Productivity hacks to make work life easier


Five Productivity Hacks to Make Your Work Life Easier

Struggling to navigate through the hundreds of action items that get added onto your to-do list every day? Wondering why you are unable to complete all your tasks on time and achieve the desired results despite working long hours? If you feel overwhelmed by your workload and have these burning questions regarding your productivity and time management at work, you are not alone.

More than three-fifth of a person’s time at work is spent on tasks and activities that disrupt meaningful work. On average, an employee spends more than 103 hours annually participating in unnecessary meetings, 209 hours on duplicative work, and 352 hours simply talking about the work they need to get done. We have all been on directionless meetings where we have absolutely no role to play or spent hours trying to re-organise our inboxes only to be disrupted the next moment by an unexpected chain of events. Staying long hours and grinding it out at work every day are definitely not attributes to be taken for granted; however, they only indicate that you are working hard, not necessarily working smart.

The ability to be highly efficient with your time and operate at peak productivity doesn’t come overnight, simply by reading a self-help book or listening to a motivational podcast. It is a skill that takes consistent and conscious effort to hone and is ultimately a by-product of daily habits. What makes it particularly tricky to master is that productivity naturally ebbs and flows at work. Despite your best efforts, you are bound to have days where you are not at your best and feel like something is off that you can’t do much about. It is important to realise what lies in your control and what doesn’t. Focus on instilling the right processes and practices that set you up for success so you can accomplish your goals and effectively deal with the distractions and challenges that come along the way.

Improving Your Productivity and Time Management at Work

Here are five tried and tested hacks that can help you incrementally boost your productivity, time management, and subsequently your overall performance at work:

1. Prioritise Your Tasks Using the Eisenhower Matrix

You may not have direct control on what tasks get assigned to you each day; however, you do have control on prioritising the ones put on your plate, ensuring that you select the right tasks and invest the right time and energy on them to ultimately produce the right results. The Eisenhower Matrix, also commonly known as the Urgency-Importance Matrix, is a simple yet powerful tool you can use to prioritise your tasks by categorising them based on their relative urgency and importance. It provides you with a framework to decide which tasks you need to tackle first, which ones you can schedule for later, which ones you can delegate to others, and which ones shouldn’t be on your list in the first place.

Every morning when you plan for the day ahead, look at your to-do list and streamline it based on the urgency and importance of the action items. First and foremost, identify the urgent and important ones and channel your energy to tackle them. Park the others and don’t let ad-hoc tasks get in the way – be laser-focused in getting the tasks done that need to be done, not just the ones that will give you the dopamine rush of a quick win.

2. Reduce Procrastination by Following the Two-Minute Rule

Often, we keep piling up numerous small tasks and track them on our to-do lists, only to then feel stressed and dread the seemingly insurmountable number of tasks that need to get done. The Two-Minute Rule can be a useful technique to reduce your procrastination, both for completing quick tasks and also to break down and get started with complex tasks that you feel hesitant to tackle. As the name entails, the rule suggests you look at an action item and evaluate if it can be completed within two minutes. If the answer is yes, you complete it then and there, without unnecessarily overthinking it or parking it for later. For example, responding back to a message, following up with a teammate to get a status update, tidying your desk, filling a receipt, or updating your calendar are mostly simple tasks that can be done then and there. Similarly, you can prevent your inbox from being bombarded by unread emails by categorising the ones that you can reply in two minutes and be done with, or the ones that you need more time to review later and organise them into appropriate labels like “pending” or “read through” or “follow up”. This technique saves your to-do list from becoming unnecessarily long and also reduces the tension or uneasiness that creeps in when you realise you haven’t done a group of simple tasks that you could have completed with minimum fuss in the first place.

Another way you can implement the Two-Minute Rule is to get started and make incremental progress on complex tasks that you seem to be avoiding. Break down the task into smaller chunks that you can do every day and do those chunks diligently in two-minute timeframes, so that it becomes a habit. For example, if you need to read a 15-page bulky legal document, set yourself two minutes each day to read one or two paragraphs. If your goal is to read 12 books by the end of the year to hone your leadership skills and EQ at work, read a page every day before going to bed. This is not a mind trick, but rather a simple way that helps you make slow but steady progress on the bigger fish that you have to fry.

3. Finish Complex Tasks in a Time-Bound Manner Using the Pomodoro Technique

An effective hack to make tangible progress on complex projects and reduce procrastination on open-ended tasks is to use the Pomodoro Technique. Especially for marketers, designers, writers, or those working in the creative field, this technique helps to overcome creative blocks and help you enter a focussed and flow state to minimise distractions while executing your tasks.

Each pomodoro involves the following sequence:

  • Step 1: Select a single task to focus on
  • Step 2: Set a timer for 25 minutes and only work on the selected task without any distractions
  • Step 3: After the 25 minutes, take a five-minute break
  • Step 4: Repeat steps 1-3 four times Step 5: Take a longer break lasting 15-30 minutes

By breaking down big tasks into focussed, time-bound intervals, you create more accountability and learn how to effectively resist all self-interruptions that arise when you receive notifications of emails or messages or when you multi-task across different tabs on your computer screen. You don’t have to worry about the enormity of your project in hand and can concentrate all your attention and efforts into completing one pomodoro at a time.

4. Delegate, Delegate, Delegate – and don't be Afraid to Say NO

Contrary to popular belief, boosting your productivity is not about continually taking on more tasks and finding ways to complete them within your time constraints, but rather about optimising your time and effort by reducing the tasks that you aren’t best positioned to complete. In other words, learning how to delegate better and saying “no” more often without feeling guilty or apprehensive.

Most employees, particularly those who lead subordinates, often fall into the trap of taking too much responsibility on their shoulders, and struggle to effectively delegate tasks to their team. This could either be because you don’t trust their ability to produce the same quality of work, or because you feel like it’s something you can squeeze in some extra time and complete yourself. This not only ends up piling onto your workload but also takes away precious learning opportunities from those you lead or those around you. Whenever you get assigned to a task, assess whether you have the time, bandwidth, and competency to deliver it. Delegate wherever you can to the appropriate people who have the required capacity and capability to complete it.

Being crystal clear on your priorities and avoiding distractions are key to ensuring you stay focused and productive at work. When you already have a lot on your plate, the ability to say “no” or an equivalent version like “not now – follow up with me in 2-3 days and I will let you know if I have time to work on this” comes in handy. It also makes people respect you and your time better and ensure that you aren’t taken for granted.

5. Allocate Sufficient Breaks to Recharge Yourself Mentally

Even the most productive people need sufficient breaks and downtimes during the day to stay energised and keep their creative juices flowing. Particularly on days when your schedule is packed with meetings, the preparation required before and the intense discussions during the meetings can mentally draining. Try your best to allocate breaks at regular intervals and not stack back-to-back meetings if possible, so that you have the right headspace to perform efficiently, maintain high emotional intelligence, and make informed decisions.

During your breaks, try to minimise the time spent on your mobile devices, aimlessly scrolling through your social media feed. Go for a walk, do some simple stretching or breathing exercises, or even a quick five-minute mindfulness or meditation session so you can relax your brain and body. This can be instrumental in reducing your fatigue and revitalise you to keep going until the end of the day. Once you finish work, it’s also important to pursue some personal hobbies or interests, for example hitting the gym, cooking, reading books, or music so that you can detach your mind from the stress at work. This will help you come back again the next morning with fresh energy and a positive mindset to not only be calmer and more productive but also be the best version of yourself at work to make a positive impact on your co-workers.

Learning how to be more productive is an arduous and never-ending process. Give yourself small rewards for the days when you are productive and be generous in sharing your wins with your co-workers so they can also enhance their productivity and performance at work. It is equally important to realise that even after following all these tips and tricks, you are bound to have days when you can’t seem to prioritise your tasks and encounter blockers that need time to fix. Don’t be disheartened and trust yourself to keep building and optimising the daily habits of productivity that have served you well thus far. In moments when you feel frustrated or lost, remind yourself that you aren’t running a sprint, but a long-distance marathon of a productive, fulfilling, and rewarding career.