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How to be more productive at work

Andrew Citra Prasatya
Andrew Citra Prasatya

Creative junkie, blogger and digital enthusiast

Kuala Lumpur  /  Fri, June 16, 2017  /  03:20 pm
How to be more productive at work

Being productive at work isn't all about the working environment; it also has a lot to do with how we manage our professional habits. (Shutterstock/File)

Workplace productivity isn't all about the environment; it's also about personal management.

From an employer's point of view, the more productive an employee, the more the employer benefits: more incoming phone calls, more media coverage, better designs, and better articles. From an employee's point of view, the more productive they are, the greater opportunities for promotion, the bigger the bonus, and also better chances to develop their skills.

Companies now understand the importance of productivity for the employee, and many have started making their working environment as good as possible. Some do this by making the office more colorful, creating an open-space area, making small meeting rooms and even installing a play area.

The question is: Do these efforts really increase employee productivity? Or do they actually make employees less productive?

Read also: Productivity apps to help you through your work days

Being productive in the workplace means producing as much product as possible or finishing as many tasks as possible during a work day.

Employees typically work nine hours a day.

On personal observation I've found that, within the same time frame, different people produce different volumes of product or finish varying numbers of tasks. There are some that can finish three to four tasks in one day, but there are other who can finish more than 10 tasks a day.

While working for almost one year at a startup company in Kuala Lumpur, I realized that the working environment only supports about 20 percent of my productivity, with the remaining 80 percent being purely an "internal" factor. This is about how I manage my time and priorities, and about finding the fastest and best way to finish something.

So, what are the best ways to be more productive in the workplace? I have found four methods that can increase my productivity by 50-60 percent.

Minimize distractions

To finish a large task, we need to focus. A distraction can destroy our concentration.

There are several things we can do to minimize distractions and maintain focus:

  • Put away your mobile phone and put it in silent mode. I've found that smartphones are one of the biggest distractions. We are unconsciously taking out our smartphones just to check if there are any notifications or not.

Read also: Study: Smartphones lead to lower productivity

  • If we use internal chat applications at work, such as Google Hangouts or Slack, set a time when you can put it in silent mode. Notifications popping up on our computer screens and bleeping at us will break our concentration.
  • If your company uses the open-space concept, find a less distracting place. If you really need full concentration to finish something, I personally suggest sitting in a location that faces a wall or a window. We will see a lot of people moving around when sitting in an open-space area, and that movement can distract from the task at hand.
  • If it is not possible to move location, pop on a pair of headphones and listen to music that helps stay in focus. Different people have different music preferences, but research shows that classical, pop and ambient music can increase productivity.

Control the day

Another thing I found useful in increasing my productivity is to take full control of what I will do each day. I asked several friends, “How you control the things you want to do each day?”, and 90 percent of them answered the same: make a to-do list.

There's nothing wrong with this, but studies show that only making to-do lists will decrease our productivity. We need to have more context in our to-do lists, such as how much time we need, which to-do needs to be finished first, and other details.

Read also: Five tips to becoming a productive remote worker

Here are a couple of things we can do to control our days:

  • Understand the priority of each task for the day. When making a to-do list, make sure to put the most important task at the top, the next important task below it, and so on. With this, we give a clearer context to our to-do lists and better know what we need to finish first.
  • Set a time for each task. Most of us forget to allocate a time and time frame for each task. Without a schedule, we don’t have any internal pressure to finish a task. In allocating a particular amount of time for each task, we are making self-imposed deadlines that pushes us to finish it on time.

Stop multitasking!

Multitasking is the biggest enemy of productivity. It means we are attempting to complete more than one task at a time.

This might seem cool, but it isn't. Multitasking will make us take longer to finish a single task among the many. Research shows that 98 percent of the population can’t handle multitasking well. This means that only 2 percent can multitask well.

Multitasking forces us to split our concentration across several tasks at the same time. To focus on one task is already challenging enough; imagine how hard it would be to focus on more than just one thing.

So, stop working on presentations during a team meeting, on an infographic while on a conference call, don’t be in a discussion with a colleague while composing an important email to the CEO. Stop doing more than one task at the same time!

Read also: Book Review: Tweaking your brain to get everything done

We need to focus on one task at a time to get the best results. When we are in a meeting, we need to focus on listening to the presenter, taking notes and giving valuable comments. When we are in a discussion with a colleague about the next content, we need to focus on contributing – and receiving – great ideas.

Take regular breaks

As a content marketer at a startup company, I needed to come up with creative ideas as fast as I could, so we wouldn't ever lose momentum. This required a lot of my time and energy. And when my idea wasn't good enough, I needed to get back to the drawing board and come up with a different idea.

We need to understand when our body and mind are tired. Most of the time, we notice this when our heads start spinning and we can’t concentrate anymore.

Research has shown that taking routine breaks is very good for us, because it makes us feel reenergized so we can finish other tasks. Take a break from your computer monitor or laptop, get up and move around. With this, we give time for our eyes to rest a little and to move our bodies after sitting still for more than a couple of hours.

When I feel tired, I usually go down to the office pantry to grab some snacks and drink some water, walk around for 3-5 minutes, and have a casual chat with a friend. Only after that, I go back to my desk and to my work. (kes)


Andrew is a creative junkie, blogger and digital enthusiast. He has huge passion to travel around the world and interests in personal development books. He works at iPrice.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.