Are American workers as productive, or more productive, than they used to be, with the burgeoning technology of apps all around?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the answer is: No.
In fact, they say that nonfarm productivity has fallen 0.6 percent during 2016.
Now, there are a bewildering number of productivity tools and apps that promise to increase your performance and productivity. Yet sometimes all you really need to better your focus at work are a few quick changes in environment and working habits. Try these uncomplicated off-line tips for increasing productivity at work and improving your next performance review:
Take out the trash.
Take a few moments at the end of each day to straighten up your working area. Never leave a mess behind at the end of the day, thinking “I’ll take care of it first thing when I get in to work”. Psychologically, you’ll feel more like getting right to productive work if you don’t have any ‘leftovers’ or trash from the previous day to deal with first.
Have a favorite color scheme, and some plants.
You don’t need to call in an interior decorator for this. Just put up a few random scraps of your favorite color to rest your eyes on occasionally. Don’t turn your cubicle into a hothouse, but have a few green plants around your work environment to keep it from feeling completely sterile. Succulents like cactus and aloe vera are ideal plants for the office; they thrive on neglect. Once your work space reflects your own personality, you’ll feel more confident and relaxed, and be able to work better.
Speaking of personality . . .
Diplomas, family portraits, awards; these are the kind of work place decorations that make you feel appreciated, successful, and motivated.
Get it over with!
There’s always that one task that seems to be the most difficult and unpleasant, so it gets put off until the end of the day, and then put off until ‘first thing tomorrow’. Meanwhile, the stress of thinking about how unpleasant it’s going to be works as a distraction to your current task. Decide each day to get the most unpleasant work done first — the lift you’ll feel once it’s over with will make all your other assignments seem that much more easier and pleasant — and you’ll work better.
It’s a pyramid.
Prioritize your work, so that the most important sits at the top of your mind like the point of a pyramid. Then work on the next level, and then the next, and so on, until you’ve reached the bottom, where the least important work should always remain as the base of your pyramid. Also consider delegating your least important work to someone else, if you’re high enough on the food chain to do so.
Don’t let email become your boss.
Never interrupt your work schedule because of an email notification. Instead, turn off your email notification and only check it at certain scheduled times. Anyone who comes by to ask “Did you read my email yet?” will get the polite reply that you will read it at such and such a time. Stick to your schedule and you’ll discover much more time to work on your priority assignments without being unduly distracted.
Take several ten minute breaks each day, instead of just one or two long ones. This may seem counter-intuitive, since it appears to break up your day more often with distractions, but in reality a brisk walk around the block or quick nosh in the break room will revive your focus much better. Longer breaks tend to make you sleepy and remain unfocused. The important thing is to physically leave your work space for a few minutes, so you can come back refreshed.
A moderate workout either before or after work will keep your mind sharp and focused during business hours. More and more people are walking or riding bikes to work. And have you noticed . . . such people are NEVER the office losers. Never sit at work for more than an hour at a time; get up and stretch a little. Break the routine for just a few seconds; it’s better than a shot of Red Bull.
You listened to it when you did homework in high school and college. So do it when you have a particularly difficult assignment to complete on deadline. Your music, whatever it may be, can help you remained focused, while filtering out the distracting sounds around you. Plus, the headphones will indicate to co-workers that this is not a good time to come visiting about their love lives.
Move it: Part Two.
When you start to feel stale in your normal work space, it’s time to relocate temporarily — try the local library, or a coffee shop, or even a public park if the weather is nice. Or, find a quiet, comfortable spot at work that is NOT your cubicle/office/work space, with lots of natural light, and set up there for a few hours. The change in environment is like a micro-vacation — without the hassle of airports and passports.
Makin’ a list and checkin’ it twice . . .
The politician Hubert Humphrey once said: “A goal that is not written down is no goal at all; it’s just a daydream.” Take a moment at the start of each day to specifically write down each assignment you want to finish. And remember the pyramid from earlier; start the list with the most important task of the day. As each one is done, check it off. Sounds childish, but there truly is something satisfying about physically marking a task as done. You’ll stay more focused, plus you’ll have a daily work diary to consult when it’s time for your performance review.
The myth of multitasking.
Neuroscientist Earl Miller says our brains were never meant to multitask. Our sense of accomplish diminishes steeply as we attempt to multitask for any length of time — and with that diminishing sense of accomplishment comes discouragement and worry; and that inevitably leads to less work done. So concentrate on doing one thing at a time. When it’s done you will naturally feel good about yourself and want to reinforce that feeling by getting on to your next assignment, so you can get some more of those good vibes. It’s a simple and effective way to remain self-motivated.