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Do you sometimes have those days where it’s after 8pm and you feel like you didn’t get anything done that day?
These are probably the kind of days when you’re wondering: how can I improve my work efficiency and productivity?
For the longest time, I was working my tail off and yet, got worse results than my peers. This was especially apparent during law school, when I often had to work about 3 times as much as my friends but still got worse grades…
In the beginning, I just thought that I must be less smart than them and therefore that’s just the way it is. I thought that I just had to study that hard to even make it.
A few years in, it became more and more frustrating. Not only did it take me longer to study but I also didn’t really understand what I was learning. Over time that compounded because if I didn’t really understand the basics, how was I supposed to understand the more advanced stuff?
At that point I realized that I had to drastically change my approach.
So, I started testing different strategies and approaches to improve my work efficiency and productivity. I improved my approach in every job until I found a solid time management system that allows me to work in extremely productive sprints.
So, in this article I’ll show you how work efficiency and productivity can be improved with a few very simple changes in your daily routine.
Why am I so inefficient at work?
Before we get into the tips, let’s first look at why you’re currently so inefficient at work. Maybe you feel like your workload is so incredibly high that it’s impossible to stop working on time and you have to work over hours on a regular basis.
Or maybe you don’t work that much but you just fail to hit any goals you set for yourself or that are set by your employer.
In any case, here are the most common reasons why you’re inefficient at work.
Too many distractions
The number one reason are distractions!
And the worst part about it is that you might not even realize that you have a ton of things that are taking away your attention.
The most common distractions are actually emails! Most of us are trained in a way that the first thing you should do when you start your computer is to open your emails and work through them. Not only that, we usually leave our email program open during the whole day. This means that we get email notifications all the time!
And even if you think: “oh well, that doesn’t bother me, I’ll just take a quick look but then I’ll get back to my task”, that’s a whole lot of switching around.
And as I’ve mentioned in one of my previous articles, task switching is equally bad for your productivity as multitasking. And that means very bad!
You need a lot of mental energy for every switch you make. So, even if you just quickly check your emails and then get back to your original task, you lose a lot of steam and it will take a while until you get back the same level of focus you had before the switch.
You don’t have focus blocks
Another important reason for inefficiency at work is the lack of focus blocks.
I’m currently reading Deep Work by Cal Newport and he explains this concept extremely well.
In order to thrive in today’s economy, you need to be able to learn hard things at a fast pace. The only way you can do that is through deep work. This means you need chunks of several hours where you can work without interruption.
Ideally, this means you don’t get interrupted by any calls, email notifications, colleagues, bosses, web surfing etc. No interruption at all.
Of course, this isn’t possible in every kind of job. However, most jobs allow for at least one or two hours of uninterrupted work per day.
However, deep work isn’t easy. Getting distracted is far easier…
So, it’s not enough to have the ability for focus blocks. You’d also have to prioritize them before anything else.
You don’t have clear boundaries
That brings us to the next point: you don’t have clear boundaries.
Setting up boundaries at work or in your business is one of the most important, yet most difficult things to do.
You want to do a good job and you might think that this means that you need to be available all the time.
Regardless of the channel, some people feel like they always need to be “on”. This has become especially true now that more and more people are working from home. Even if you didn’t have a work phone before, it’s super easy to check your emails quickly before going to bed, thinking that this will better prepare you for the next day.
Unfortunately, quite the opposite is the case. This will only make you more anxious for the next day because you already know how much you’ll have to deal with.
Breaks aren’t your priority
The last common reason for inefficiency at work is that breaks aren’t your priority.
I know it sounds counter-intuitive, how should you be more productive if you work less hours?
Well, the thing is that you can only be really productive for about 4 to 6 hours per day! Plus, you can only make a certain amount of decisions per day before decision fatigue kicks in.
So, if you’re working for 12 hours straight, you’re not only using your time very inefficiently. But you’ll also likely start making bad decisions after about 6 hours.
Your ability to focus and to make good decisions can be significantly improved through breaks, though.
Getting up from your desk and doing something to refresh your brain can work wonders for your efficiency because it allows you to work in a focused manner for a certain amount of time.
Without breaks, you’ll work in a half focused manner during the most part of the day. And you obviously can’t get work done efficiently like that.
How can work efficiency and productivity be improved?
Okay, now that you know the most common reasons for inefficiency at work, let’s look at a few things you can do to improve work efficiency and productivity.
1. Work in blocks
As mentioned before, deep work is what will move you forward. That doesn’t only count for learning hard things. It’s just the same for your regular work. In order to get as much work done in as little time as possible, you need to have certain times during the day where you can work without interruptions.
And then you can have other blocks where you can work on more administrative tasks or in a more responsive manner. Cal Newport calls those tasks “shallow work”.
The core idea behind it is that working in blocks will allow you to batch your work. Through batching, you’ll reduce the amount of switches you have to make because you can stay in the same mental zone for an extended period of time.
The best way to do that is to use calendar blocking. This simply means that you’ll add your blocks to your calendar which gives you a great overview of what kind of tasks you need to work on during what time of the day.
2. Figure out when your high-focus hours are
In order to make best using of calendar blocking, you need to figure out when your high-focus hours are.
For most people it’s at least one block early in the morning. Our mind is usually the freshet during the first 2 to 3 hours after getting up.
But that doesn’t need to be. If you’re not a morning person, then you might have focus hours later in the day.
For me it’s one block in the morning until lunch time and then another one in the late afternoon.
Test it out for a couple of days. Try sitting down and working on a specific task for an hour or two. And try it out at different times during the day.
Once you found your high-focus hours, block them off in your calendar for high-focus tasks that should be dealt with without interruption.
3. Have at least one high-focus block per day
You might struggle to find your high-focus blocks. Or your job might require so much responsiveness from you that you feel like you’ve never got an hour or two where you could work without interruption.
Well, truth is, if you want to increase your productivity and efficiency, you need to have at least one high-focus block per day.
Unless you’re an administrative assistant or a sales rep whose only job it is to answer calls all day long, I guess you have at least a few tasks that require high focus.
So, make this a priority and block off at least an hour or two per day for these kinds of tasks.
4. Have several low-focus blocks per day
Until now, you should have added at least one high-focus block per day in your calendar.
Now, add several low-focus blocks in your day. You likely have a number of tasks that don’t require a whole lot of mental energy. But they probably do take up a lot of your time if they’re scattered throughout your day.
You can significantly improve your work efficiency, if you also batch those low-focus tasks together. The prime example is email.
The best way to go about email management is to have one or several email-checking blocks per day. For example, include a 30-min email-checking block after your high-focus morning block. During those 30 minutes, go through your emails and reply to the quick ones that take less than 3 minutes to reply. Plus, move the ones that need a longer reply to another folder that I like to call “need action”. You can then work on those longer emails during a block that’s dedicated to that.
This allows you to get through a high volume of emails and move them in a system straight away instead of jumping from a high focus task to replying to one single email and then back.
5. Have several break blocks per day
As you know by now, making breaks no priority is one of the main reasons why people are inefficient at work.
This is why you need to add several break blocks during the day.
Ideally, you have one longer break block of 1 to 3 hours per day. This is the best way to regain some new energy and jump back into another focus block.
But even if that’s not possible, have at least one 1-hour break block and then a couple of shorter, 15 to 30-minute break blocks throughout your day.
Plan them in when your energy is the lowest. For me that’s right after lunch, it’s impossible to focus for me around that time. I used to force myself through those hours. But in the end I didn’t really get anything done during that time and was frustrated and exhausted after it.
6. Put your phone away
This has been a huuuuge game changer for me!
Whenever I’m working, my phone is in my bedroom and on mute.
Our phones are one of the main sources of distraction these days. So, in order to increase your work efficiency and productivity, you need to get that thing out of reach!
This will take some time to get used to. But trust me, it’s well worth it!
You can then take a look at it during your break blocks.
7. Get rid of distractions
Now it’s time to get rid of any other distractions. This means to close any social media tabs on your computer. If you tend to mindlessly browse the web on a regular basis, close your web browser all together and only open it when you need to look something up for work.
Also take a look at your desk and your surroundings. Is there anything that keeps distracting you?
If so, get rid of it and make everything around you as boring as possible.
You can enjoy the fun stuff like chatting with your colleagues or petting your dog during your break blocks.
8. Write your to do list the night before
Another huge game changer for me has been to write my to do list the night before.
Studies have shown that we can only make a certain amount of good decisions per day! Because deciding on things like what to wear, what to eat and what to work on first also take away from your daily decision bank.
This is why it’s important to move as many easy decisions as possible to the evening. Deciding what you need to work on the next day doesn’t need a whole lot of brain power. So, you can easily do that the night before.
However, this allows you to jump in straight away in the morning, instead of first using up a few decisions just to decide what to work on first.
9. Determine one top priority per day
While you write your to do list for the next day, determine one top priority.
If you struggle with that, you should first set some goals. Then, think about what kind of activity will get you to your goal the fastest.
- How to break down goals into manageable sizes
- 7 tips to set goals and actually achieve them
- 10 tips to hold yourself accountable for goals
If several things are urgent, order them according to their priority level.
But always make sure to determine one task that’s more urgent than anything else and that definitely needs to get done that day.
10. Use your first focus block for this top priority
Now, to wrap up this list, you need to prioritize your top priority. This means that you need to get to that right away during your first focus block.
If you’re like me and you need a little warm up before you can dive into a high-focus task, then have a 30-minute or 1-hour low focus block first. Just make sure it’s not email as this will just send you on the rat race straight away. After that, get rid of all distractions and work on your top priority for the whole time of your high-focus block.
If you’re done before the time of this block is up then you can work on another similar task. Or you can start your next block straight away. If you didn’t get it done, then schedule it for another high-focus block that same day or the next day.
Alight, so these are my 10 tips that will help you improve your efficiency and productivity at work.
As you can see, they’re all pretty simple and easily applicable.
Keep in mind that all of that will require some practice. We’re so used to being busy and distracted all the time. Focused work is something we have to get used to first.
So, don’t get discouraged if you don’t manage to work in a focused manner for 3 hours straight away. Be patient with yourself and slowly increase your high-focus hours.
Ready to take your time management and productivity to the next level? I offer productivity coaching for content creators and professionals. Click here to learn more!