Author and philosopher Henry David Thoreau might have said it best when he said: “It is not enough to be busy… the question is: what are we busy about?” This is great food for thought in light of modern corporate life. We’re so caught up putting in many hours at work, and expending as much energy as we possibly can, that we forget what it means to actually be productive: that is, to work smart in order to complete both our own short-term deliverables, and our company’s long-term goals.
If you’re trying to improve productivity at the office—for yourself, as well as the people around you—here are six tips you can start with. These are sure to save you valuable time, maximize your energies, and help you check off those important office-related tasks!
1. Be proactive, instead of reactive, in your general approach to office tasks. If you’re nothing but a “yes man” at the office, your productivity could be suffering as a consequence. That means that the work you do is limited to someone else’s initiative. Don’t make it your default approach to wait for someone to tell you what to do—think about how to get a head start, and maximize the control you have over the situation.
2. Minimize multitasking. Multitasking may have been the buzzword of the 2000s, when most of our technology was new. But after years spent living in the digital age, there’s a new consensus on juggling tasks: it’s overrated, and nothing can substitute good old-fashioned focus on one or two tasks. If you can help it, don’t juggle too tasks within a short time period. It’s best to channel your focus into doing a couple of things but doing them really well.
3. Assign personal deadlines to open-ended tasks. Open-ended tasks can be something of a conundrum. On the one hand, there are no set deadlines for them, and they afford you less pressure and more breathing room for you to complete them. On the other hand, without explicit deadlines, there’s the risk that you’ll put these tasks off until the last minute or forget to do them at all! To prevent that from happening, assign deadlines for those tasks yourself and stick to them, of course.
4. Apply Steven Olenski’s two-minute rule. Need a reference point for some of the small tasks? As per Steven Olenski, try assigning a “two-minute rule” to tasks you can finish in two minutes, for example issuing a reminder to a coworker or clearing up a table for a meeting. This is a sure-fire way to get small, but important tasks out of the way and make room for others that require more time and attention.
5. Choose the most productive avenue for problem solving. Not everything on the office agenda requires its own hours-long meeting complete with coffee, snacks, and a trip to the boardroom. Go with methods that don’t sacrifice the quality of work, but can definitely save time, money, and energy. In the case of face-to-face meetings, see if the problem can be resolved over email or through an online conference; that way, everyone can shift right back to what else they were doing before the discussion started.
6. Check off everything in your personal to-do list—but don’t forget to help out your teammates. Lastly, don’t limit your idea of productivity to what you alone can do. At the end of the day you’re part an organization, and several other people are trying to hit the same milestones as you. It will serve everyone’s best interest if you are helpful to your coworkers. Not only will they be more efficient if you share tools, methods, and honest insight with them, but it will also increase rapport and goodwill, which are often drivers of productivity in themselves.
Life in an office can be very hectic and fast-paced, and you may feel burdened by all that pressure to perform. But keeping these six suggestions in mind and committing to improve in other ways is sure to boost your productivity—and, ultimately, leave a lasting contribution to your home.