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The Super Easy 3 Step Guide to Workday Productivity

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes, 57 seconds. Contains 1593 words

Want to know how to maximize your workday productivity? As a Solopreneur and coworker, I’m always interested in how other people work. I’m lucky enough to be a part of our great coworking community, so I can see all kinds of different work in action. But I’m always curious about what people use to succeed, where and when they work, and most importantly, how we can all make our workdays less stressful and more productive.

Every year a software company called workfront surveys thousands of enterprise (office) workers to get a deeper understanding of how the workplace is changing from year to year. This year’s 2019 study on The State of Work in the Modern US Workplace is FASCINATING to me (srsly)!

The survey looks at — among other things — technology, demographics, and trends of the modern workplace. What a perfect fit for our Groundwork community! Because what are we if not a microcosm of enterprise workers?

But I was kinda surprised at a few of their findings. Check out the Top Seven Challenges in workforce’s handy infographic:

The State of Work by workfront

Hang on… Did I just read that right?

Does #3 in the graphic above mean 60% of our workday is spent on unproductive busywork?!?

Dang…! That’s a lot.

If only 40% of our time is being spent on what we really want/need to accomplish any given workday, what can we do to limit the busywork?

Email management and answering phones are a couple of the things I suggested in Virtual Assistants: What They Do and Why You Need One. (Because email alone basically steals every fourth work day from us. Yikes…!)

But I think losing 60% of ANYTHING is a big challenge and deserves to be tackled head-on. So let’s dive in.

Here are a few recommendations on how you can improve your workday routine to do more than just 40% of our work each day.

3 Easy Hacks to Maximize Workday Productivity

1. Focus on Primary Tasks for the Day

First, identify your main goal(s) for the day. When you clearly set out what you’re trying to get done, you can focus on accomplishing them. (And feel great when you can check ’em off your list!)

When you divide your focus between your primary task and other, smaller tasks, everything ends up taking longer. This means you have to actively limit time spent on things like emails and meetings.

Take, for example, the top 3 work interrupting tasks listed in the responses here:

interrupting Productive Workdays

Each of the Wasteful Meetings, Excessive Emails and Unexpected Phone Calls interrupts your flow.

Chipping away little bits of time frequently throughout your day means you’re FAR less likely to accomplish your primary tasks. With each interruption, your focus takes a serious hit and you become exponentially less productive.

Do what you need to and get back to your primary task. And try to schedule all of these Work Interrupters in blocks, instead of scattered throughout your day. Which brings us to how:

2. Do the bulk of your communication around natural break points in your day

Next, limit your meetings and emails & IMs to a few preset times. When you limit your outside interactions to a few times a day, you’re left with larger chunks of uninterrupted — and therefore more productive — time.

Gloria Mark, Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine lead a study on “The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress.” She says that once someone has been interrupted “it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.”

So every time you stop work on your primary goal, you loose 23 minutes of productivity, just like that. Poof! And the stress of it, well… the stress of interruption can make your work life hell.

“If you’re working on one task and you’re interrupted on a completely different topic… it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.”

— Gloria Mark, Professor at the University of California, Irvine

According to an interview Professor Mark gave to Fast Company, they “did a laboratory experiment where people did a typical office task: they had to answer a set of e-mail. In one condition, they were not interrupted. In another condition, we interrupted them with phone calls and IM.” And “when interrupted, they had higher levels of stress, frustration, mental effort, feeling of time pressure and mental workload.” So additional stress, she contends, is the “psychological cost of all this switching.”

A bit of good news: not every interruption causes these 23 minute setbacks. “Any kind of automatic task that doesn’t require a lot of thinking would not be a major disruption.” she says. “It’s generally counterproductive if you’re working on one task and you’re interrupted on a completely different topic.”

So any time you “have to completely shift your thinking, it takes you a while to get into it and it takes you a while to get back and remember where you were.”

So think about the day you had yesterday. Think about every time you allowed one of these interruptions to derail you from your primary goal. How much more could you have done yesterday if it hadn’t taken you 23 minutes to fully get back to where you were before each interruption?

How much more could you have done yesterday if it hadn’t taken you 23 minutes to fully get back to where you were before each interruption?

3. Be the spaghetti pot, not the strainer

Every time you stop working on your main goal to do other things, it’s like… trying to cook a pasta dinner while poking holes in your spaghetti pot — AND intermittently turning the heat off. Do that a few times and pretty soon you won’t have any water left… and be downright frustrated and hungry.

Huh? Frustrating spaghetti…?!?

Lemme explain.

We all know how to make pasta, right? First: water + pot + heat + time = boiling water. If that’s our primary goal, why would we turn the heat off while we were in the middle of heating the water? We wouldn’t. And why would we turn the heat off for TWENTY-THREE MINUTES when it only takes about 7 minutes for the water to boil for pasta.

Yet, every time we check our email while in the middle of doing an unrelated task, we’re voluntarily “turning the heat off” of our ideas and stopping our flow for 23 minutes.

Now, what if we interrupt the water just one time for each of those top 3 Work Interrupters? The pasta which could’ve been put into boiling water after just 7 minutes will now take over AN HOUR!! (3 interruptions x 23 minutes to get back to baseline = 69 minutes.) And that’s just to get the pasta into the water.

Now imagine the water level in the pot. With each interruption, you’re poking another hole in your pot. The more you poke, the faster the water leaks, the more frustrating it becomes to cook. Pretty soon you don’t have a pot anymore, you have a strainer full o’ holes.

Photo by Jamie Templeton on Unsplash

Poking holes in your workday for small, unrelated tasks means letting your time drip away… as your frustration level increases.

So why voluntarily interrupt yourself when trying to get something done? Why loose time and gain stress?

Here’s how to gain that lost time and reduce your stress levels.

The Maximum Productivity Schedule

Limit communication times, maximize productivity.

First, break your work day into five segments:

  1. When you First Arrive
  2. A solid Mid-Morning chunk
  3. Around Lunch
  4. Mid-Afternoon chunk
  5. Before Quitting Time

Next, check-in only during those natural break times (blocks #1, 3, 5). Your Morning and Afternoons will be free and clear for big chunks of big fat productivity. Unbroken time = unbroken focus = maximum productivity!

For those of you who argue “But… people NEED me…! I can’t just shut everyone out!!” I say, hey… it’s really only for a couple of hours at a time. And if it’s a real emergency, people will find you.

So why not give it a try for a day…? Just one day. And see if you feel more productive and happier at the end of it.

And if people really need to interact with you so much that you can’t try this for even one day, well, then communications must the Primary Focus of your position — in which case you don’t need to worry about interruptions because they’re part of your job description. But if you’re not a manager, then you should be able to try at least some variation of this idea for a day. (Or better yet, a week!)

If after trying this for a while you still feel you’re not being productive, track your time while doing it for a second period of time. If you see that your daily routine looks less like a spaghetti pot and more like a spaghetti strainer, full of holes leaking time, figure out how you can plug some of ’em up. Even if it’s one less hole/interruption, you’ll be that much more productive.

And when you try it, just let people know you’re following a “Maximum Productivity Schedule” — and why aren’t they?!

So to recap how to maximize your workday productivity:

  1. Pick your main goal(s) each workday
  2. Respond to communications at preset times
  3. Be the pot! Don’t let time leak out of your day one interruption at at time

Concentrating on chunking your work time into blocks makes you more productive and alleviates stress.

And on that note… I’m gonna turn off notifications and go enjoy a productive afternoon chunk of my workday. See you again in Chunk 5, before quitting time…!

Have a great Productive Workday, coworkers! :)

*The workforce survey cited above was conducted online by Regina Corso Consulting between June 14-28, 2018, among 2,010 U.S. respondents, all of whom are employed by a company with at least 500 employees, work on a computer, and collaborate with other people on projects.” — workfront

Noi Sabal