What’s the number one thing you should be worrying about in your work? Or in your life in general? One answer might be productivity. It doesn’t matter how good your product is if you don’t get much done in a week. It doesn’t matter how neat and tidy your code is if you’re only finishing a project once every blue moon.
But how do you get productive? How do you go from being overwhelmed with what needs to be done to being a productivity rock star, turning in work on time and always ready for the next thing? Probably, people you think are productive have actually spent a long time figuring out how to be. Most people don’t find it so easy just to sit down and work, even if they really need to. But luckily, you don’t have to figure it out from scratch.
Here’s ten things productive people do – or if you want to look at it that way, ten things you can do to become a productive person.
- Be organised. It’s obvious, right? You can be more productive if you know where to find everything. Spending an afternoon organizing your desk might not get you paid, but if you know exactly where everything you need is, you’ll work more efficiently in future.
- Keep track of what you’re doing. Make sure you know what you’ve done, what tools you’ve got in your toolkit, etc, etc. Don’t reinvent the wheel for a new project, and don’t get caught in the trap of redoing work you’ve already done. If you’ve got a long term project, it’s easy to forget that you already planned something out or did the documentation, or whatever it is you need. Make sure you have an overview of what’s going on.
- Plan ahead. If you make a plan for what you need to do in a week, in your head that’s already like a miniature deadline. Use that! Set yourself artificial deadlines, plan out what you need to be doing and when. It’s easier to stay productive when you’ve got something to look at and say ‘right, I meant to get that done by Friday, I need to work on it now.’ If you don’t have concrete goals, you can find yourself flailing around wondering what needs doing next, and what will advance your project faster. Make sure you know that in advance, so that when you get bogged down in the detail, you can look it up and know exactly what’s next.
- Be flexible. I know I just said that you need to plan ahead, but you also need to know when to roll with the punches. Life happens, even to the most productive CEO of the most prestigious company. The key is to know when you need to sit there and just carry on with what you planned to do, and when you need to take the opportunity to do something else that furthers your goals. It’s even worth working around your problems. Headache mean you can’t sit at the computer to fill in spreadsheets like you planned? Well, you probably have something else you planned to do tomorrow that wouldn’t make your head hurt quite so badly. Do that instead.
- Analyse. What works for you? What doesn’t? Is there a time of day when you inevitably can’t get anything done? Maybe that’s a good time to schedule a meeting or a phone call instead – talking to someone else will keep you on task! What about data entry? Do you work best if you can just sit down and bang it all in at the end of the week, or does splitting it up into shorter chunks of work help? We’ve all got limitations: it’s how we work around them that helps us be productive – or not.
- Automate. If there’s a time-consuming process somewhere in your workflow, can you automate it somehow? If you need to generate invoices, for example, take the time and set up an Excel worksheet that will calculate the end result for you, instead of taking the time to put it into the calculator. Like getting organized, this might take some time to get going, but once you’ve got a process in place, it’ll save you time every time you need to do that task.
- Teamwork. Know when you need to work with someone else. If numbers make your head spin, then you need to work with someone else who can handle them – and at the same time, you can cover for their weaknesses. Working together, you don’t just get twice as much done – you get three times or four times as much done.
- Move on. Perfectionist? It might sound like a good thing, but it’s definitely getting in the way of your productivity. The same thing if you’re obsessing over a mistake you made. You can’t change the past, and nothing will ever be perfect. Of course you need to learn from your mistakes, but once you’ve figured out what went wrong and fix it, you need to move onto the next thing. Your time is a huge limitation to your productivity, so don’t waste it agonizing over a botched graph, a slow program or a misplaced comma. Get feedback, correct your mistake, make sure you understand, and move on.
- Accountability. If you have trouble sticking to your plans, maybe you need to find a way to make yourself accountable. It might be as simple as a chart on the wall, where you only get to put in a tick if you’ve met the goals you set out. Even if you’re self-employed and you don’t have a manager to discuss your progress with, imagine you do! Set standards and make yourself live up to them. It doesn’t have to be boring or formal, either – consider setting it up as a game!
- Stop wishing you were more productive. You can sit around wishing that you could get things done for weeks on end, but it won’t make you more productive. Don’t make elaborate plans to be more productive that start next week. Start now.