That’s it – after about 1,000 months, 2020 is finally in the books – and we couldn’t be more relieved. Now that it’s a brand new year, and it’s starting to look like there’s a light at the end of the Pandemic tunnel, it’s time to refocus – and while we’re still all about building more resiliency, our focus this month will be on buckling down and improving productivity at work.
Whether you’re just beginning to build the next great startup, or recovering from a year of uncertainty in your small business, these productivity tips are sure to benefit your business – and your own mental health – so let’s dive right in.
1. Master Prioritization
Clearly, you’re busy – or you wouldn’t be looking for productivity tips to make the most of your time. Mastering prioritization is essential to any business leader, and the simplest place to get started is by creating a to-do list. We like to go one step further, and pull that list into the Eisenhower Matrix.
The matrix is predicated on Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle, which can help you identify the tasks that you should focus on, and which you should ignore. Important tasks are those that help you make progress toward achieving your goals; urgent tasks are those that are time-sensitive. If a task is both urgent AND important, then it gets your immediate attention. If a task is neither urgent nor important, then why are you doing it anyway?
As noted, what’s urgent AND important should be your first task of the day – even if it’s a difficult one. While some people find it helpful to knock out a number of five-minute tasks first thing in the morning, we always feel most accomplished and motivated throughout the day when we “eat the frog”, as they say, and get these first quadrant tasks out of the way first and foremost.
Another key component of the matrix is delegation. You need to know when a task is urgent, but not worth your own immediate attention – and if you have the kind of team where you can delegate – DO IT. Remember, though, it’s integral that you don’t start to micro-manage, because that can end up being even more frustrating and time-intensive than just doing it yourself. And if you’re a solopreneur, and you find that the “delegate” quadrant is starting to pile up, then it may be time to hire your first employee.
2. Just Say “No”
Sí, se puede. (Yes, we can!) But should we? That’s a question that the Eisenhower Matrix is really good at answering. If a task lands firmly in the fourth quadrant of the matrix – neither urgent, nor important – then it should drop off the list. We don’t even recommend delegating this type of task to a subordinate or teammate with more time on their hands. But saying “no” when you’re asked to complete a task can be rather awkward – so you have to practice.
Steve Jobs was an absolute icon – especially when it came to saying “no”. He was known to take his top 100 employees on a retreat each year, where they would create a list of the top ten things Apple should focus on in the upcoming year. Then, Jobs, in all his glory, would cross out the bottom seven ideas, and matter of factly, declare to his team that they would only focus on the top three.
3. Eliminate Distractions
Since you need the practice anyway, here are some good opportunities for you to say “no” and improve productivity at work:
- Say no to your phone ringing off the hook. Sure, you can silence the sucker, but with a virtual phone service like Tresta, you can set a schedule for your calls to be forwarded to a teammate or go directly to voicemail, so you can focus your attention more successfully and consistently.
- Say no to the dozens of open tabs on your browser. Each tab is a different task, and is liable to pull your attention away from the task at hand. Take some time to bookmark all your important tabs, and you’ll be able to reclaim that lost focus. TheMuse offers more advice on managing your tab-addiction.
- Say no to answering emails and voice messages all day. It’s hard to focus when you’re putting out fires all day long. Sometimes, you’ve got to buckle down, and one of our favorite ways to boost productivity is to batch activities. Work in 30- or 90-minute intervals, where your entire focus is on one single task – whether that’s clearing out new messages in your inbox, or stacking meetings back-to-back during a block of your day. This ensures those tasks are completed, but don’t run your work-life.
- Say no to clutter. Whether it’s on your desktop or your desk top, clutter can be a major distraction, forcing you to waste time and compromise productivity. If you’re batching activities, build in 15 or 30 minutes a week to tidy up and organize your work space.
- Say no to multi-tasking. As Tim Ferriss put it, “I’ve interviewed everyone from gold medalists to CEOs who make $100 million a year, and their one common characteristic is the ability to ‘single-task’ without interruption.”
4. Focus on Yourself
You can’t be productive if you aren’t in the right headspace, so it’s critical that you live a healthy lifestyle and prioritize your own wellbeing – mind, body, and soul. Most of this can be done at home, thankfully, like prioritizing family time and ensuring you have a healthy work-life balance, taking advantage of vacation time or just taking a mental health day with your PTO.
There’s been a wealth of research conducted on key factors of your health and how they affect your work productivity, and while there are many factors at play, we’ll focus on our top three:
- Sleep – Getting healthy sleep is a superpower. Everyone knows it; there are entire Ted Talks devoted to it. All the way back in 2010, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine conducted a study to assess the impact of sleep disturbances on work performance and productivity, and lo and behold – they found that getting good sleep boosts productivity at work. In fact, they estimated the cost of fatigue-related productivity losses at nearly $2,000 per employee annually.
- Nutrition – This should be easy, especially now, while our New Years resolutions are still intact. Boost your performance at work by bringing in healthy snacks and grazing throughout the day. HBR provides a more robust explanation of why a big greasy lunch isn’t the right route, but suffice it to say healthy snacks like nuts and berries, readily available to munch on throughout the day, can help you maintain the energy and focus you need to be more productive. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water – as even mild dehydration can cause a significant negative impact on your work capacity and productivity.
- Exercise – There’s a reason big businesses choose to include a gym membership as part of their employee benefits package – and it’s not just because of insurance premiums. There have been numerous studies on how working out can help you improve productivity at work. The International Journal of Workplace Health Management showed exercise can not only have a positive impact on wellbeing, but also noted a 72% improvement in time management and workload completed when employees exercised during the workday. They also found that 65% of workers who used their company gym at lunchtime were more productive than those who did not exercise during lunch.
It’s a bold commitment to say you’re going to “be more productive” in the new year, but fully realizable. With these four tips, you’ll be more productive, focused, healthy, and feel more accomplished than ever. Have more tips? Feel free to add them in the comments below. Here’s to a healthier, more productive, and happier New Year in 2021!