unless you can be sure of getting something out of them, forget it. That hour you just spent over a not very good skinny mocchachino might have been better spent ploughing through your ‘to do’ list.
     
  7. Not moving. Sitting at your desk for hours may feel like the best way to get on with your work, but it’s not. Screen breaks aren’t just goods for your health, they’re good for your productivity. Get up, stretch your legs for a minute, take a trip to the coffee machine or water cooler, consult a colleague about something. Even the briefest break will leave you refreshed.
     
  8. Not saying no. If you take on other people’s tasks, how are you ever going to get through your own? No one wants to be thought of as unhelpful or obstructive, but if you explain that your work diary is full, colleagues will understand. It’s not just about workload – if you have too much on your plate you’re back to square one with your productivity issues. Even if your manager asks you to look at something extra, you need to be able to say ‘no’. Show your worklist and ask what they’d like you to put on hold. That way you’re putting the onus back on the manager, who can’t complain when you don’t complete your tasks.
     
  9. The wrong amount of sleep. Sleeping too much or too little affects productivity. Too much can leave you struggling to get going in the morning, too little obviously leaves you tired and unable to function at the peak of your abilities.
     
  10. Too much sugar.The myth of sugar as an energy-provider is just that – a myth. The more you consume, the more muddle-headed and tired you’ll be. Cut out the cakes and sweet treats and, of course, fizzy drinks. Coffee works against you in the same way. A little is fine, too much will leave you feeling wiped out by mid-afternoon.
     
  11. Micromanaging. Stop taking on everyone else’s work as well as your own. If your team wasn’t capable of handling their tasks, they wouldn’t be doing the job in the first place. Teach yourself to delegate work and trust your team to get on with it. If they are unsure of something, they’ll ask you. Just concentrate on doing the job you’re paid to do, with the skills that are particular to you.
     
  12. Working too long/not taking breaks. Ever noticed how the person who works longest hours produces so little? Don’t be that person. Use the tools above to make your day a productive one, then make the most of your life outside work. The same goes for breaks – lunch hour, weekends and holidays. Take them all and come back to your work station refreshed every time.
     
  13. Idle web browsing. If you want to check stocks and shares or news updates or celebrity gossip or the latest music festival line-up – or anything on the net, do it in your own time. Work is work, and unless you’re looking at a website relating directly to what you’re doing, you’re wasting time and slashing your productivity.