Maximizing productivity is a recurring concern in the office. Your work-life balance and business success depend on you and your employees’ ability to make effective progress at work. Use these five research-based strategies to stay focused and develop the right goals to help everyone at your business work to their fullest potential.
Use Batching or Themed Tasks
Jack Dorsey served as CEO of Twitter and Square simultaneously, putting in eight-hour days for each company. His secret was giving each day of the week a theme to improve his focus. Mondays were dedicated to management, Tuesdays were product-focused, Wednesdays were devoted to marketing and communication, and so on.
Depending on the nature of the job, you may or may not be able to spend a whole day on one type of project. Grouping similar tasks into a morning and afternoon block may improve focus, while still including multiple types of work.
Schedule Work and Break Sessions
Some level of distraction is inevitable during the workday. It’s only human to need an occasional breather from a task. The trick is to balance the need for a break against lost momentum.
The Pomodoro technique, developed by Francesco Cirillo, is a popular productivity tool. The idea is simple. Set a timer for 25 minutes and commit to work consistently, without distraction. When time’s up, take a five-minute break. The technique takes its name from the tomato-shaped timer Cirillo used when he developed the method. After four “Pomodoro” sessions, take a 15 to 30 minute break to stretch or check off an easy task.
This pattern also aligns with the research on ultradian rhythms. Research suggests that people are naturally wired to experience mental energy ups and downs roughly every 90 to 120 minutes. Following this rhythm can help workers predict when they’ll have the best chance to achieve the coveted “flow” state of immersion in a project and when, for example, a cup of coffee might come in handy.
Track Your Time
Once you’ve found a work rhythm that makes sense, it’s useful to have an external measure to keep you honest. Keeping a record of how you spend your time can provide insight into which tasks come more or less easily, or what times of day are most productive for you.
Investigate free app options that can track your time. Toggl and RescueTime are two popular options. It’s helpful to flag certain websites or activities that you find distracting and track those as well. Having to log wasted time might incentivize you to keep it to a minimum. You may also realize you lose more time on “just a few minutes” of distraction than you think.
Set Process-Oriented Goals
Setting goals is an obvious first step to accomplishing them. But you may not realize that the type of goal you choose can actually have a negative impact on productivity.
As the saying goes, “The journey matters more than the destination.” Research suggests this is true of goal setting, too. Focusing on the outcome may make it easier to slack off a bit once you reach the minimum target. Focusing on the process, however, could be a more effective way to build strong habits.
In one study, researchers asked students at a gym about either their workout goals or their process for exercising. The goal-oriented students set a more ambitious target. When it came down to results, process-oriented exercisers spent an average of nine extra minutes working out.
Frame goals in terms of the type and frequency of steps you’ll take to reach your desired result, and it’s easier to keep those work habits going, even above and beyond the initial goal.
Measure Deadlines in Days
The language you use to describe a project timeline affects how urgent that deadline appears, researchers note. Write that a presentation is due in “42 days,” and it tends to seem much sooner than “six weeks.”
Psychologically, it's easier to image your future self in terms of days. Instead of prioritizing your current desires, you connect to what would make that future version of yourself happy. The results are striking, even over the long term. Study participants were asked when they’d save for a hypothetical newborn’s college education. They got started four times sooner when told they had 6,570 days — rather than 18 years — to prepare.
Planning day by day may also help incorporate some of the other productivity tips discussed here, like batching tasks or committing to taking action a certain number of days per week.
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