Nothing beats the feeling of getting to the end of the working day knowing that you’ve managed to use all the available time to be as productive as you can be. Not only is it good for you, it’s good for others too. The ability to get your work done in a timely manner is infectious and will help other people do likewise.
And yet, being productive is one of the biggest challenges that employees have faced during the pandemic. Imposed lockdowns created situations where demands on people’s time (and mental health) were unlike anything that had been experienced before and even when time was one’s own, many employees struggled with distractions or a feeling of isolation which undermined the ability to use time productively.
Whether you work for yourself or part of a team, to make every day a productive one, there are four steps you can take regardless of whether you’re at home or in the office to set yourself up for success:
The place where you work has to be conducive to productive work. If you’re at home, then ideally you will have a separate room that you can use for work where the WIFI connection is strong. A place where you can lock yourself away in private, hang a sign on the door (if required!) and concentrate on the job at hand.
If not, then you still have to set yourself up for success. If you’re in a kitchen, remove any remnants of meals. If you’re in the bedroom, can you sit at a desk rather than on the bed?
Make sure the space is as tidy as it needs to be for you to work (i.e. you’re not looking over and thinking ‘I should really tidy that up’!). If you’re in a shared space, ensure that you have agreed with house or work mates on how the space will be used, by whom and when.
You need to ensure that when it’s time to sit down to work, you can do just that.
On average individuals spent $650 in 2020 on creating a space for work at home, but all of that money is wasted if you don’t have a good plan on how best to use your productive time. It’s an obvious thing to write, but very few people actually create a workable plan and then stick to it. There is lots of good intent, but very little good practice.
If you have a day full of meetings and more than four things on your task list for today, then you are already planning to fail. Or else you’ll be working all night to ‘catch up’. Time is the most precious thing that you have so you need to treat it as carefully as you would your health (and making time for exercise is also crucial!)
Ensure that you plan your day the night before, when you can see how much capacity you have. Next, block out the time to do the work. Get clear on your priorities (remembering that if everything is a priority, then nothing is) and create time to complete them. Use the Pomodoro technique or similar to make the best use of your time and turn off all notifications/put your phone on silent until you’re done.
Ceremonies are short micro-experiences where agreements are made between team members, there is acknowledgement of work completed or else time is taken to take a break from what you’re working on.
The most obvious of these is meetings, but don’t be lazy when it comes to getting together. There are about 20 different ways to collaborate and only one of those is a meeting. Keep them short (20 or 40 mins maximum) and stick to the agenda.
Make time to celebrate the achievement of milestones as well as birthdays and cultural holidays and ensure that there is some levity too. Games, quizzes, virtual (or in-person) drinks help to build connection and stories between team members.
And remember to stop for food, drink and to procrastinate whilst you’re doing so! After all, you can’t use your time well if you’re not looking after yourself well.
Positive affirmation, coaching, mentoring or difficult conversations are all ways of ensuring that people get the most from their working days. Additionally, time should be made for people to discuss how they feel.
Stress, anxiety and fear have been prevalent since the start of the pandemic, so checking in with each other should be a daily priority to help people with any mental health issues that they may be experiencing. Everyone is dealing with the pandemic differently, so this needs to be kept in mind.
Don’t tell people to be positive, instead help them to focus on the facts, the expected outputs and what’s achievable within the time that they have. Only through structured feedback can people improve the work that they do or how they’re doing it.
The Bigger Picture
Organisations have a responsibility here too. To ensure that priorities are fully communicated to staff and there’s an acknowledgement — especially in lockdown situations where children are at home — that the capacity for productive work is reduced. The goal is to help employees get the most from the time they have available, not expect them to be available all day.
When it comes to your time, remember that you’re in control. Don’t make excuses or put barriers in your way. Set yourself up for success and then focus 100% on achieving that. And then you can let people know how productive — rather than busy — you’ve been.