7 tips to boost productivity at work (7min read)

February 24, 2020
by Liam Mumford
boost productivity

When we look at how to define productivity it is easy to confuse this term with being ‘busy’. Productivity is completing tasks that will allow yourself and others to move to the next stage of a project. In contrast, being busy is completing tasks to fill time. So, how do we boost our daily productivity in the office? These are my top 7 tips:

1. Optimize your seating and office arrangement

Your surroundings in your environment have a huge effect on your productivity, physical well-being and your mental health. One of the simplest ways you can improve your workplace is by adding some plants / flowers to your space. Our green friends are attractive which makes the workplace a more pleasant environment and encourages creativity. In addition, they improve overall air condition, reducing carbon dioxide levels by up to 25% (1). As a result of this increased vitality, offices bearing more flora can expect to see a reduction in staff stress, sickness and fatigue and an improvement in staff morale, wellbeing and performance.

Just like plants, we human beings need regular exposure to natural light. Numerous studies have shown that natural light in office spaces improves worker satisfaction and productivity. This is because natural light helps regulate the body’s natural circadian rhythms (our sleep/wake schedule) and allows us to get better night’s sleep. Better sleep leads to greater workplace satisfaction and therefore productivity. For more information on this, check out our other blog on how to combat the winter blues.

Many office-based workers, myself included, have also raved about the benefits of switching out traditional office chairs for alternatives, such as standing desks or sitting on exercise balls. I have found that both of these have produced distinct productivity spikes as well as noticeable health advantages. Both of these methods significantly improve one’s posture and thereby the blood and oxygen flow to major organs – the brain being one of them

2. Stay Hydrated

We all know that we need to drink water, and yet, many of us find ourselves not drinking enough of it on a daily basis. Studies suggest that over 70% of adults are living in a constant state of dehydration (3). Dehydration can result in lapses in concentration, short term memory loss and elevated levels of stress. Physically, we can also be hit with increased fatigue, headaches and nausea.

To combat this, we recommend keeping a water bottle on your desk to serve as a gentle reminder to drink water throughout your day. We recommend drinking around 200ml litres of water each hour while you are at work. Being in a constant state of hydration will improve your focus, mood and physical comfort. If you are fortunate enough to be over hydrated, then your frequent bathroom trips will serve as a good mental break and chance to exercise. This leads us onto…

3. Take Breaks

There are numerous studies that suggest that working for long periods of time without a break is detrimental to work-flow and productivity – think of the brain like a muscle that also needs rest between workloads. Research suggests that 90 minutes of uninterrupted focus is the ideal amount of time to put into a project before rewarding yourself with a 5 minute break (4).

For optimal efficiency, why not use this break time to do some physical exercise? Something as simple as going for a walk around the block, walking up and down a stairwell and/or stretching releases endorphins into your body, thereby improving your mood and giving your mind a deserved break while your body works. This is also a good technique to practice if you are feeling ‘stuck’ on a task. By getting up and moving, you are physically changing your environment and perspective which will allow your brain to do the same, and look for alternate routes to your desired outcome.

4. Ask ‘Do you really need that meeting?’

We’ve all been there – losing hours of our day to meetings that are unnecessary, unproductive or just far too long. The best way to reduce the time spent in meetings is to decide first and foremost if they are truly necessary. Look at the purpose and overall goals of your meeting; Is it to relay information? Do you need to collaborate with others? Do you need everyone together at the same time for this? This grid from HBR serves as a great step by step to answer this question.

Once you have arrived at the decision that your meeting is necessary, it is vital that you set an agenda, a clear goal and desired outcome. Relay this to everyone in attendance so you are collectively working towards getting the outcome, rather than hindering the process.

*Pinnacle Tried and Tested*

When seated for extended periods of time our bodies become sedentary and so do our minds; we can become less open-minded and a little more territorial of our ideas. At Pinnacle, we have found that hosting standing meetings has been very effective at creating an energized environment for collaboration as well as reducing the time our meetings take. Standing = Unrest = Quicker task completion.

5. Get away from your phone!

In the wrong environment, our phones can become an endless abyss of distractions. A study of 11,000 people hosted by RescueTime found that most people check their phones 58 times a day, averaging a total screen time of roughly 3 hours and 15 minutes! 30 of those checks were during working hours equating to roughly 37.5 minutes (5).  Not only is this a large amount of time to be on one’s phone and potentially ‘off task’ but this habit is actually making even more work for ourselves. The act of picking up your phone mid-task severs the complex neural connections that your brain had created and, in order to pick up where you left off, your brain must retrace its steps which is tiresome work.

To counteract your scrolling urges, try placing your phone facedown and away from your immediate view to remove the temptation to pick it up. If you really struggle to keep away from your phone and need a foolproof solution, check out this smart gadget from Ksafe. https://www.thekitchensafe.com/

6. Avoid Multitasking

Earl Miller, a professor of neuroscience at MIT has surmised that human beings cannot effectively multitask and when we try to put this into practice it is clear to see (6). Have you ever tried writing an email while talking to someone on the phone? It can’t be done. This is because we cannot form two task focused neural networks at the same time. Our brain can jump between tasks relatively quickly, but with some backtracking, causing mental fatigue. Tasks done simultaneously can take up to 40% longer to complete and are of a lower quality than if they had been done individually. For these reasons it is always more productive to focus on and finish one task at a time.

7. Manage your tasks accordingly

Regardless of the industry you work in, creating a work-back list of projects / tasks you want to complete is always useful. By simply writing down your tasks, you are taking them out of the figurative world and making them ‘real’. For optimum time efficiency, plan your daily tasks. First thing in the morning, on your commute, or the night before work so you can start your day with purpose and be proactive rather than reactive.

Research suggests that we are in peak performance mode in the morning. At this time, our hormone levels are at their highest which can induce increased memory capacity, higher awareness and quicker decision making processes. Smaller tasks are also great to get finished between larger tasks as this gives us a sense of productivity. In his book Getting Things Done, David Allen introduces the concept of ‘The Two Minute Rule’ which states that…

Top tips

A) “If it takes less than two minutes, then do it now”. This is as simple as it sounds and can be applied to a host of tasks in your daily schedule. Completing these quick tasks will help build your positive momentum spurring you on to take on the next task.

B) “Every goal can be started in less than two minutes” -This is the concept that if you take two minutes to start a task then you’re already well on your way to completing it because you have overcome the most difficult stage. Do you have 30 emails to respond to? Answer one that you know will take you less than two minutes and you will soon find your appetite to attack the rest has grown. This is a great practice that you can apply to everyday life. Anxious about going on a long run? Focus on the first 2 minutes of the task – put on your running shoes and you’ll find it easier to get yourself out the door (7).

That’s all of our tips for now. Do you have any other tips to boost productivity that you feel should have made our list? Comment below or reach out to us on our social media.

Liam Mumford

Resources used:

  1. http://www.uts.edu.au/about/faculty-science/what-we-do/our-research-areas/plants-and-indoor-environmental-quality-group
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22890825
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908954/
  4. https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/cocktail-brain-can-trigger-sleep
  5. https://blog.rescuetime.com/screen-time-stats-2018/
  6. https://radius.mit.edu/sites/default/files/images/Miller%20Multitasking%202017.pdf
  7. David Allen, (2001), ‘Getting Things Done’, Penguin Books, London UK