We’ve put together our top five tips to help you maximize your productivity when mapping your own day. We’ve used working from home in our examples, but the same goes for working in your own office.
The Theory vs. The Reality
Ask anyone in a 9-5 office job, and the chances are they quietly yearn for that trademark flexibility of the self-employed, or business owner.
And of course, we know they’re partly right about the appeal; it’s great to have an hour here to take the cat to the vets, infinite ‘business meetings’ at the local Starbucks and – did I just take a nap at 4pm?! I definitely never take a 4pm nap.
But one of the toughest challenges, particularly when working alone (for argument’s sake, at home), is keeping yourself motivated throughout the whole day.
Suddenly the 9-5 you had seems comparatively productive – the whole day was carefully mapped out, and you got stuff done.
Whether that was true productivity is another thing; when the lunches, coffee breaks and commute (oh god – remember the commute) are considered, and those hours where you were just filling time, you realize it was perhaps the illusion of productivity, rather than productivity itself.
Which doesn’t change the fact that you now have a whole lot more time, and probably a whole lot of guilt about how you should be using it.
Top 5 Tips for Maximizing Productivity
If you work from home, the chances are your friends have given you the trademark look of skepticism, followed by: “It sounds great, but I just wouldn’t get anything done at home”.
Workspace is key to productivity. At the risk of sounding like everyone, a clean and tidy workspace will really improve your overall mood.
Separating work space from your living space – psychologically and literally – can also be useful. Have somewhere to ‘go’ (even if it’s a setup on the other side of the room) to focus on work.
But don’t fear if you struggle with working in your home. There are plenty of alternatives available. Co-working spaces are a huge industry in major cities. According to ooma.com 40% of the office workforce will be relying on them by 2020. Many of them are good value, and provide a familiar office environment complete with colleagues a few desks away .
Failing this, every café with Wi-Fi is a walk-in office these days. There’s nothing quite like a cappuccino and good ambiance to help you focus. Going out for an hour or two provides a change of scenery, and if you walk there and back you’re also combining it with exercise.
Everyone needs daily goals, and there are a couple of ways to approach how you set them. However you do it, you ought to be aiming to maximise your productivity, working around your foibles and idiosyncrasies.
Goals should be thought of as your motivation, pushing you towards a realistic, time-bound achievement.
For a ‘regular’ day (whatever that might mean for you), it’s worth setting realistic goals that have several ‘hit points’ throughout the day based on your working pattern. Subdivide by morning, afternoon and evening working sessions (planning around breaks) to maximise the productivity.
Alternatively, you could try ‘push days’; days where you really strive to maximise your output by setting tough objectives that will take some doing to meet. Using this technique, you’ll probably get further forwards by the end of the day than by setting more ordinary, achievable objectives (whether you meet them or not).
This alternative way of working is designed to make headway into new tasks, or push for completion on old ones. They can be a useful tool in avoiding stalemate situations where drips and drabs are done, but nothing is ever wrapped up.
Push days are more of a state of mind and determination than anything. Wake up early, and work continuously throughout the day; coffee is your friend! It’s a method that’s probably not healthy for every day, so maybe try it a couple of days a week to start with and see how you get on.
Our natural instinct might be to presume this will give us a constant sense of pressure and failure. Pressure; yes – but the good kind. Failure; not so much, because you’ll make such headway (compared to an average day), you can’t help but feel great!
Another mixed blessing. A varied workload naturally seems more logical within a varied business, and helps to keep things interesting.
Your morning is reading emails, your afternoon is focusing on creative direction, your evening is engrossing yourself in analytics.
Building this kind of variation into your day automatically counters the tendency to stare aimlessly at a flashing cursor, praying to God for inspiration; you just move on.
But avoid switching between tasks too much. You need to allow yourself time to really sink your teeth into things. To push through the initial time wastage that naturally occurs when you start any new task – the ‘getting into it’ phase. Too much switching, and you’ll soon find a disproportionate amount of time is spent this way.
Make a list of tasks and decide how long each will take. Regardless of how long you expect one to take, spend a minimum of an hour on each task. If certain tasks are five minutes, bunch them together into 30 minutes of ‘quickfire’ tasks. Identifying what kind of task you’re working on saves accidentally spending an hour on replying to emails. Try to save these shorter tasks for the afternoon lull, or to re-introduce yourself to work after lunch.
4. Distractions & Breaks
It wouldn’t be a day without the mandatory 15 minutes of falling for clickbait on Facebook and watching cat videos on YouTube (those cats owe me literally days of my life).
Of course, going cold turkey from social media and other distractions would be the best advice, but actually, it can be helpful to look away every now and then. To break the monotony. Facebook can be a great way to do this. But only allow yourself an (absolute maximum) of five minutes an hour.
So the good news is, the cat videos aren’t banned, just rationed – so use them wisely.
Many people find music helps them to focus. It can! But pick the right songs – make a playlist that inspires you to work, or there are plenty of ready-made ones designed for this on Spotify. Blasting out Mariah Carey power ballads that demand to be sung as a duet is unlikely to help concatenate an Excel file.
Breaks are as important when working from home as anywhere else, so don’t neglect to take them. Try to get away from your screen in these. Eat, walk – but mainly, enjoy! Do whatever makes you feel great, but you will work better over all if you’ve gotten away from your screen for at least an hour throughout the day.
Without your commute, it’s easy to become stuck inside. Aside from obvious health implications, you might find that you find it more difficult to sleep. So, it’s important to use up that energy.
We can almost hear your collective groan, but trust us – exercise needn’t be running into infinity on a gym treadmill.
This ‘exercise’ could be something fun, rather than a sport; a walk to the shops, or along a river. Doing 30 – 45 mins of aerobic activity is a good way to get away from your desk. Equally, something to get some fresh air. A punch bag, a skipping rope, take up gardening! Whatever does it for you.
Find your perfect balance
Ultimately, you will decide what works for you; your personal habits and strengths. Our five are flexible guidelines to be adjusted.
You may be a night-owl who finds focusing on one thing for the whole day helps you focus better, or someone who finds switching between tasks more regularly helps you stay focused.
Whatever you decide on, make sure the work pattern you create is sustainable. If it involves erratic waking hours, where sleep time isn’t a constant, you’ll probably lose productivity over all. Also, consider that it’s often better for networking to be awake for some standard business hours, particularly if your company is trading.
Comment with your own suggestions, thoughts or advice from your personal experience – we’d love to hear from you!