Are you feeling overwhelmed and wish you could find a way to increase your productivity at work? Do you feel like your deadlines are approaching too fast? Do you own your own business or side hustle and feel like you are drowning and can’t keep up?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, then this blog post is for you. I have been there. There have been times in both my career and even with the work I do for this blog that made me feel very overwhelmed. But the good news is, that there is always a solution.
Don’t Jump Right In!
It is easy to say, I want to be more productive. And when you Google the term productivity, you will find a lot of different techniques that you should implement to be more productive. While all those techniques are great, I think we are missing an important first step.
Before you start trying out different techniques to improve your productivity at work, you have to do some self-evaluation to determine why you are not productive. You have to analyze what you do each day and identify what are the contributing factors to your decreased productivity.
Why can’t you just start implementing the proven productivity techniques?
You can, but it will be like treating the symptoms instead of the disease. Let’s look at a specific example. If one of the main reasons why you cannot concentrate on work and be more productive is the fact that your co-workers constantly stop by your office to ask questions, then implementing time blocking technique is not be the first step you should be taking.
You really need to get to the bottom of the issue and identify the root cause of why you are not productive. In the scenario above, the best approach would be first to eliminate the disruptions caused by the co-workers. Maybe it is displaying a sign by your office door that says ‘do not disturb’. Or if you work in a virtual environment, it is setting the status ‘do not disturb’ or ‘busy’ of your IM window or even creating out-of-office messages indicating that you ar not available at the moment. Once you resolve problems of being distracted at work, you can move with further improving your productivity.
Take a Closer Look
While some reasons for your decreased productivity might be very obvious to you, others may not.
What is the best way to determine your obstacles in being more productive? I suggest that you dedicate one week to evaluate your activities at work. Pick a typical week at work – so not a week where you will be going to a conference or when you have a training for two days.
Go about your week as you normally would. At the end of each day, write down some notes to capture how your day went. So sometime like this:
Monday: spent 3 hours cleaning up my inbox and answering e-mails; worked on Project A for an hour; had two conference calls; made final edits for the proposal and later met with a potential client to discuss it.
Ask yourself some questions about your day
When you think about your day, consider the following questions and write down anything that is applicable:
- What was your level of energy throughout the day? Was it higher during the morning, mid-day or the afternoon?
- Did you have a to-do list at the beginning of the day?
- How many tasks did you accomplish from your to-do list?
- Do you have deadline approaching soon that is stressing you out? Are you on track to complete the tasks before the deadline?
- Are the meetings you attend applicable? Meaning, do you really need to attend them?
- Are the meetings you lead productive? Are you accomplishing the objective of the meeting?
- How often do you check your e-mails? Do you respond to all e-mails right away or just the urgent ones?
- How much time do you spend answering phone calls? Are they urgent in nature?
- How much time do you spend on professional development? Did you attend any webinars or read relevent articles?
- How much time did you spend on your personal phone checking out social media?
- Do you get interrupted by your co-workers or teammates? Do those interruptions make it harder for you to get back into the activity you were doing?
You can download a FREE Productivity Worksheet to help you take notes and track what you are doing throughout the week.
Analyze your week
At the end of the week you can look back and analyze how your week went. Look at each day carefully and identify trends.
The main trend you need to look at is the types of activities that take big chunks of your time. And then determine if those activities are productive or not.
Maybe you spend a lot of your time in meetings. Look back at each day and determine how many of those meetings you could skip. Meaning, how many of them did not bring any value to move you forward with accomplishing your goals?
Maybe it seems like you check and respond to e-mails all day long. Are all these e-mail urgent? What would happen if you reply to them with a two-hour delay?
Or maybe you notice that your meetings are scattered thought the day and week in a way that does not leave you much time in between to work on your projects? For example, maybe you only have 30 minutes breaks in between, which does not give you enough time to make much progress.
The purpose of this exercise is to get to find out what your main distractions are when it comes to productivity at work. Write them all down so you can determine what steps you need to take to address them.
Action Plan to Increase Productivity at Work
Now that you have evaluated what are the factors that are limiting your productivity at work, you can take action to eliminate or at least minimize them.
You don’t have to address all of them at the same time. You can start with one and once you make significant progress you can move to the next. You can start with the biggest distraction as that will make the biggest difference in your productivity level. Or you can start with a few small ones for the quick wins.
Next week, I will go over the how approach productivity in those main distraction areas (such as meetings, interruptions by your team or customers, e-mail, and schedule). So take this week to observe your days and determine what areas of your job you need to address in order to increase productivity at work.