In Denmark, after you take into account holidays, paid leave, and so forth, the average worker puts in an average workweek of 25.9 hours. The US (33.5) and Canada (31.6) still hover around the global average, while many employees still put in 40+ hour weeks.
Across the board, it’s becoming common knowledge that working overtime shows a low to negative marginal return. Studies show that cutting hours back (even a little) can significantly increase productivity and overall wellbeing. Denmark, coincidentally or not, typically ranks among the world’s happiest countries.
To improve productivity while increasing our well-being, the objective is to work more efficiently.
The output of your workday doesn’t simply increase with the number of minutes or hours spent at your desk. No matter how much coffee is available, your net output is about how you are working rather than how long.
There are smarter ways to manage both time and energy to significantly impact the efficiency of your work.
Working Smarter Not Harder
While some can effectively push the boundaries of productivity conventions, others find themselves bound to the limits of traditional work hours. For many, outside commitments mean squeezing work somewhere into the hours and minutes from 9 – 5.
There are only so many hours in the day. There’s a requisite number of hours for eating, time with your partner or kids, errands, exercise, hobbies, decompressing, bathroom breaks, and at least some sleep. You can skip some of these sometimes, but do it too often and it WILL catch up with you.
A common thread among efficient workers, regardless of their schedule, is maintaining strong focus, ruthless prioritization, and effectively managing work-allotted hours.
5 Time-Saving Tactics for Boosting Productivity
Finding an efficient flow involves five core areas that work together to optimize the hours you dedicate to work.
1. Stay Focused
Easier said than done? Staying focused is a complicated part of time management. Everyone has their own unique approach.
If you’re not sure how to keep your mind focused, the process requires some trial and error, and always plenty of practice. Here are a few things that may help you find your stride:
- Eliminate the possibility of distractions by closing the door or moving your phone to another room.
- Limit caffeine intake. This one hurts, but too much coffee can negatively impact your work performance by limiting your focus.
- Deactivate social media accounts (just temporarily!) – the dopamine rush is both addictive and very disruptive.
- Maintain overall wellness with sleep, fuel, and hydration.
If you find that you are working long hours without a break, be intentional about rest. Robert Pozen of MIT recommends the “pulse and pause” method, which incorporates a short break every 75 to 90 minutes. These breaks help the brain consolidate and retain important information. Many people also swear by the Pomodoro technique to improve practical time-management skills.
When it comes to breaks, rather than thinking about how many 15-minute breaks you can take in a day, determine how long you can produce focused work before needing to step away for a coffee or breath of fresh air.
2. Prioritize & Write Effective To-Do Lists
Studies dating back to the 1920s show that an itemized list of tasks helps increase productivity. The “Zeigarnik Effect,” named for Eastern European psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, posits that lists reduce the “executive burden” on the brain. According to writers Sarina Schrager and Elizabeth Sadowski, to-do lists work by freeing up the space in the brain and reducing time spent worrying about unfinished tasks.
An effective to-do list is about more than just bullet points of tasks to be accomplished. It allows you to prioritize tasks based on urgency and importance.
Successful people are known for creating detailed lists of tasks, goals, deadlines, and ideas.
Get into the habit of breaking down large tasks into smaller, actionable steps so you can tick things off quicker. That sense of accomplishment that comes from the coveted checkmark goes a long way.
3. Eliminate Bad Habits
Bad habits are the Achilles Heel of productivity, focus, and flow. Research suggests that the length of recovery from an interruption, whether a personal habit or outside distraction, can be between 8-25 minutes.
Habits that should be removed or added to your routine are highly subjective. For many, breaking the habit of reaching for a device could make all the difference. On average, we spend 147 minutes per day checking personal social media accounts. Ouch!
A few other common habits that you may want to work towards eliminating are:
- Lack of a plan, list, or set schedule
- Untidy workspace – or at least one with too many distractions
- Skipping lunch or neglecting nutrition
- Ignoring physical signals
4. Mindfulness and Managing Energy
A large part of boosting productivity is staying mindful of the tasks at hand. Mindfulness in a productivity context means being aware of when your mind starts to drift and actively bringing it back to center stage. This involves being self-aware and understanding how to optimize different types of energy.
We can break down personal energy into four categories. Each type of energy can be fueled and managed by simple habits worked into your daily routine.
- Physical Energy – Learn to identify signs that your physical energy is waning. Keep it fueled with proper sleep, healthy (and regular) meals, and a balance of movement and rest.
- Emotional Energy – Identify emotions such as anxiety, irritability, and impatience that are causing a drain on emotional energy. Employ breathing techniques or an activity that leaves you feeling zen.
- Spiritual Energy – Feed spiritual energy by reserving time for the things you enjoy doing and find fulfilling, while not being afraid to delegate the tasks that bring you zero joy.
- Mental Energy – Manage mental energy reserves, stress triggers, and interruptions by blocking off time. A great example of this is to keep email and Slack responses to a specified time frame.
5. Approaching Goals the Smart Way
When complicated projects and complex workflows become overwhelming, save time by implementing systems to help you and your team stay on track.
A popular method of ensuring everyone is aligned on the task and project at hand is the SMART technique:
S – Be specific about what needs to be done.
M – Track progress in a measurable way.
A – Determine what is realistically achievable within your deadline.
R – Is the task relevant to the larger plan or overall goals?
T – Work with a time in mind, with concrete delivery dates.
Breaking bigger goals down into manageable tasks helps you concentrate on each specific part of the project. As a result, the tasks on your list feel concrete and achievable in due time.
Working Less and Accomplishing More
Finding ways to correctly prioritize tasks and get a clear handle on assignments and workflows is the first step to accomplishing more in less time. The key to finding greater productivity on a personal level is managing your time and projects in ways that make sense for you.
Whether or not you have the flexibility to determine how and when you work, working smarter is within your own purview.
You can prioritize (at least some of) your work. Work on your positive and negative habits. Be proactive about how and what you eat. Optimize different levels of energy, and be mindful of time management.
These are just a few of the ways you can become more productive at work. When we prioritize time-saving tactics, boosting productivity is the obvious outcome.