Do you start the day at work with the best intentions? You’re fully committed to putting in a great day’s work, but when the clock strikes five your in-tray is still overflowing and you haven’t accomplished half your tasks?
Then the next day comes and you’re stuck on the same, ever-speeding hamster wheel. Welcome to your own groundhog day.But it doesn’t need to be this way. There are ways of improving your productivity throughout the day.
Craft your ideal routine
We’ve all heard of circadian rhythms and how they affect the way we feel depending on the time of day. They are often blamed for why we are usually more alert in the morning and less so in the afternoon.
‘There is no single answer as to the most productive hours’ says Career Consultant and Chartered Occupational Psychologist Sherridan Hughes. ‘It is well known that we have larks who are up early and ready to go, and night owls who come into their own later in the day’.
Tip: A healthy lifestyle and healthy eating, (including breakfast) avoiding over-indulgence and having a suitable amount of exercise and sleep will mean that the brain will have the best chance of functioning at its best.
Nikki Norman, FMAAT AATQB, a senior accountant at PaperRocket Accounting, advocates sticking to a routine to stay productive. ‘I set my alarm, get ready and have breakfast all before my toddler wakes. I have recently started incorporating a five minute Tai Chi routine into my morning ‘
Tip: Getting into a routine can help with productivity – setting an alarm for the same time each time each day can help with this.
Prioritised work vs reactive work
When she gets into work, Nikki first goes through all her emails and prioritises them. ‘I will then sit and make a list of things I need to get done first, I find that if I don’t, everything I have to do swims around in my head and I tend to get stressed and it’s hard to get things dealt with.
Nikki tends to do her reactive work in the morning – such as emailing clients – and does the longer term work such as preparing accounts in the afternoon.
She adds: ‘I always try my hardest to finish at 5pm and with a clear email inbox. I hate going home knowing I’m going into the next day with work carried over’. But she says that she does sometimes work from home if needs must.
Own your own productivity
Professor Chris Lewis of Aver Psychology takes a different approach, says there is one simple step to improving your productivity which has nothing to do with what work you do at what time of the day.
‘You need to take the view that it is your fault if you are not being productive enough rather than blame someone or something else. Psychologically, we call this ‘attribution effect’. This says we attribute our successes to ourselves, but our failures to others.
Tip: If you think you aren’t being productive enough at work then you need to own this problem and do something about it.
Hughes adds that being too fussy and thorough can seriously eat into one’s time. Perfectionists are the world’s worst for indecision and procrastination: they can also always find all manner of things they need to do in order to feel in control before they start. However, the key is actually to just start’.
Professor Lewis adds that while making lists of what you need to do during the day can work, it’s only a good idea ‘if you are the kind of person who likes making them and, importantly, will actually keep to any list they make.
But we are not all planners: some of us are spontaneous and lists will be pointless for them’. Hughes adds: ‘Many people write lists but things will not necessarily be in the right order or they may spend too long on the first things and then run out of time for more pressing items.
‘It is important to stand back and look at the bigger picture and consider timescales and deadlines as well as order. Ticking things off that list will be inspiring and satisfying and will remind you how much you have actually achieved’ says Lewis.
It’s clear that no two people are the same and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. But by planning your day and prioritising tasks this will enable to you to see the bigger picture. If lists don’t work for you why not set yourself a task for the day and work towards that. And remember to spend some time praising yourself for what you’ve achieved rather than berating yourself for what you have not.
Charlotte Beugge spent more than 20 years as the deputy personal finance editor on The Daily Telegraph and then The Daily Mail. A freelancer since 2010, her work has appeared in national newspapers, magazines and websites.