How to Plan and Prioritize to Improve Productivity at Work

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The first step to becoming more productive in the office is to identify your personal productivity “peak" times throughout the day. Peak productivity times are when you’re at a high mental energy output mode. For me, my peak times are mid morning and mid afternoon. I work from my home office, and by the time I get up in the morning, eat breakfast, drive the kids to school, I’m at my desk at about 8:30am. It takes me about 1 hour in the morning to decompress while reading email. My morning productivity peak time is between 10:00am -11:45am. I usually work through the lunch hour (while eating lunch) and schedule meetings at the 1:00pm timeslot. I schedule meetings starting right after lunch as my productivity tends to be low (due to the lunch hangover effect). Once in the 2:00pm-5:00pm range, my mental energy tends to be at a maximum level. This could be due to a few things such as digesting lunch to drinking my mid-afternoon coffee or tea. I’m also a night owl. My night peak productivity times are between 9:00pm - 10:30pm. The goal here is to “manage” your peak times not time itself.

Once you identify your personal mental peak times during the day, it’s easy to improve productivity by planning and prioritizing. You can use action plans, or a simple task list. I like to use the old Pareto (Italian economist & philosopher) 80/20 principle; in that 20 percent of high value tasks we perform are considered to yielding 80 percent of the results we obtain. Once you identify your 20% high priority tasks, you can concentrate & focus your mental energy on these tasks within your set peak times throughout the day. Set specific goals to be achieved by the end of the day and work back from there. For example, the creation of a new FAQ or marketing analysis report by splitting the project up in a number of separate “peak” time periods. Each part has its own deadline and goal. By incrementally finishing one part at a time, a project can be successfully delivered. This is also referred to as “time boxing”, where task lists are prioritized and put into boxed time slots.

Other ways to increase productivity is to go for the “low hanging fruit” that will help you relax such as working remotely (which will increase work time and less commute fatigue). Get to the office early or when you do reach your office, shut the door and answer email without disturbance 1-2 hours before your morning peak time. You can also prioritize low priority tasks in accordance to your low productivity time’s slots. Low priority tasks can include answer personal email, making non-urgent work calls, and even scheduling regularly occurring meetings such as staff meetings, etc. From personal experience, I have learned to say “no” to any unnecessary meetings, or joining time wasting committees. Tweak your day around your personal peak times. Lastly, take care of yourself! Get at least 8 hours a day of sleep. Even with kids this is manageable. The key to improving productivity is to understand how your body and mind work.