Sometimes there are forces working against you that you aren’t even aware of. Feeling distracted and don’t know why? Turns out, there are things that subconsciously affect your work day. Get help with our 10 tips for productivity in the workplace.
Every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks they’ve got a solution to productivity. Tom from Accounts puts it all down to having a West-facing office, whereas Lisa in the Kitchen swears by a good night’s kip. Someone always wants to weigh in on this argument. The bottom line however, is that there are actually certain things you can do to either your work environment, or your approach to work that can significantly boost your productivity. We’re not talking hippie teas and Bikram Yoga here, we’re talking scientifically backed office hacks and techniques for getting the very most out of every work day. Here are Cluboid’s top 10 tips for office productivity...
It goes without saying that many offices will see a decline in productivity due to stress. Deadlines, reports, presentations.. However, odours can be used to counter the effects of stress as some - such as jasmine and pine - carry calming agents. Not only that, but they can dictate mood and even help with memory recall. This is why students have been known to eat peppermints whilst they study, and then pop one in their mouth before entering the exam room. Smells and tastes can help recall something already experienced. This is because smells trigger your associative memory, and as we have emotional ties to certain memories, they can take our mood up or down accordingly. In controlled testing, those working in an office environment with a pleasant odor said they felt more productive, more efficient and more motivated than those in an office with no detectable odor. With regards to alertness, the lavender scent proved the most effective for women, and peppermint for men, so on a quest for improved productivity you may consider boosting office mood by using these scents in diffusers and plug-ins. Don’t go too mad with it though. Giving the whole office a headache is probably a bit counterproductive.
You know that one thing on your to-do list that you’ll purposely ignore in favour of the quicker things. The one that fills you with dread but is probably the most important thing on the entire list. You might put it off because it requires the most effort, there are some uncertainties surrounding it, or that it’s the most time consuming and you could easily check off 3 smaller things in the same amount of time. You convince yourself that it’s more time efficient to do 3 things instead of 1. It just works out well for you that the 1 you get to put off is the one you didn’t particularly want to do, right? Wrong. Mark Twain famously said: ‘If you eat a frog first thing in the morning, the rest of your day will be wonderful,’ and how right he was. By jumping head first into something you’ve been dreading, and completing it, you acquire a satisfaction and feeling of ‘look at me go’ that will help you tear through the remainder of your to-do list. You’ll find that the other things seem so futile in comparison that they take even less time to complete than you thought and your productivity increases significantly. It is less about getting the hardest activity done, and more about the motivation you receive from completing something difficult. Sometimes you just need that little pat on the back, even if it is just from yourself. That’s why we’ll sometimes write things on our to-do lists that we’ve already done, just to check them off. It’s a bit sad, but we’ve all done it. By completing the task you deemed hardest first, the rest of your day will feel like a doddle.
There’s nothing more annoying than not being able to properly allocate time to a task because you have a meeting and you ‘don’t know how long it’ll run for’. This can easily cause a domino-effect which will render your entire day plan out of sync. (And provides a big problem if you’ve started using the ‘time-blocking’ method, which we’ll get to a little later!) So, how can you ensure your meeting doesn’t overrun? Primarily, make sure they start them on time. If they start late then you’re almost certainly not going to escape when you’d planned to. If necessary, provide the team with a detailed agenda beforehand so they have time to process, and then come to the meeting with questions and input prepared. This should also discourage those with lazy tendencies from taking advantage of the time away from their desk and using the meeting to chat or ruminate when you’re looking to wrap things up. It can also sometimes be useful for meeting momentum to further break down the agenda into time windows, so your team can see how much time has been designated to each item on the list. This helps you keep your agenda moving forward, whilst still prioritising what is most important.
A study from the University of Texas has revealed that working in a predominantly white, grey or beige space generated a feeling of depression and sadness amongst women, while men experienced the same mood decline around oranges and purples. As mood is a big influence to productivity, and certain colours trigger certain moods, how we decorate our work space will largely impact our motivation to work harder, and more efficiently. Colours considered to be ‘low-wavelength’ such as pastel Greens and soft Blues were shown to improve efficiency and focus. They also lend an overall sense of well-being and calm, so are popular with environments where relaxation is important (think doctors surgeries, spas etc.) Conversely, ‘high-wavelength’ hues like Red actually increase your blood flow and even heart rate just on sight. Obviously, no one wants to be surrounded by alarming red walls, but in small doses, it can work in your favour for drawing attention to things. Fire engines, Exit signs and Hospitals all use this psychology to their advantage. It is also perhaps why teachers opt for red pen when marking and annotating students’ work. Yellow is also considered to be the most conducive to creative environments, as it is fresh and full of energy. If you’re a creative agency, perhaps it’s time to rock a canary feature wall.
When you are forced to talk someone through exactly what it is you’re doing/planning to do, you take the time to explain it properly. Having to articulate the idea gives you a better understanding of how to get it done, and also invites questions. When we keep our to-do lists to ourselves, we write vague, often cryptic messages on the assumption we’ll ‘know what we meant by that.’ Often that means that our to-do lists are a collection of half-fleshed out thoughts that we expect will miraculously come back to us when we endevour to get them done. Collectively, think of all the time you’ll then spend trying to assess the best way to approach a task that you’ve flippantly written down. Sharing your to-do list also makes you accountable. We’re all guilty of looking at a plan for the day, and just bumping something we’re not in the mood for entirely off the list. Condemning it to the ‘I’ll deal with that tomorrow’ pile. No one will know, right? What’s the harm? The harm is that it enables lazy habits. If your team expectantly wait on the result of you finishing something, then you’ve been set a task that you now can’t easily back out from. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you stand up and announce to the office that today, you’re going to work on the investor reports. It just means that provide some kind of daily breakdown to your colleagues, in the morning meeting or via a task management tool like Wunderlist.
This may seem like an obvious one, but it really boils down to this: If you get distracted less, you get more done. The only issue here is that we seem to put far too much faith in our own willpower to abstain from doing something fun. Especially when it can be done quickly, and we think no one will notice. It’s only human to get distracted, so try and minimise your opportunity to do so. If you don’t have the Facebook app installed on your phone, the act of checking it becomes more arduous. If you operate all of your windows in full screen, you have less attempting to pull your focus. You might also want to turn push notifications off for the things that aren’t work essential. New Instagram followers and Mario Kart updates can generally wait until you clock off. It can also be a good idea to keep what is known as a ‘procrastination pad’ on your desk, to remind you check something later and therefore keeping your focus on the task at hand. You may even go as far as blocking websites that you find particularly distracting. Parental controls aren’t just for mischievous kids, they’re also for mischeivous adults.
Why do we think it’s okay to say that we’ll do something on ‘Tuesday’? How vague is that? That is, essentially, exactly what we do every time we write a daily to-do list. Not only is it vague, but if we assumed we had an entire day to get something done, we would almost definitely put it off in favour of something more time-sensitive. But what if we regarded all things on our list as time-sensitive? This is where ‘time-blocking’ comes into play. Time-blocking is a method of segmenting our time, and assigning each segment to an activity or task. This doesn’t have to be as specific as, say, ‘11am: Complete Emissions Article’. It can instead be a block of time designated to ‘Reply to emails’, ‘Research’, or ‘Deep Work’. This also includes setting aside designated downtime. It is much easier to keep your head down when you know you have a scheduled break in sight. Maybe you break for 15 minutes to have a cup of tea and a breather, or nip out for some fresh air and make a personal phone call. Whatever it may be, having set aside a time for a break means that you don’t need to feel guilty for stepping away. It is not only part of the plan, but a reward for the hard work you have put in thus far. What we hasten to forget is that the brain is a muscle, and just like any other muscle in the body, it will tire from repeated exertion. Working longer doesn’t mean working better.
It turns out that not only does our mind affect our body, but our body can affect our mind. Forcing behaviours can send signals to our brains which boost mood and productivity. For example, standing tall in a powerful stance - known as ‘the power posture’ - for just 2 minutes will increase the body’s level of testosterone and reduce production of the hormone, cortisol. This combination increases confidence and leadership abilities, making us feel more resilient and more decisive. On the other side of the coin, slouching convinces the brain that it is tired and ready to shut down, therefore we become sluggish and get far less done by comparison.
Ambient sounds like a fireplace gently flickering away, idle restaurant chatter or soft rainfall can be used to lull us off to sleep. This is because they reduce anxiety, and encourage our minds to come back to the present moment by giving it something to focus on. Similarly, music in the workplace can have positive effects on productivity. The most important factor however, is what we listen to. If we enjoy a song, our brains release of hit dopamine which transmits pleasure signals to the brain, similar to adrenaline. It is felt in the reward centre as if we are eating something indulgent or smelling something delicious. This makes us more receptive, chipper and can make repetitive tasks more enjoyable. Although for optimum concentration, it should be music that we are indifferent to, and preferably instrumental. If you strongly like or dislike a song being played, studies indicate that your level of concentration decreases.
Always be on the lookout for fresh productivity tips. We suggest following the How I Work series, as they document the best and handiest rituals of the most successful business minds around. Insight into other people’s work habits provide us with new ways to make our workdays longer, without actually making them longer. It also keeps us hungry and it can be a fantastic source of inspiration. Seeing just what other people have accomplished tends to light our competitive streak - an ‘extrinsic incentive’ that coincidentally gives us big dose of motivation, and who doesn’t need a bit of that from time to time? Subscribe to mailing lists, YouTube channels and blogs of those you admire and a reminder to stay keep striving to better yourself. After all, the most productive man is the man actively striving to be.