This section covers the various productivity tips that apply while you are working. Everything seems rather obvious and common sense here, but the fact is that a lot of people need to be reminded of these things.
Check your inboxes regularly, not frequently.
There’s a difference in checking your inbox at set intervals and checking your inboxes whenever you get the chance. Checking your inboxes, whether e-mail or phone, involves little time and few actions, but the distraction can be enough to lower your potential.
This is especially true if you are the type who checks inboxes almost obsessively.
If possible, set an inbox notification sound.
In cellphones this is easy, but for e-mail, it can be a little tricky. However, if you can set your e-mail program or system to make a notification sound when something comes in, you can skip checking your inbox unless it sounds. Again, the usual guidelines for ringtones apply – choose neutral, not too loud, and not too long.
Focus – Focus – Focus
You might say “Well, duh” or something similar. However, no tip is too small or obvious in the pursuit of productivity.
Concentration is both a talent and a skill. Some people can focus on tasks easily – they’re usually the more productive ones – and some are not quite as good.
However, you can train yourself to keep your cognitive and processing resources on the tasks at hand. It takes practice and, semi-ironically, concentration to build up your powers of concentration.
One task at a time.
Though the human brain is capable of handling many tasks at a time the cognitive part of it works best on just one thing at a time. Just like how a computer slows down when there’s too much going on, your brain is not as efficient when there are several tasks to handle at any given time.
Worse, you are more likely to commit errors than a computer is, especially when you attempt to multi-task.
The bottom line: One task at a time.
Learn and use shortcut commands.
All software needed to finish the job comes with built-in shortcut commands. While the standard point-and-click method works, using shortcut commands is a more efficient alternative. Simple keystrokes can work like magic and improve your output by a lot.
The less time you have figuring out which menu to pull down, the more time you will have to finish up.
Also, take a good look at your keyboard. Chances are there are already pre-programmed buttons that launch certain applications from the get-go. Familiarize yourself with these shortcuts and you will make better use of your computer.
Get it right the first time, every time.
This is strongly related to the previous tip. When you focus on just one task at a time, you are less likely to make mistakes. Also, you should regularly check and double-check your work as you go through it, not just at the end.
Every mistake can mean that you will need to redo a section, or at worst, the whole thing.
Productivity is as much about ensuring the quality of each output as it is about completing as many items as possible.
Identify the time of the day where you are at peak performance.
Just like TV has prime time, there is also a certain time frame where you are at your best. You can concentrate the most, able to work faster and more efficiently and produce better results during these hours.
Do yourself a favor and make the most out of your prime time and really work into overdrive. The most difficult tasks of the day should be done when you are at your best. Anything that requires less attention should be moved to other times of the day.
Whatever it is that you do, don’t forget to take notes of significant things. For example, if you come across some possibly important bit of information, make a quick note regarding its location and content.
That way, you can put it out of your mind until the time you need it. Keeping your mind as free of clutter as possible makes it more efficient; the same principle applies to relegating reminders to your smartphone rather than your internal active memory.
You might find that this technique also reduces the number and intensity of headaches!
Tackle everything during the meeting.
Getting up and out of your desk and asking your coworkers about work-related things are not only bad for your productivity but theirs as well. It is a complete waste of time and should be avoided as much as possible.
This is why the time for meetings should be used for asking questions and making things clear with your coworkers.
The more frequent the meetings the better it will be for everyone. Schedule meetings on Thursdays or Fridays instead of Mondays to avoid burning out your employees at the start of the workweek.
Clear your mind as needed.
It does not have to be some exoteric Zen trick. Simply pausing your thoughts and taking deep breaths for a few seconds is enough to lower your blood pressure and clear your mind of clutter.
If you find yourself getting confused or having a headache, pause somewhere you can easily pick up, and take a few moments to re-center yourself.
Get up and stretch regularly.
You might think that getting up keeps one away from work and distracts from the task at hand but think again. When you get up and stretch, you relieve stress on your body and mind. With fewer distress signals to bother it, your brain can become more efficient than it could have if you just slogged through the aches.
The trick is to pause your work in a way that you will find it easy to resume from. If your work was a set of math problems, then you should pause after completing a problem, not while in the middle of one.
Complete communication tasks as early as possible.
Communication is essential in any work, especially if it is a team project. Remember that others may be waiting on your output, or they need to be informed of changes immediately.
By completing communication tasks early and quickly, you can ensure that the whole team stays on track.
Send files and data as soon as you have finished checking them, and respond to inquiries in the most prompt manner possible.
Close all programs and browser tabs or windows that don’t have something to do with work.
Your workplace is not the place to be harvesting digital crops or feeding virtual fish. Or at least, not during your active work time. If you can’t just leave your games for after work, then do it during your breaks, not while you are working.
Even better, don’t play games while at work!
Bookmark useful sites.
If you use the Internet a lot while at work for work purposes, then keeping bookmarks for useful websites can be a big help. For example, if you find a great reference site, keep a bookmark of its homepage.
That way, you can visit it again easily the next time you need to look something up.
Even when you come across a site that isn’t useful at the moment but may prove useful in the future, add a bookmark to your Web browser.
Organize your bookmarks.
Aside from creating bookmarks, you should also keep them organized. Categorize them for easy lookup. File away old bookmarks that are no longer being used, or simply delete them.
The idea is to make the bookmarks that you need easy to find by reducing the number of things you go through, either by deleting unused items or by grouping them for shorter sets to search through.
Prioritize work as needed.
Sometimes, work just keeps piling up until you have a full stack on your desk. Of course, there is nothing more discouraging than a stack of paperwork on your desk. If it does happen, approach the problem by doing work one at a time.
Prioritize work according to what is more urgent and/or important. Anything that can be put off for later should be put off for later. When you are done with everything marked “Urgent,” use your remaining time you have to tackle papers you still have left.
This is a more efficient way of dealing with a stack of papers on your desk.
Install a good antivirus program.
Unless your IT administrator forbids installation of unauthorized programs, installing a good antivirus program should be top on your pre-work list. There are a few good free antivirus programs, but if you want premium protection then you might want to ask your administrator about a corporate installation of high-grade antivirus suites.
A virus infection can cripple your ability to work, so it must be avoided at all costs.
Scan all files that you load onto your computer.
Before you even think about opening up removable media or files downloaded from the Internet, always run a context menu scan. Assuming you have an antivirus program installed, right-click the file or filegroup and look for something like “Scan file”.
This should run a quick scan on demand specifically on the selected file or files.
If it turns up clean, well and good. If it turns up infected, you’ll want to quarantine or delete the file as soon as possible.
Keep your virus definitions up-to-date.
New viruses are coming out all the time, so if you want to stay protected, you should keep your virus definition databases up-to-date, if not up-to-the-hour. Most antivirus programs do this automatically, but only if they are set to do so (which is the default).
Without the data, your antivirus software may not be able to recognize a viral infection.
Bottom line: Make sure your antivirus program’s database is updated and set to update automatically.
Keep your private info private.
This goes with little saying, but protecting your privacy and online financial security is strongly reliant on how well you protect your financial and personal information online. Make sure to read privacy agreements whenever possible.
Avoid giving out credit information unless you can verify that the webpage you are on is what it is supposed to be, and not a look-alike. Checking the security certificate is a good way to lessen the likelihood that you’ll end up giving away information to unsavory parties.
And besides, you really should not be doing your online shopping while at work!
Your company might be using software to monitor your behavior, which may include monitoring keystrokes – in essence, an untrustworthy workmate with access to the monitor data dumps can pick out your password or whatever important information you typed in.
Minimize open windows and applications.
This one applies to those who work primarily with computers. Avoid leaving too many windows and applications open, especially if your terminal is on the lower end of the specification spectrum.
Not only will it slow down the performance in general, but you increase the risk of unresponsiveness and automatic program termination.
That means data loss and wasted time.
Not all programs have auto-save features, and those that do may not be set to save often enough. A sudden program freeze or crash can be troublesome, but the impact can be reduced by ensuring you save regularly.
Manually saving about every five minutes (or setting the auto-save to that interval) is a good way to minimize data loss in case of an unexpected program or system shutdown.
Ask for UPS, or get a small one for yourself.
UPS stands for Uninterruptible Power Source, which is basically a smart encased battery that automatically kicks in when the power goes out. Unlike a backup generator system, UPS activates instantly – perfect for computers which can cut out with power interruptions of mere fractions of a second.
In fact, one could argue that a UPS never actually kicks in because it’s always feeding power to whatever’s plugged in – it’s just that when the electric current is on, it continuously replenishing the onboard battery.
A UPS can give you enough time to save all your information and do a proper shutdown, ensuring you do not lose data and avoid potential system or program corruption.
Keep regular backups.
Keeping backups of your files and regularly updating those backups is one secret to productivity. It does add overhead and can be a little tedious, but you will surely not regret it when you lose the active information.
Keeping multiple backups is also a vital practice for programmers, since they may want to roll back changes due to unforeseen circumstances.
Your backups should be on a separate machine, remotely hosted, or on physical media that is stored properly.
Keep detailed information on backups.
You might know what’s currently on your active files and maybe the most recent backup, but what about the backups before that?
Having lots of multiple backups can make it confusing and difficult to track down the one you want, so you should maintain a readable file that details the contents and changes found in your backup files.
If you have enough space, you can keep backups for years to come, and that can mean lots of duplicate files that may not necessarily be the same. Avoid wasting time on finding the right backup by keeping a summary file.
Keep records and store them properly.
For any kind of work, maintaining records of important daily information is very helpful. This does not just improve accountability and the ability to recover from loss, but it can also help you monitor performance and take appropriate actions.
Remember to regularly relocate your records to some secure location, safe from the elements.
Perform regular maintenance for your work computer.
Not all the required maintenance work for your computer has to be handled by the IT Department. There are actually a few things that are simple enough that you can do them on your own. For instance, deleting unnecessary files are just a few simple clicks away.
Defragging can help your computer de-clutter its hard drive and keep it running at optimum speeds.
Do this regularly like once a week and you will have a reliable computer to work with.
No need to keep calling the IT guys and stop working altogether.
Know how to quickly review tasks and use your foresight to arrange them and assign priorities. Priority values rely on metrics like difficulty, time to deadline, required resources (including time), and if you play office politics, who it’s for.
High-priority items should be worked on first unless they rely on some as-yet unavailable resource.
If a high-priority item cannot be worked on yet, turn to other high-priority items before taking care of low-priority items.
Don’t put off work that you can do now.
Unless something urgent that requires immediate attention comes up, you should direct your energies to complete whatever it is that can be done at this moment.
Aside from lowering your overall productivity, procrastination sets you up for dangerous crunches that could be much less taxing if you completed your tasks as they came up.
Let yourself be seen.
This one is for supervisors and middle managers of all kinds. If you have a bit of free time on your hands, take a walk around and peek into cubicles and work stations, or at least act like it.
Better yet, do it at random times.
This will keep your underlings on their toes and can discourage tomfoolery in the workplace, increasing productivity.
Organize productivity contests
This is another one for managers and works best in companies which deal in products made or assembled by people. Organize contests with prizes and you might see an increase in overall productivity as the floor personnel get fired up trying to win that prize.
Though in reality, they should be putting in the effort anyway, a little incentive now and then is not a bad thing.
If there are instructions or other information that needs to be communicated to others, then it should be done as soon as possible. If it is your responsibility to do so, then make sure to take care of it right away.
Update your agenda or schedules as needed.
When changes occur that will have effects on schedules or your agenda, update your reminders, and if needed, communicate with the concerned parties. Do these as soon as the need arises so you don’t forget to do so.
This will help you avoid situations where you forget appointments or you don’t get what you need because it was not requested beforehand, which causes stress and loss of time for everyone involved.
Maintain good relationships at work.
Being cordial around officemates is good not only for your productivity but the office as a whole as well. It is no secret that a harmonious relationship among coworkers promotes an efficient work process which is more likely to produce better results.
Compare that to an office where a few coworkers are cold towards each other. In such extreme cases, it might even start hostilities among coworkers. Do you get why there is an annual company retreat now?
If you are really not the friendly, outgoing type, at least give your coworkers a smile every now and then.