Productivity expert, Graham Allcott is the the founder of Think Productive, and author of the best-selling book 'How to be a Productivity Ninja'. He helped to devise the challenge that features in ITV's Tonight programme Britain: Shirkers or Workers?
The UK has one of the lowest productivity levels amongst advanced economies in the world – and yet everyone feels they’re busy and working hard!
Productivity is affected by many factors, but one solution could lie in lots of the smaller things that you, your team and your organisation can all do together.
Here are my top 10 productivity tips:
1 - Ditch the 9-5
Longer work days can give us a false sense of security – and give us more time to do things slowly! It sounds strange to say you might get more done with fewer hours, but it’s true. The work we do in the two or three hours when our attention is at its strongest, are really what defines our productivity – not the hours we spend looking busy until the boss goes home.
2 - The 5 minute re-boot
Do you find yourself staring at the screen, feeling a bit jaded? The average attention span is typically 25 to 45 minutes, depending on the person and the time of day. So every half an hour, take a five minute re-boot – get up, grab a drink, focus your eyes on something else - even a couple of minutes away from the screen will help stop your attention from waning and keep you fresh through the day.
3 - Move your body
Standing up and moving around helps increase blood-flow to the brain, and even a short piece of exercise of around 15 minutes can have huge effects in terms of how much of our brain is engaged. Try a standing desk (or a load of books propping up your screen on a normal desk!), doing quick physical warm-ups before meetings, or even having smaller meetings on the move.
4 - Daily Huddle
Often, when there’s so much happening, it can be easy for a team to forget the stuff that really matters, or get caught up stressing about things that don’t add much impact. A Daily Huddle is a brisk, daily team meeting, designed to foster good team communication and keep everyone focused on key performance measurements. This reduces the need for a lot of unnecessary long meetings, and cuts down internal email traffic.
5 - Manage your inbox
Email is a fantastic productivity tool, but it’s also a huge source of distraction. And when you think about the key moments in your job – those things that really create an impact and add value – they all happen outside of the email inbox, not in it. Make sure you regularly get your inbox back down to zero, so that you’ve made all the decisions you need to – not leaving things festering beyond that first page, which will pull on your subconscious (“was I meant to..?” “oh that reminds me, Dave emailed me last week but I didn’t reply…”). It’s about creating time and space for your work, where you can get outside the inbox altogether.
6 - Power Hour
Ever had something that’s been on your to-do list just that bit too long? Or do you have a part of your job that you put off doing, or don’t enjoy? These things are terrible for procrastination. It’s so inefficient to keep thinking “Oh, I still haven’t done that” and that thought just goes round and round all day. So the Power Hour is a single hour each day, where you schedule in an obligation to tackle the difficult, or unclear, or scary, or tedious. Power through those things in an hour, and then you don’t have to think about them for the rest of the day.
7 - Have a good second brain
The human brain is incredible - but our brains are close to useless when it comes to short-term memory. Remembering a list of even just a dozen things shows us this fundamental weakness. So keeping a good “second brain” – that is, a list of all the tasks we have to do, and a list of all the projects they relate to – allows us to free up our brain for the stuff it’s brilliant at, and not rely on our brain for the things it’s lousy at.
There are some great apps you can use as a second brain, or you can use the tasks function in Microsoft Outlook, a simple google doc, or even just pen and paper. What matters is that you keep the lists fresh, so that you trust it to act as your memory. Aim to never keep anything in your head.
8 - Think about your thinking
Henry Ford once said: “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probably reason so few engage in it.” Too many people feel guilty about setting aside time for thinking in their day or in their week, perhaps worried that their bosses or team members won’t think of it as ‘real work’.
But quality thinking time is vital not only to our productivity, but to our sense of control and well-being at work. Regularly reviewing what we’re working on, what’s on our schedule and what’s coming up can help us spot efficiencies, empower us to be realistic and say no to requests, and get the clarity we need to create momentum and remove procrastination from our working week.
9 - Avoid pointless meetings
Meetings can be a massive time-suck. Never take part in a meeting that doesn’t have a clear purpose, a clear agenda and clear start and finish times. But even well-organised meetings can be a time suck! The occasional sending of your apologies can all be good ways to reclaim some vital hours to put your attention to better use than sat in a boring meeting.
10 - Watch your language
The little conversations we have with ourselves inside our head really matter. Whatever it is you’re working on ask “what’s the next physical action?” (the very next thing you need to do to create momentum) and “what’s the desired measurable outcome?” (the way you’ll know when you’re finished) - these two questions help clarify anything you're working on and sharpen your thinking.
Use language to change your motivation. If you’re dreading doing a particularly boring task, don’t say “I have to…”, say “I get to…”. The language we use with ourselves is a key component of productivity psychology.
Watch Britain: Shirkers or Workers? on Thursday at 7.30pm on ITV.