How to be productive at work

Jul 16, 2019

5 mins

How to be productive at work
Alexis Minchella

Créateur du Podcast Tribu Indé et auteur de Freelance : l’aventure dont vous êtes le héros (Éd Eyrolles)

“Once again, I didn’t get through my to-do list… ”
“I feel like I can never catch up with my work.”
“Why do my coworkers keep coming over to talk to me?”
“I’m overwhelmed and I can’t keep my head above water!”

We’ll bet you’ve known one of these four situations. Lots to do, not enough time in the day to get it all done… We understand you and you’re not alone.

Wrike recently conducted a study on stress and productivity at work. Among the employees surveyed, 94% of them said they felt stressed in the office. But a high level of stress is never good for your productivity. So how do you organize your day in order to be more productive at work?

How do you change things?

We’d rather just get this out of the way: There is no magic bullet for organizing your days better and reducing your stress levels. However, there are a few simple principles that everyone can adopt to improve their daily life and become more productive.

  • Prioritize tasks and plan out your day.
  • Create habits for yourself, bit by bit.
  • Limit interruptions to your day.
  • Use the counterintuitive method to be more productive (hold on, we’ll get there).

Prioritize your tasks to plan out your day

Some people prefer to plan the coming week at the end of a Friday, others the night before. There is not one rule. However, anticipating tasks and planning ahead of time are two crucial elements. It’s the first condition for removing a source of stress: Uncertainty. So, how do you prioritize tasks?

The Eisenhower Matrix is a good place to start. Long story short, Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, who, it is said, had an extraordinary ability to organize his schedule.

When following the matrix named after him, there are two things to take into account:

  • The urgent (or not) nature of a task.
  • The importance of the task.

The difficulty of a given subject can be added to these variables.

Write everything down

We suggest writing down everything that is said to you during the day, via emails, meetings, or calls. This will mean you’ll be able to free your mind by focusing on the task at hand and not on information received 10 minutes prior.

Our advice: Always carry a notebook, Post-its, or have an app to hand as a way to remind yourself of the tasks that need to get done. Then, at the end of the day, rank them in order of importance and include them in your to-do list. It all ties together!

How do I plan out my tasks correctly?

The goal is to end the day feeling satisfied with what’s been accomplished. Therefore, your objective is not to put down the maximum amount of tasks possible on your schedule—that’s the quickest way to get dissatisfied with yourself. And that’s not good for your morale, your stress levels, or your productivity. So how do you go about it?

Master your schedule

Your workday is more or less eight hours long, and working from home is out of the question. So you must get organized. The first thing to do is write down all of your meetings, appointments, and brainstorming sessions. You can’t avoid them, so you might as well put them all down on your calendar.

Our advice: Whenever possible, plan all your meetings for one or even two days during the week. The rest of your time will be devoted to what needs to be done. If it’s not possible, opt for early- or late-afternoon meetings.

Don’t arrange meetings for the morning

That’s generally when you have the most energy and your ability to concentrate is at its best. Take advantage of your mornings to finish the most important task of the day and focus on your deep work sessions. This is the time of day when you accomplish the tasks that require the most brainpower, such as writing, presentation, strategy, files, illustration, and development.

Put it on your calendar and give yourself a realistic amount of time to do it. Track the most important (and urgent) tasks, and based on their level of difficulty (amount of time), fill out the rest of your calendar in the same way. Your days and weeks will look like a succession of blocks of tasks. By the end of the week, you’ll feel like you’ve gotten a lot done on your projects.

Create habits for yourself, bit by bit

We could share the habits of the world’s most productive entrepreneurs, but we’re not sure that’s going to help you get ahead in your daily life.

Find your own routine

What works for your colleague might not be what works for you. Everyone must find what’s best for them and come up with a system by adapting what already exists.

Habits will allow you to:

  • Become more efficient (doubt yourself less and deliver more).
  • Reduce your stress level (find a way to better manage exterior stress).
  • Be in control of your time (know when you’re most efficient and the tasks that you must do at key moments during your day).

And while we’re on the subject, routines don’t mean waking up at 5 AM, doing 25 minutes of meditation, working out for 30 minutes, and looking at yourself in the bathroom mirror while you perform self-affirmations.

Learn to manage your emails

1. Check them
Ask yourself this question: How many times a day do you refresh your inbox? A good habit to initiate would be to reduce this to twice (or three times) a day, maximum. You can check your mail, for example:

When you get to the office, not before!

  • Early afternoon, when energy levels are usually low… after a necessary lunch! Take advantage of this time to answer the day’s most important emails.
  • At the end of the day, give yourself a good 30 minutes or more, based on the number of emails you need to deal with to empty your inbox.
  • Three times, and no more. You’ll feel the difference it makes to your efficiency and productivity levels.

2. Sort them
Sort your messages by label, like this:

  • Inbox: This allows you to sort your incoming messages.
  • Today: A response is needed today.
  • Week: A response is needed by the end of the week.
  • Month: For emails that aren’t necessarily urgent, to be answered by the end of the month.

Limit interruptions once and for all

Did you know it takes nearly 25 minutes to regain focus on a task once interrupted? That’s considerable in an eight-hour day where you can be interrupted dozens of times.

Our advice: Don’t let anyone interrupt your morning tasks. Wearing headphones is always a great way to send a message your coworkers—“I’m not available to answer your questions.”

Sometimes it’s not other people who distract us. A study conducted by Inc. magazine revealed that, on average, we check our telephone 150 times a day. A lot of that time is devoted to social media, of course, but that’s not today’s topic.

Be wary of multitasking

Multitasking is a common topic of discussion. And yet, many people continue to switch between tasks every 10 minutes. You want to be more productive during the day? Stop multitasking! A Fuze-conducted study showed that if you go from one task to another, it takes 50% more time to get them done. This goes back to our system of prioritizing and planning. If you take the time to plan your days ahead of time, multitasking will (soon) cease to exist.

Learn how to say “no”

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything”—Warren Buffett.

The idea is, of course, is not to say no to your manager each time they ask you something. What’s important to understand is that your time can’t be stretched. Yet saying yes to everything just goes back to not prioritizing anything and doing it all in a rush. And that’s just not a good thing.

Accept imperfection and take breaks!

Cognitive psychiatrist and neuropsychologist Cyril Couffe led a study on concentration and productivity at school and at work. Taking regular breaks equaled performing 10% better. We’re constantly bombarded with an ever-increasing level of demands. “To recover throughout the day, you need to find real breaks, whether it’s a visual activity (looking out the window) or sound (listening to music) that puts you in a dreamlike state,” says Couffe.

You know what you have to do! Take a break before starting up again.

Translated by Kalin Linsberg

Photographs by WTTJ

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