Even the most accomplished people sometimes struggle to get their work done. But you can break the tedium and optimize your process by following a few best practices for productivity.
6 Productivity Hacks for Optimizing Your Office Hours
Define Your Critical Factors
If you don’t know the primary objectives for your role, it’s impossible to progress. Make a list of everything you do at work, and then assess your overall impact on your department and organization.
Ask yourself the following questions to help you evaluate your performance:
- Which tasks have a clear connection to revenue, collections, or cutting overhead costs? Prioritize the things that directly correlate to the company’s bottom line.
- What qualitative results do you achieve at work? Cite specific examples to support your assessment.
- What’s your measurable outcome at work? How does it compare to your peers or the expectations for your role?
- What do other people in your position do at different companies? How can you incorporate that information to improve the processes at your job?
Use your responses to these questions to create short- and long-term goals for yourself with clearly defined deadlines. Once you have these milestones in mind, it will be easier to see a path forward and become more productive at work.
Grow Your Skill Set
In 1968, Canadian sociologist Dr. Laurence J. Peter identified a common phenomenon among organizations: people advance until they reach a position where they become incompetent. Essentially, people are promoted based on their ability to perform their job well—but after their role in the company changes, their responsibilities change too, which means they might not know what to do anymore. It’s called the Peter Principle.
If you’ve reached this point, don’t view setbacks as personal shortcomings. Instead, focus on what you can do to expand your skill set. Set up media alerts on your phone that notify you when industry events occur in your region. Enroll in a class or workshop, read books or participate in webinars from industry leaders, and develop an interest in your field outside the office. Exposure to new ideas can help you streamline your process and reignite your passion for the job.
Working late might make you feel more productive, but the opposite is usually true. Once you reach your limit, take a break to refocus. When you leave the office at night, don’t check your email or bring work home with you; your body needs this time to recover and process information.
You can also create smaller breaks throughout the day to sharpen your concentration. Rotate between tasks throughout the day so you don’t hit a wall. A growing body of research also shows working out in the middle of the day can help you boost productivity and cognitive performance.
Learn how to approach problems like a management consultant.
Discuss your workflow with a software engineer or IT person to see if anything can be automated. If you can streamline a process, you’ll have more time available for the tasks that are more nuanced and complex.
Here are a few tasks that are easy to automate:
- Sending form emails and responses
- Sorting data
- Data backups
- Computer updates
- Changing file names
- Resizing images
- Scheduling programs or reports
If you need to perform a repetitive task on the computer, a programming script can probably take care of the assignment for you. Apple offers an Automator OS X tool for Mac computers, and Windows has a Task Scheduler for PCs—both systems make it easy to automate functions, even if you don’t know programming.
Working hard is commendable, but as you scale up, it will become more efficient to delegate tasks instead of putting in more hours. Make a list of everything you do at work that would be easy to teach to someone with less experience. Document your process, and then train a subordinate on your techniques. Monitor their progress periodically, and if they do well, you can eventually give them total ownership over the assignment.
Constant notifications are productivity killers. Set boundaries with your colleagues and only check your email during certain periods of the day—for example, first thing in the morning and an hour before you leave the office.
If you have something that demands your undivided attention, structure that task into your schedule. Create an event in your calendar so colleagues can see the time blocked off, and then find a place to work where you won’t be disturbed. It’s important to make time and space for yourself to finish your work—even if it means limiting your availability to other people.
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