Poor productivity can ruin a career, no matter how brilliant or passionate you are. As such, productivity is something that professionals across industries need to prioritize. Unfortunately, not everyone understands how to become more productive—in fact, some people even struggle to define what productivity is.
It’s important to remember that productivity isn’t a vague, spectral concept. It can actually be measured—and better yet, it can be improved with a few careful strategies. Read on to discover our secrets to enhancing productivity and taking your work performance to the next level.
What Is Productivity? The Best Way To Measure Results
Productivity, at its simplest definition, is the ability to spend fewer resources to accomplish more goals. Those resources could take the form of time, money, or energy—mental, physical, or emotional. This applies to practically any situation: a manufacturer might measure productivity in terms of the time and money it takes to produce each unit of product, while an actor might measure productivity in terms of the emotional labor required to understand and effectively rehearse a scene. A key resource in most careers is time.
Once you know what resources you are using, you can take a data-driven approach to measure and optimize your productivity. Here’s a simple example to illustrate the concept: let’s say that you pick raspberries for a living. To boost your productivity, you’ll want to measure the time it takes you to pick a given number of raspberries in a day.
Number of Raspberries Picked : Number of Hours Spent
The only way to set a realistic goal, is to understand your starting point. Thinking about productivity as an equation takes all the mystery and uncertainty out of the concept, and allows you to start creating concrete strategies. Once you know your goal is to pick more raspberries in less time, you can start brainstorming ways to make it happen.
Productivity Tools for the Real World
Of course, you probably don’t pick raspberries for a living. Chances are, you work in an environment where you have to complete more complicated tasks and take a larger number of variables into consideration.
Technology can be of great use in helping you measure and balance these variables. There’s plenty of software out there that can help you measure relevant data and track your progress.
Project management tools are designed to measure your input and output on specific tasks, so that you can accomplish them more efficiently. But not every tool is created equal. The top project management tools allow you to better delegate tasks, set deadlines, and help you prioritize.
One of the most common ways that team members scramble to complete projects is simply because they aren’t able to prioritize, and end up wasting time trying to reset the game plan. Ever have a meeting that could have been an email? Project management tools can allow you to have group conversations around projects within a project.
Don’t Forget the Fundamentals
While you’re using a project management tool to track and limit the amount of time you invest in each task, you should also follow some basic ground rules to make sure that time is being invested responsibly. Here are a few things you can do to work smarter instead of harder:
Don’t be afraid to give yourself (and your team members) frequent breaks. There’s actually a lot of research showing that taking regular breaks helps people stay on task. Try getting up once an hour from your desk and moving around for a few minutes, even if it’s just to go to the bathroom or grab a cup of coffee.
Knock Out Quick Tasks First
Take care of small tasks as soon as you possibly can. Steve Olenski from Forbes recommends something called “the two minute rule”—if there’s a task you can complete in less than two minutes, don’t put it off. Instead, take care of such things immediately. You’ll quickly find that you have a lot less on your plate by the time you’re ready to tackle the bigger issues.
The Myth of Multitasking and Productivity
Stop trying to multitask. The American Psychological Association has published research suggesting that trying to do multiple things at once is both slower and less accurate than simply focusing on one thing at a time.
Less is More with Meetings
Forego meetings unless they’re absolutely necessary. Since 25-50% of all time spent in staff meetings is wasted, they represent one of the least productive ways you can spend your working hours. In many cases, employees who spend their workdays in meetings have to compensate by taking on extra work outside the office. If the idea of constantly being at work doesn’t appeal to you (and we’re betting it doesn’t), start saying no to some of those unnecessary sit-downs.
Teamwork vs. Individual Projects
Most of the tips listed above work best when applied to solo projects, but productivity is just as important in group projects. Productivity has to be thought about differently when you find yourself working as part of a team, because it can be affected by other factors. Groups of people have the ability to take on more tasks than individuals alone, but they can also become disorganized and distracted.
The first thing you should do in any group project is make sure that the goals of the project are clearly stated. That way, everyone in your group will be trying to achieve the same thing, instead of performing their own work without understanding the part it will play in the whole.
Secondly, try to make sure that each individual on your team is playing to their strengths, instead of assigning tasks to people who will be ill-matched to (or unmotivated by) them. You’ll also need to ensure that everyone on your team understands their specific responsibilities, so that you don’t accidentally end up with two or more people working on the same task while another one is neglected.
The most important step towards becoming more productive is identifying the resources your work requires. Once you do, the rest is simple. You merely have to implement the right mix of tools and strategies to use less of those resources while producing more work. Search for a worthwhile project management tool, and make sure you’re practicing adequate self care. If you do, you should find that it’s easy to accomplish more than you thought possible.