A hurried office can be both unproductive and unsafe. If you are too distracted and can’t focus on the content of your work, chances are you are likely to make a good number of critical mistakes.
Here are a few tips and tricks you can use to increase your productivity and at the same time make your job easier and less stressful.
- Set time to read emails – Do you keep your email open in the background, just waiting for an alert to pop up and answer it immediately? You aren’t alone but it isn’t the most efficient use of your time. This puts you in a reactive mode and can hamper your productivity. Set aside specific time to answer texts and emails and try to stick to it. Chances are, critical items and emergencies will come through via phone call or in person so you won’t miss anything by not immediately answering email.
- Sequence your work according to the deadline. Jobs that are needed earlier should be done first in a First In, First Out (FIFO) order. It can be really tempting to work on more exciting things first but if you get pulled away due to other emergent items and miss a deadline, that can have negative consequences for your projects and business.
- Keep required equipment, files and other consumables close by. This prevents unnecessary movement that eats into productivity and concentration. According to research done by Professor Gloria Mark of the Department of Infomatics at the University of California, Irvine, they found workers switch activities on average every three minutes and five seconds. And it takes a whopping average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task. You will never eliminate all distractions but if you can keep your most-used items within arm’s reach, you can reduce the time it takes to recover.
- Finish one task at a time. Are you guilty of attempting to multi-task? Then you should know that it isn’t actually possible. The American Psychological Association found that even switching to different tasks within the same project took a toll on productivity, such as using a Word document then an Excel file. Time to recover was greatly increased when people try to toggle between two unfamiliar projects and items.
- Keep your physical and digital files well-organized for ease of retrieval. Using consistent naming conventions on your files will help you gather information you need for your projects. If you are scanning multiple cloud services and drop boxes for the information, it will take away time needed to work on the content of the project. Keep all the pieces in one place and reduce the mental workload of retrieving them.
- Do not work too far ahead at the expense of present needs. This goes back to our previous FIFO rule. If you can make headway in a project but are doing it to the detriment of another item, then you are making more work for yourself in the long run. Work on the most-pressing part of the project first and then move on to other items that need your attention. This can also leave valuable room for teammates to provide input and make corrections or changes.
- Strive for quality as opposed to quantity. Time spent reworking poor quality work negates any gains from quantity. Rework is just as costly in an office environment as it is in a production line and becomes more compounded the further “down the line” it gets. Hopefully your teammates and boss will understand if you need more time to ensure something is done correctly as opposed to just “done.” Communicate your needs early enough to have the least negative effect.
- Review your finished work before handing it in. Not only does this show that you are a professional and care about your finished products, but it helps reduce errors that someone else will have to fix if they are noticed. Is your project going to be sent externally to a client? Would errors have a negative impact on your company’s image? These are also important considerations besides the technical aspects of correct data and information.
- Do not skip scheduled breaks. You should use this time to socialize and keep up-to-date with office politics and happenings. Building alliances may come in handy in the future and improve relationships with coworkers and teammates. Remember, career progression is dependent more on soft skills than on your productivity and showing that you are team player and care about them. Additionally, breaks give you time to recharge your body and mind by giving your analytical processing skills a break. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studied four groups of people and gave them an intensive task for 50 minutes. The group that took more breaks had the highest mental stamina at the end. Two groups were studied by the University of Amsterdam and were tasked with purchasing a car based on specifications. One group studied the data for four minutes while the other group was distracted with solving anagrams. The group who were “distracted” made better decisions.
- Block out time for tasks that require intense concentration. If you have a critical or difficult part of a project that you are working on, block out time on your calendar like an appointment and stick to it. This will cause your brain to treat it differently than other tasks and allow you to give it intense focus. It will also let others know you are unavailable for meetings or interruptions.
Finding ways to remain focused and trying to defer distractions to a later time can seem like a monumental task. Every phone and app sends reminders and messages to us all times of the day.
It is difficult to ignore the constant grocery reminders that keep popping up on our notifications. Or even the ridiculous reminders to drink water by – from appointment reminders to grocery store coupons to that pesky reminder to drink a glass of water. But if we work actively to dedicate our brains and time to one thing at a time in the most efficient way possible, we can improve our work quality and do it safely.