— January 17, 2018
Productivity is a pretty big buzzword right now and it can be a little difficult to define because it looks different for everyone. For me, I would define productivity as a state of being and most importantly, as a feeling.
It’s the feeling of being completely engaged and focused on the work that is right in front of me. It’s the feeling of unhurried contentment I have at the end of the day, knowing that the most important to-do list items are taken care of.
It stands in stark contrast to the gnawing guilt and anxiety that comes from spending my entire day running around like a mad woman; only to look back and wonder, “What exactly did I do all day?”
It’s so easy to be pulled in too many directions when managing an insurance agency that has sales agents, services agents, underwriters, administrative support and thousands of policyholders. Not to mention my business partner who walks into my office at least 10 times a day to share his thoughts on something or brainstorm.
It takes real skill to be productive in an environment like this.
I’ve found that productivity is more of an art than a science and it takes a lot of trial and error to figure out what helps you function at your best. What helps one-person focus can be another person’s total demise.
Here are my top seven tips for increasing your workplace productivity. If your agency is anything like ours, you can use these to put a little sanity back into your workday.
Eliminate the Excess from Your to-do List
Trying to do too much is the enemy of productivity. When I try to focus on everything, I usually end up doing nothing well. Which is why I have found that it is so important to eliminate all the excesses from my daily to-do list.
This can be hard to do at first because everything will feel urgent and like it needs to be taken care of immediately. I handle all the marketing for our agency and can get overwhelmed when I start thinking of the social media updates that need to go out, the weekly post I need to write for our blog, the guest post content I’ve committed to and the upcoming client webinar I’ve got to prepare for.
Add something such as a food selection that I need to make for the company holiday party and I can easily freak out.
My advice is to take some time on Sunday to think about the week ahead and outline your highest priorities for the week. Log into your work calendar and block out time so you can hit the ground running on Monday morning.
When you are writing your to-do list ask yourself, “Does this help me accomplish my most important priorities?” You will be surprised by how many of those “urgent” tasks are pretty unnecessary.
Pay Attention to your Productivity Killers
We all have off days every now and again and it’s easy to waste time feeling guilty about it. However, guilt is rarely helpful and sometimes failure can be enlightening.
Like I said, learning what helps you be productive is a process you’ll develop over time. Start paying attention to what you do throughout your day, and you’ll start to notice what fuels your creativity and what renders it DOA. Checking email happens to be one of mine, which leads me to my next tip.
Don’t Check your Email until the Afternoon
What is it about email that’s just so addictive? For me, it’s like the black hole where productivity goes to die.
The problem with email is that it puts you in a reactive state. You are reacting to other people’s problems and concerns rather than proactively tackling your most important tasks.
I realize not everyone is a morning person but as a general rule, I would recommend saving your mornings as a time for the work that requires the most creativity and focus. I’ve begun scheduling my writing time first thing in the morning before I open any emails.
Funny enough, after doing so, I find I can crank out posts in record time.
Get Rid of Workplace Clutter
No, you don’t need to be a neat freak or have a spotless office. But I promise you, those unnecessary piles of paper in the corner of your desk are distracting you.
Studies have shown that physical clutter leads to mental clutter which causes unhealthy lifestyle choices, distraction, and inefficiency.
Eliminating workplace clutter doesn’t have to be overwhelming either. Start out by dedicating just ten minutes every day to picking up a little. If you do this at the end of the day, you’ll breathe a big sigh of relief when you walk into your clean, uncluttered office the next morning. It truly contributes to your workplace sanity.
Over time, these little efforts will add up in a big way.
Close the Door
We like to have an open-door policy here at our agency. If employees have questions, comments or suggestions we want to be available for them. However, some tasks truly require you to close the door and create a sane workspace around.
For me, one of these tasks is writing, and another is doing payroll. Making mistakes that affect an employee’s paycheck is unacceptable, so when it’s time to key in the bi-weekly hours or commission checks, I shut my office door. Since I rarely close it, people know not to interrupt me until the door is back open.
Interestingly enough, I don’t really like having it closed, so I find that I work faster to complete those tasks that require it.
Take at Least Two Breaks
Have you ever been completely absorbed in your work one minute and then suddenly you find yourself watching YouTube videos? Our brains can only focus for so long and eventually, we need to stop and rest. So, the key is to be intentional about your breaks because obviously, mindless YouTube videos are probably not optimal.
Try to give yourself at least ten minutes each morning and afternoon to clear your head. I call them sanity breaks. Get up, get some fresh air, take a walk around the office, have a snack.
I like to grab a cup of coffee and walk out onto the sales floor. It’s an opportunity for me to give encouragement to my staff and be available for questions. I’ve found that they interrupt me less when I do this because they’ll save their non-urgent questions until later when they know that I make the rounds regularly.
Just give yourself a small window of time to do something else so you can return to your work with a renewed sense of clarity.
Kick Off Your Day with Inspiration
Every entrepreneur needs inspiration to push them forward. The best productivity hack that I have ever found for this is podcasts. I subscribe to a least a dozen business and marketing podcasts and my phone is set to automatically download new episodes at night.
Every morning when I climb into my SUV, I look through my list of episodes and queue on up for the morning drive. I almost have no words to explain how huge this has been for my business. The insight from other successful business gurus and marketers is tremendous.
By the time I reach the office, I can’t wait to get to my desk and begin implementing what I’ve learned. It’s also terrific for creativity. On the morning when I’ve got my writing scheduled, it primes my brain for that task.
Hopefully, these seven ideas I outlined will help you function with just a little more ease throughout your day. Lastly, I’ll also mention that you should, of course, be incorporating some self-care into your weekly routine.
Seriously, it’s pretty much the one thing you can’t outsource to anyone else. No one else can make sure you get enough sleep, or drink enough water, or get enough exercise. No one else can ensure you have enough downtime so you’re not completely overworked and stressed out.
It’s often the easiest thing to overlook which is unfortunate because it’s also the most important.
Now, I know the list is not all-inclusive, and I can’t wait to hear your ideas. I’d love to hear the productivity hacks you’ve incorporated into your business. Leave me a comment and let me know what helps you be more productive.