It's Friday. You're driving to work, trying to create an optimized plan for the day. Your main goal is to close an important deal, but in the meantime you have to do a couple of smaller tasks and participate in three meetings.
You sigh, knowing that your weekend will start for you much later than for the rest of your colleagues.
When you arrive at the office, you're upset because of the traffic jam, so you head to the bar to relax with a nice cup of coffee. You meet your mates and join their discussion about strength training. Fifteen minutes later you're at your desk, going through emails and replying to the most important ones, noticing that you're almost late for your first meeting.
Sounds familiar? I hope not. Because if it does, you probably have a problem with your productivity.
What does it mean to be productive
Being productive doesn't only mean working more in less time. It also means having a healthy work-life balance, higher job satisfaction, less stress and less probability of getting the famous burnout syndrome.
The problem with productivity killers is that they're really sneaky. If you think that youâ€™ll find texting, browsing through Twitter or chatting with colleagues at a watercooler among productivity killers, youâ€™re wrong.
Although one could think that these are the worst time-wasters, but in fact many people think that these relaxing breaks enhance their productivity.
So which tasks are our worst productivity enemies?
In this post, I'm going to show you what the worst productivity killers are and how to avoid them.
Productivity killer #1: Not having a plan what you need to do
In order to be productive, you have to be organized. Plan your weekly tasks in advance so you don't waste time on recalling your tasks but start working on them instead.
To organize your work:
- Write down all tasks you'll have to perform this week (it can be a to-do list, you can for example use Wunderlist or Todoist),
- Remove tasks you're not able to do now for some reason,
- Write down all deadlines, so you don't miss any,
- If you're working with colleagues on your project, write down whoâ€™s responsible for which part of the project and what's their deadline,
- Add priorities to each of your tasks (take deadlines and workload under consideration),
- Review your list.
It sounds very simple, right?
But that's not all. During your weekdays you should add ongoing tasks to your list as well. I also highly recommend adding information about who you have emailed and when you should send a follow-up.
Because if you email a lot of people, you might not remember when it's time to send another email. Sometimes itâ€™s good to open your weekly planner and see that today you should send a couple of follow-ups.
The good thing about this method is that instead of recalling things you have to do, you can actually do them.
Productivity killer #2: Meetings
Let's be honest: most meetings are a complete waste of time. Of course, I'm not talking about these meetings where a couple of team member talk about their strategy, plans or about what they do. I'm rather talking about high-level meetings where about a dozen people sit in a room, not knowing what particular people are talking about.
You end up on a meeting discussing abstract concepts, getting a small amount of information, not being sure what's the goal of this meeting, listening to that guy who always has something to say, even if it's irrelevant for the rest.
Another problem is that meetings are typically scheduled to last for 30 minutes or an hour. It means that even if it takes 10 minutes to accomplish the meeting's goal, the meeting will probably last 30 minutes anyway.
That's not all. Here's how Jason Fried and Davin Heinemeier described the problem with meetings in their brilliant book,ReWork:
When you think about it, the true cost of meetings is staggering. Let's say you're going to schedule a meeting that lasts one hour, and you invite ten people to attend. That's actually a ten-hour meeting, not a one-hour meeting. You're trading ten hours of productivity for a one hour of meeting time.
How can you avoid it? Well, it's quite simple:
- Set a timer. When it rings, the meeting is over,
- Invite as few people as possible,
- Discuss the specific problem,
- End with a solution and make someone responsible for implementing it.
Productivity killer #3: Unfriendly environment
By a friendly environment, I don't mean most obvious problems like cubicles, uncomfortable chairs or an ugly and boring office design (it's a relict of the past, I hope).
The first problem is an open space. Many agencies work this way to make sure that employees are integrated and are up to date with ongoing projects and that's a plus. The problem is, when you're working in a big hall with other people, you'd rarely have the opportunity to focus and get your things done quickly. There will always be someone who talks, walks around, laughs or interrupts you, asking for help.
Sure, some people will be able to be productive in such environment, but most of them won't (86% of employees prefer to work alone to achieve maximum productivity).
There are two ways this problem can be solved:
- If you're getting signals from your employees that it's too loud, you'll have to ask people to turn their volume down. But I wouldn't recommend asking them to be quiet at all times, the best way of doing that is to set up a quiet time rule for example between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- If you have the opportunity, try to create a silence room where people don't talk, don't laugh, don't eat, but just sit in silence and work. It should be a room opened for everybody, as long as they need to be alone or among other focused people.
Productivity killer #4: Multitasking
Do you know that wonderful feeling when you're trying to make a couple of things at the same time and you end your day thinking about how productive you were?
The problem with multitasking is that it gives the illusion of being busy, but it doesn't help to get your work done. Why? Let's check the definition of multitasking:
Multitasking refers to the ability of a computer to apparently process several tasks, or computer jobs, concurrently. The term has since been applied to human tasks.
The problem with multitasking is that a machine can do several tasks at once or switch from one task to another, without losing time. Humans can't. Every time you start your task, you need about 15 or 30 minutes to fully concentrate on that task again.
So is it productive to switch between tasks? Not really.
Another problem are work interruptions like calls, meetings or our co-workers asking for help.
How to deal with it?
Shut the door, inform your co-workers that you don't accept calls and meeting requests. Use communication tools that don't require an instant reply. Plan your day so you don't have to switch from task to task. Use one of the productivity techniques. You'll see the results quickly!
Productivity killer #5: Lack of vacation
If you find yourself thinking about a problem and you stuck trying to find a solution, it's very likely your brain needs a break.
We can compare a brain to a muscle that needs to rest after a workout. Your brain needs to take a break after focusing on one task for a longer time. It also needs time to process new information.
This is how our brain works accordingly to Psychology Today:
The frontal lobe brain network is responsible for reasoning, planning, decision-making, and judgment work for you in creative ways when the brain is quiet, not while you are effortfully trying to find a solution to a problem. Moments of insight increase as the brain unwinds. Why? When not actively tackling a task, the brain connects random ideas and consolidates these with prior knowledge into exciting new thoughts, ideas, directions, and potential solutions.
There is one solution: take breaks during the workday, don't leave late, don't work on weekends, take your holiday.
It may sound obvious for some of us, but did you know that the US is called the No Vacation Nationbecause 41% of Americans didn't take a day off in 2015?
So, if you want the level of your productivity to go up, remember to recharge your brain!
Hack your productivity
Working in an agency is a challenging job.
You deal with customers, send pitches, look for problem solutions, work on projects and close deals. It's a dynamic environment where everything can change in a flash, so it might be hard to find time to focus and concentrate on your tasks.