13 (scientifically endorsed) tips to be more productive and efficient at work

image of woman working at computer

Are you looking to improve your productivity at work? Here are 13 proven techniques anyone can employ.

Wherever you sit in the company hierarchy, increased productivity and efficiency has to hold appeal. We’ve taken the time to scour books, medical journals and studies to find 13 ways that you can increase your own productivity and have a positive impact on those around you. Take a look at the following list and share the ideas with your colleagues or staff who could do with a productivity booster.

1. Carry out MITs (Most important Tasks) first

Business author Josh Kauffman recommends completing your Most Important Tasks first. When you compile a to-do list at the beginning of the day, it will invariably contain important to-dos and less-important to-dos. Create a list of two or three MITs and aim to get these done before anything else. Procrastination is easy when you start with the simple tasks so make the choice to get the big jobs done first (incidentally, when you’ll probably have more enthusiasm to do so anyway).

2. Cultivate deep focus (and don’t let boredom put you off)

In his book Deep Work: Rules for Focussed Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport argues that the ability to intently focus is rare and those who can master it are at an incredible advantage. He recommends not being afraid of boredom. Deep work can be intense, causing people to seek out distractions such as social media, don’t. Set aside a time for deep work and turn off all notifications so you can work with focus. But we’re not suggesting you do this for the entire day…

3. Use the Pomodoro Technique

No matter how committed you are to your job, it’s virtually impossible to stay focussed for eight hours straight. Taking breaks is important even if these breaks are relatively short. The Pomodoro Technique advises working in 25-minute chunks and taking 5-minute breaks (or pomodoros) in between. The idea is that the shortened work time implants a sense of urgency so you’re less likely to procrastinate.

laughing female worker

4. Replace your to-do list with an Eisenhower Matrix

Rather than making a simple list of to-dos, instead try categorising them into an Eisenhower Matrix. Used by Dwight Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States, the idea is to create a 2 x 2 square and write “important” and “not important” at opposite ends of one axis and “urgent” and “not urgent” on the other. You’ll see where time is being wasted and immediately see the best order to work.

5. Understand your own rhythms

Realistically, we all know when we’re at our most productive. Whether you get all your work done first thing in the morning or you’re far more effective towards the end of the week, observe your energy levels at work and be prepared to work accordingly. For most, forcing yourself to do that mammoth task or scheduling in a creative brainstorming session last thing on Friday is unlikely to yield best results.

6. Look through a one-inch picture frame

In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott advises writers to “look through a one-inch picture frame”. In essence, this means narrowing down your area of focus and not thinking of the project (in her case, a novel) as a whole but as a series of moments. Thinking of a project in its entirety can be overwhelming and quickly lead to feelings of defeat and procrastination but focussing on individual elements can help. If you’re feeling thoroughly uninspired, try breaking down your to-dos into much smaller jobs. Doing something will make it easier to keep going. After all, action leads to motivation, motivation rarely arrives all by itself.

7. Stop multitasking

Multitasking sounds like a skill we should all be trying to cultivate but in actual fact it’s thought that we could be losing up to 40% of our productivity when we switch between tasks throughout the day. Stay committed and focussed on one task at a time.

image of woman working

8. Teamwork really does make the dream work…

Working as a team rather than as an individual can have a huge impact on your productivity levels. There are various reasons for this: Working with a colleague can give you someone to bounce ideas off and help you to problem solve; a shared workload can boost morale and raise your enthusiasm for a project; and when you know a peer is relying on you, you may simply have more incentive to get the job done. Whatever the reason, various studies have shown that when people work together it can unleash energy and boost productivity, efficiency and communication.

9. …But allow room for the individual too

Every modern office space seems to be open-plan these days but there are a host of drawbacks that come with all that space. A study by Stockholm University found that sick leave doubled in open-plan office spaces. It’s thought that issues with noise, privacy levels and distractions can negate all the positive elements of teamwork. So, work together but allow room for the individual, too.

10. Open the blinds!

This may seem too simple to be effective but various studies have found adequate natural daylight to be a huge factor in workplace morale and productivity. According to a new study from the University of Illinois, exposure to light is beneficial to employee’s health thanks to its effects on mood, alertness and metabolism.

image of engineers in office

11. Add in some greenery

Working outside in the park on sunny days may be slightly unrealistic but a study by Exeter University found that having greenery around the office increased productivity by 15% when compared to a plant-free office. And that’s not all, the study also found that plants even improved employee memory function and helped them to perform better on basic tests. Plus, they look nice so it’s a win-win situation.

12. Try a bullet journal

Said to be equal parts diary, planner and meditation, the bullet journal is aimed at streamlining thinking and helping you to get better organised. With space for daily to-do lists as well as long-term personal and professional goals, the bullet journal becomes very unique to each user. Multiple scientific studies show the benefits of journaling, and the graphical nature of the bullet journal could act as a sort of memory extender according to neuroscientist Daniel Levitin. Designed by Ryder Carroll who was diagnosed with ADHD at a young age, the bullet journal could be just the thing for keeping you engaged.

13. Prioritise self-care

There are a multitude of ways to stay productive at work but if you’re exhausted then they’ll all be utterly fruitless. The most productive people out there spend time resting and recharging. If you’re having trouble concentrating at work, it might be an idea to take a look at your personal habits. Various studies have shown the importance of self-care when it comes to addressing productivity. Stress can depress the immune system, while taking regular breaks can restore your mental energy. And that’s not all, time off from work can even help you to enjoy your job more according to a study by Harvard Business Review.

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