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No matter what your job or industry, we all want to learn how to be effective at work and achieve our professional goals. But true productivity is more than simply checking tasks off a to-do list—it’s about doing more of what matters. Luckily, all it takes is a few adjustments to your daily work habits to see an improvement, so start with these simple tips and watch your productivity soar.
13 Ways to Be More Effective at Work
Trim Your Task List
We all know how paralyzing it can be to start a big project or tackle a crazy to-do list. So don’t overwhelm yourself with a massive task list! Give yourself 3 to 5 important items that you need to accomplish in one day, and focus on those. If you get them done early, you can always add a few more things to your list, but keeping it manageable will keep you productive — instead of just keeping you busy.
Swap Your To-Do List for a Schedule
Sit down, look at your available time for the day, and be realistic about what you can get done. Then make a game plan: schedule specific slots of time for each of your important tasks—and be sure to include breaks. By dedicating time and structuring your day, you can take advantage of the times of day you’re naturally more focused and motivated, make tangible progress on important work, and ensure you actually take the necessary breaks to stay mentally fresh.
Stop While You’re Still On a Roll
One of the biggest reasons we procrastinate is because we simply don’t know where to start. But if you stop working on a task for the day knowing exactly what you need to do next, it’s much easier to get started again. End every task with a defined “next step” to quickly get back in the zone next time.
Highly effective people have systems in place to help them find the exact information they need, right when they need it. A simple system like David Allen’s Getting Things Done method (GTD) can ease the mental burden of storing reminders and ideas, and free up brain space for more meaningful and effective work. Get a 20-second overview of the famous GTD method here.
Make Bad Habits More Difficult to Indulge
Constant distractions tank your productivity and your IQ, and you can’t work effectively if you’re not performing at your best. So create some simple barriers to help you focus. If you’re constantly pulling out your phone while you work to text a friend or check social media, for instance, put your phone in a locked desk drawer and keep the key in an upstairs closet, or ask a trusted co-worker to hold on to it until lunch.
A big part of being effective at work is learning to say no. Figure out what really matters — which tasks actually move the needle on your primary goals? Which projects have the biggest impact on your bottom line? Cut the busywork that doesn’t actually amount to anything. Using a data-driven goal-setting technique like OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) is a practical way to focus your daily efforts on clearly-defined, measurable goals that directly contribute to larger business objectives.
Tackle Your Most Important Tasks First
Your motivation and creativity are at a high point in the morning, So instead of starting your day by checking emails (which can quickly derail your plans, as what you intended to accomplish gets pushed off or lost among incoming requests), wait a few hours to check your inbox and work on a more significant project while your mental energy is still high.
Plan Tomorrow Tonight
While you shouldn’t stay up agonizing over all the work waiting for you tomorrow, creating a short list of simple to-dos at night can help you hit the ground running in the morning, establishing a productive momentum that will carry you through the rest of the day. Try to include at least one moderately challenging task in your list—according to Dr. Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi, there’s a sweet spot where your brain more easily enters that “flow” state where your brain is humming and you’re doing your best work. It happens when the degree of challenge and your abilities intersect at a high point. (If the task isn’t challenging enough, you’ll get bored, and if it’s too high, you’ll get anxious and stressed).
Use Idle Time to Knock Out Admin Tasks
Waiting in line at the grocery store, for the next bus stop, at the bank, in the elevator, etc. doesn’t have to be wasted time. Bring a book you’ve been meaning to read, clear a few emails, or catch up on status updates. Or simply let your mind wander and observe the world around you. You never know when your next great idea will hit you!
Schedule Meetings With Yourself
Create a distraction-free zone where you can go to focus when necessary. Block time off on your calendar where you won’t be disturbed, turn off your email and message notifications (or better yet, disconnect from the internet entirely), and focus on a single important task for an hour or two.
Change Your Self-Talk
Instead of saying “I have too much to do today!” and “I’m so stressed out right now!” say “These are the two things I need to focus on today.” A simple shift in perspective can do wonders for your motivation and energy levels.
Communicate and Clarify
All of us have to collaborate with others at some level in order to do our jobs, so learning how to work effectively with others is an essential part of improving your own effectiveness at work. One of the best ways to avoid unnecessary rework and wasted time is to eliminate misunderstandings and miscommunications. Get it right the first time, and you’ll save yourself a ton of time and mental energy revising and redoing tasks.
Find Ways to Do More of the Work You Enjoy
When you’re interested in, challenged by, and good at the work you do, you’re more engaged — and more effective. Consider which aspects of your job you look forward to, which skills you get the most praise for, and which types of projects your colleagues ask you for help with.
While not everything you do at work can be a passion project, with a little creativity, even tedious tasks can be fun or challenging. The next time you have to generate a time sheet or expense report, time yourself and see if you can beat your personal high score. Do your best to learn something new every day, or push yourself to try something you haven’t before.