By WELL+GOOD EDITORS
Raise your hand if you always feel like there are enough hours in the day to accomplish everything on your to-do list (if your hand is in the air, teach us your magic). For the rest of us, a productivity tune-up is due.
If you feel like it’s impossible to stay focused, it’s not just in your head. “The workplace and workday can be the hardest place and time to get meaningful work done,” says Molly Sontsteng, co-founder of Caveday, which specializes in teaching people how to focus more deeply. “With open floor plans, notifications flying in on multiple screens, and unnecessary meetings, it’s a miracle any work gets done.”
Aside from shouting, “This meeting should have been an email!” from the rooftops, what are you supposed to do? Since overhauling your entire work routine all at once can be overwhelming—and the point of improving your workplace productivity is to help you reduce stress, not increase it—we broke it down into a four-step process so you can tackle one change per week. Now take a deep breath.
Scroll down for the step-by-step plan to boosting your workplace productivity in four weeks.
First up is figuring out how to schedule your time most efficiently. Sonsteng recommends blocking out uninterrupted “deep work” moments on your calendar so you know you have dedicated focus time each day, checking your email just twice a day, and only scheduling meetings one or two days a week.
“Working this way certainly takes discipline,” she says. “It’s like learning a new muscle. Obviously this is more or less feasible depending on what you do, but the more you batch, the more effective you’ll be with your time and the quality of your work will improve.”
We know our phones are a time and attention suck, so why do we keep letting them interrupt our undoubtedly brilliant thoughts? This week, save the scrolling for after hours and see how going phone-less from 9 to 5 affects your productivity. (Spoiler alert: It’s probably going to help.)
“Your phone is likely the biggest culprit that negatively impacts productivity,” Sonsteng says. “We unlock our phones up to 80 times a day. It simply isn’t enough to leave it face down next to you—even having your phone in sight temporarily reduces brain power. Rather, keep your phone in your backpack or a drawer. Better yet, ask a colleague to hold on to your phone for a few hours.” Separation anxiety is hard, but it gets easier.
Now you can address the tech you likely can’t avoid: your computer. To make it more productivity-friendly, that means fewer notifications.
“Every time you get a notification, you’re getting pulled away from your work without giving consent,” Sonsteng says. “The average worker is interrupted every 11 minutes. Imagine how your focus might improve if you suspended your notifications.”
No offense to your co-workers who want to chit-chat on Slack all day, but they’re likely killing your vibe. Sonsteng recommends turning off all notifications on your computer for at least a portion of the day, and letting stakeholders know that you’ll be going dark for a few hours. You might be shocked by the outcome. “Chances are the world will keep spinning,” Sonsteng says.
It’s tempting to knock out the least time-consuming tasks first so you can reduce the size of your to-do list (and ride that accomplishment high), but Sonsteng says that’s the opposite of how you should operate.
“Easy tasks can wait,” she says. “Use your natural energy cadence to your advantage and tackle the most difficult work early in the day. If you don’t get good at doing what’s important first, you’ll find yourself lost in what is seemingly urgent but not important in no time.”