A Comprehensive Guide on How to be Productive at Work

Camelia Zoica

Written by

Camelia Zoica

Read Time

28 minutes

Updated in July 2018 with the most current information, relevant examples, and expert tips on how to be productive at work.

Productivity at work is not about just showing up. You might have looked for tips on how to be productive at work before. The reality is that so many things play into work productivity. From sleeping to preparing clothes ahead of work, there are many aspects that play a role in how we handle work productively. Some have a bigger impact. Others a smaller one. Yet, all of them add up to form our work persona.

I can’t cover all of them in this article, but I’ll share the most important productivity tips for success at work. So, here are some ways in which you can become more productive at work (in order of importance):

Productivity

Click any of these links to jump to each category and find out how to become more productive at work:

Make sure you’re sleeping well and going to bed early

According to the National Institutes of Health, 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders and problems. These can greatly impact their health, alertness, safety, and productivity rate. Sleep disorders left untreated have been associated with hypertension, hormonal imbalances, weight gain, heart disease, depression, and other chronic diseases. In addition to the serious health problems they cause, the amount and quality of your sleep can affect your productivity at work.

Researchers from Cambridge University and Rand Europe conducted a study on over 21,000 employees in the UK. It was shown that those who sleep for 6 hours or less are significantly less productive than those who get 7 or 8 hours of sleep. Check this great video to better understand what’s happening with your body if you don’t sleep:

Even though this data has been around for a while, we find it hard to accept. In our busy schedules, we seem to never be able to squeeze in an extra hour of sleep.

With so many things to do, how can we afford to sleep for 8 hours a night?

If you think about it logically, isn’t it better to have 5 hours in which you can be as efficient as you can instead of 8 hours in which you’re walking around drunk from lack of sleep and functioning at 50% or less of your ability? Isn’t this the reason why some companies are starting to introduce napping policies?

Smart employers realize how much more productive employees can be when they’re given the chance to take a 20 or 30-minute nap. Two units of work will not necessarily produce twice the output. When it comes to working, we need to think in terms of output. It shouldn’t matter how many hours your team puts in if you’re satisfied with the quality and quantity of the work.

Woman Sleeping

But although naps are a good solution if you’re sleep-deprived, getting a good night’s sleep is still the best if you’re looking into become more productive.

There are several ways to improve your sleep, but one of them is definitely going to bed early. Ideally, that would be somewhere between 8 and 10:30 PM, depending on your natural circadian rhythm.

Notice when you’re initially getting sleepy at night. Try to make it a goal to go to bed at that time. Don’t force yourself to stay up longer to watch a TV show or whatever keeps you up. It will be hard at first, especially if you’ve turned into a night owl over the years. But, you can do it gradually by decreasing your bedtime by 10-15 minutes every week.

Just think how great it will be to wake up before everyone else. Instead of rushing out the door every morning, you’ll have the opportunity to exercise, have a healthy breakfast, or even read. You’ll be peaceful and you won’t have the feeling you’re jumping straight into work. And it helps with your productivity goals too.

Watch your diet

You’ve probably heard the saying “You are what you eat”. Do you believe in it?

I do. I believe that what we eat has a powerful effect on all aspects of life. And that includes work productivity. We can’t expect to eat a donut and be as efficient as after eating oatmeal.

Sure, you’ll get an energy boost from both. But, the blood sugar crash from the donut will be just as fast as the rush. Meanwhile, the oatmeal will guarantee a slow release of glucose that will fuel you for hours.

There is a lot of controversy around proper nutrition. I think we can all agree food plays an important role in our brain development.

When it comes to food affecting our productivity, there are a few simple tricks that have a major impact:

Start your day with a power-punch breakfast

Another way in which productivity can be improved is by not skipping breakfast. This meal is decisive for the start of your day. If you feel like you need a lot of energy to wake up, don’t start your day with coffee. Have green juice instead or some lemon ginger water. It will give you the boost you need. Also, you won’t feel drained a few hours afterward and be more productive at work as a result.

Have your drink and then follow it with a healthy breakfast such as a fruit platter, oatmeal with berries, or a fruit smoothie. If you prefer something more savory, try some guacamole or hummus with veggies on the side.

Healthy Food

Avoid large, heavy lunches

When you eat a heavy lunch, your body will direct a lot of its energy toward the digestive process, which will leave you feeling fatigued and sleepy and you won’t be able to get much work done. Try to have something light for lunch, such as a big salad or brown rice with steamed veggies, or at least keep your portion small if you’re having something heavier.

For some nutrition ideas, check out the American Heart Association’s guide to eating healthy at work.

Have some pick-me-up snacks

If you feel like you need an energy boost mid-morning or in the afternoon, don’t automatically go for coffee or some sweet junk food. Coffee and sugar are indeed great stimulants and will make you feel more alert and focused, but only for a short while. The energy crash that comes after the boost will be inevitable.

Have a tea or some lemon ginger water instead of the coffee and snack on some fresh fruit, dates, a handful of nuts or even some carrots. Check out this great article for some other efficient brain-boosting food ideas.

Make exercise a priority

Sport

I have to mention something many of us like to pretend is not that important: exercise. We all know that exercise plays a huge role in preventing major diseases and improving our general well-being. Yet, we still have the tendency to postpone it. We don’t have enough motivation to find the time for it.

Would it help if I told you exercise also plays an essential role in improving our productivity? Just think about it. Exercise increases the blood flow to our brains and level of alertness. Naturally, you’d be able to focus better. Therefore, you’ll do your work easier, faster, and more efficiently. Then, you’d have more time set apart to exercise. It’s just a cycle. Stay long enough in it to see the results. You’ll no longer want to get out when you see how good you feel.

Now I know what you’ll say, that you just don’t have the energy to do it early in the morning or after a long and tiring day of work. Believe me, nobody understands lack of energy better than me. But as counterintuitive as it sounds, exercising will actually increase your energy levels and make you feel more alive. Maybe not in the beginning, when you feel exhausted, but you’ll start feeling better within a few weeks or maybe days.

It doesn’t have to be something very intense or complicated, especially if you suffer from fatigue. It can be something as easy as taking walks, doing some light yoga or low-intensity aerobic, and generally increasing your activity levels by getting up more from your computer, standing when talking on the phone, and even getting a stand-up desk.

A study conducted by University of Georgia researchers on people suffering from fatigue (not including those with serious medical conditions) showed a 20% increase in energy levels in both control groups who were asked to perform low and moderate-intensity aerobic exercise three times a week for a period of six weeks.

In fact, the low-intensity group actually had better results, reporting a 65% drop in feelings of fatigue, compared to a 49% drop in the group doing moderate-intensity exercise. You don’t have to force yourself to go to the gym if you don’t like it, find an activity that you really love, as simple as it is, and just stick with it. It will be a lot easier to motivate yourself if it’s something you actually enjoy.

If you’re looking for ways to motivate yourself to exercise, check out this article to see different tips and tricks or learn how to motivate yourself into an exercise routine. Both articles offer valid points and are good sources that can get you started with improving your overall productivity levels.

Take regular breaks

Take a break

While we’re on the subject of moving your body, let’s talk about taking regular breaks. If your job implies sitting in front of a computer all day long, it’s crucial to take regular breaks to stretch your muscles, rest your eyes, and refresh your mind. Nature did not create us to sit for prolonged periods. We were meant to be active. The fact that we’re constantly going against the grain can have negative effects on our bodies.

Being sedentary is our new disease. A disease that can lead to other diseases like diabetes, IBS and other digestive issues, heart disease, and of course back pain (accompanied by other aches and pains) and eye strain. Don’t think that you’re off the hook if you exercise daily. Being active throughout the day is just as important, and maybe even more important than regular exercise.

Now I’m not saying regular exercise won’t help, of course it will, but it just doesn’t absolve you from taking regular breaks. It doesn’t mean that if you exercise an hour every day, you can get away with sitting for 8 hours straight. That’s all.

Take a 10-minute break every hour or how often you can, and you will return to your work with a fresh mind and eyes, ready to take on the next challenge. Walk or stretch a little and you’ll see the increased blood flow to your brain will allow you to focus better and even come up with fresh ideas.

You don’t monitor productivity at work in how many hours you spend at your desk. It is measured in results, and your results will be better if you take regular breaks, and you won’t sacrifice your health in the middle. You don’t have to feel guilty about it. Any reasonable employer should understand the necessity of taking breaks and appreciate output over input, and if he doesn’t, just think if it’s worth sacrificing your health for your job.

In this article, you’ll see more scientific reasons for why it is important and beneficial to take breaks, and also learn some tips on how to spend your breaks and be more productive at the same time.

Learn to prioritize

How can you prioritize when everything is a priority? With so many things to do at work, everything seems important and you just don’t know where to start. Learning to discern between tasks and spot out what is truly important is a necessity. You have to learn to differentiate between what’s urgent and what’s important, and always focus on the important first.

Seth Godin says in this blog post, “ If you focus on the important stuff, the urgent will take care of itself.” The truth is few things are truly urgent. If you take on every little thing labeled as “urgent” as soon as it comes up, you’ll never get to the important stuff. You might end up doing it in a hurry and do a sloppy job.

What you can do is make a list of your priorities at the beginning of each day and then mark each task/priority as urgent or important. Put all the important and hard stuff to do at the beginning of the list and everything urgent or new that comes up during the day at the end of the list. Don’t worry, you’ll get to the urgent stuff if it’s really urgent, but this way you’ll also finish the important stuff without many interruptions.

Don’t interrupt your work every time you get an email. It’s not that important. If it were something that required your immediate attention, you’d probably get a call. Hey, if you know one of those people who always calls or emails you with something urgent to do, just ignore them.

Not everything can be urgent, can it? You have to learn to say no to people who always take moments of your time with no benefit. Cut out distractions and take responsibility for how you spend time. Don’t let other people do that for you! If you feel like you have too much on your plate, delegate.

Don’t be that person who has to do everything because they don’t trust others can do the job as good as they can. Let go of your perfectionism. Keep focusing on what’s important. You CAN delegate the minor stuff. Don’t be afraid to trust others and teach them.

Another work productivity strategy and method you can use to prioritize your task list is the Pareto Principle.

Also known as the 80/20 rule, it’s essentially a technique that helps projects become more effective when 20% of the inputs and tasks that go into a project will create 80% of its results.

But how can this rule be applied to task lists?

It’s not just for task lists. The Pareto Principle can be used to increase your overall productivity levels.

Here are 3 quick tips of using this method productively:

  • Start by completing the more important tasks first. These project activities are usually the ones who will generate larger or more profitable outcomes. Leave the smaller tasks (the remaining 80%) for later but don’t forget to complete them.
  • Evaluate your project’s risks and focus on preventing and handling the more serious ones. The risks you should manage first are the ones that could postpone your project or end it abruptly. However, don’t forget to manage all risks, regardless of their importance at the start of the project. A small risk that shows no possible damaging consequences at first glance could evolve into a more serious type of risk and become harder to handle.
  • Focus on your biggest goals. Some of us tend to leave the goals we truly want to achieve for the end because we believe they’ll be harder to reach. The truth is that by the time we’ll have obtained our smallest objectives, chances are we’re going to be too tired to completely focus on our real goals. So start by giving it all to achieve your biggest goals but save some of your energy for the smaller targets too.
The Pareto Principle for productivity

Examples of the Pareto Principle in use: 20% of salespeople are responsible for 80% of the product’s total sales, 20% of customers bring in 80% of the revenue, 20% of affiliate links bring 80% of the blog’s traffic, etc.

Work Prioritization Tip

You can also use task management software to help you organize and prioritize your activities according to your needs.

De-clutter and organize your work environment

Declutter

What better way of being productive at work than through work environment organization?

Having a lot of clutter on your desk frequently distracts you, lowers your capacity to be productive, and makes you lose your focus, especially if you’re a woman. Men have the ability to focus better. Women have a better peripheral view. Therefore, the eye gets drawn to the things around, making clutter a real problem.

There’s an old saying going “A cluttered desk is a symptom of a cluttered mind.” Or maybe it’s the cause of a cluttered mind. Either way, it’s clear that a cluttered desk is unproductive for most of us. Of course, there are people who function better in chaos, but most of us need organization in order to stay productive. As Steven Pressfield says in his book “The War of Art”, a professional seeks order.

A professional cannot tolerate chaos and disorder, he has to eliminate it from his world in order to banish it from his mind and stay productive. You can’t invite creativity in when your mind constantly gets bombarded by clutter or when you have to dig under mounds of paperwork and garbage to find what you’re looking for. Think about how much time and energy you’d be saving if your desk was in order. You can use all that energy lost on things grabbing your attention to focus, stay productive, and finish your work faster.

But how do you stay organized and productive?

When it comes to staying organized and keeping your workspace free of clutter, like most things in life, there is no one way that works best when it comes to staying productive. There are several methods and techniques, but one thing is clear: after you find the right method for you, you have to be persistent if you want to work productively. Don’t let a day go by without following your rules because chaos can set back in really quickly and comfortably. Clear your desk of clutter at the end of each day and you’ll be glad you did that in the morning.

There’s almost nothing better than coming to a clutter-free desk in the morning. Ok, maybe just waking up to a clean kitchen. Yeap, that definitely beats it.

But still, taking that extra minute or two to clean your desk at the end of the day will be so important to set a good start for the next day. You’ll feel like patting yourself on the back every morning you come into the office.

If you’re having trouble organizing your virtual space, try a tool like Pocket or Evernote. These will help you sort all of your notes, articles, bookmarks, and other content you find online. All while keeping you more productive at work too. If you come across a great article but don’t have the time to read it yet, you can just save it and get back to it once you get the chance.

Create to-do lists

Some people love making lists. If you’re one of them, that’s awesome and I’m sure you see a lot of benefits from it.

If you’re not, I’m here to tell you to-do lists can change your life. That might sound exaggerated but just think about having your mind free from the burden of constantly thinking of everything you have to do. I think that’s the biggest advantage of to-do lists. Once you write them down, you free your mind from a lot of clutter and you won’t have to constantly think about what’s next on your list or fear that you might forget to do something. Just write them down and take them on one by one. And this can also keep your productive at work.

Having the satisfaction of marking the tasks as complete or deleting them from your list is free fun. Keeps you productive too by determining you to finish your tasks more efficiently. Most people feel very accomplished when they know they’ve tackled everything on their list. When you accomplish things without having a to-do list written down it’s like you lose part of that joy. You’ll always have the question “Did I forget to do something?” in the back of your mind. And this won’t help your work productivity at all.

As a piece of advice: try to keep your lists short and remember to constantly prioritize and put what’s important at the top of the list. If it’s not important, don’t put it on your list. We are expected to do all sorts of things, but time is limited regardless of how productive you are.

Before putting a task on your list, think if it’s really worthwhile. It might sound harsh, but it’s something you need to do if you want to finish what really matters to you. However, if you’re busy, divide your list into several categories and keep a separate category with important things that always gets prioritized above others. Be in charge of your time and don’t let anyone tell you what your priorities are! This is one of the key steps you need to take to create your own productivity strategy.

But as great as they are, keep in mind that to-do lists don’t work in every context. If you have a business, a to-do list won’t be enough. It will be something you can use with success on a personal level, but you need a project management tool to keep your team connected and under control. A proper project management software will provide a good platform that can be used in connection with other tools you need, such as time tracking or invoicing ones.

But are you the kind of person who likes visual organization?

No problem. Just try Kanban boards.

A Kanban board is a tool that allows you to manage your tasks in a simple and clear visual way and help you with your work productivity at the same time. All you have to do is drag each task (card) from one column to another until you’ve completed it.

As a bonus, Kanban boards will also help you get an overall look at your activities, identify potential problems, and speed up your work.

Team using Kanban to be productive at work

A Kanban board used by a digital marketing team

But Kanban doesn’t always have to be used for business purposes. Here’s how you can use a Kanban board as an individual:

An individual using Kanban to improve productivity

An example of an individual using a Kanban board

For more inspirations on how you can use Kanban to stay productive, check out these Kanban board examples.

Avoid multitasking

Multitasking seems to be pretty popular. It kind of sounds like something you would brag about doing. However, trying to accomplish more than one thing at a time is not productive at all. Studies show that people who try to do more than one activity once get easily distracted and the quality of their work and productivity rate suffers.

I like how this article says that focusing on a single task is a lost art. I think it is. If you focus on more than one thing at a time, you can’t be doing a great job on all. And you can’t stay productive at work either. All your tasks will be accomplished. Yet, most likely all of them will be mediocre or slightly above average, and none of them excellent. What’s more, you won’t even finish them sooner.

When you’re working on more than one task at once you probably feel like you’re accomplishing more. Truth is you won’t have any fruitful results to show for a pretty long time and it won’t make your more productive in the workplace either.

Instead of having a task done in two days and then moving on to the next project, you’ll have five tasks extended over ten days or more. The fact that you’re not having anything finished in those ten days will probably make you feel frustrated or like you’re not getting anything done. Your boss or client might feel the same, even if they are the ones insisting all those tasks are important and need to get done.

Next time your boss comes in with a new task, let them know what you’re working on and that you’ll get to it after you finish your current project. That is unless the new thing is something really important. Don’t be afraid to ask if the new project is more important. You’ll probably see that most of the time they’ll agree the new project can wait.

For more multitasking anti-propaganda, check out how multitasking can “kill you”, an article by James Altucher.

Read as much as possible

Reading

In addition to enhancing intelligence, improving vocabulary and memory, and a host of other benefits, reading can increase employee productivity at work. Reading broadens horizons. It helps you see things from different perspectives. This allows you to be more creative and come up with new ideas.

A study conducted by researchers from Emory University in Atlanta showed that reading a novel causes changes in the ‘resting-state connectivity’ of the brain even after a few days.

The study was conducted on 12 students over a period of 19 days. It had them reading the same novel – Pompeii, by Robert Harris. They were given a 30-day section to read every evening. Also, they were asked to come in the next morning to undergo a fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scan. After they completed all 9 sections of the novel, the participants underwent scans for five mornings in a resting state. The results showed connectivity in the left temporal cortex (associated with language receptivity), as well as in the central sulcus (the primary sensory motor of the brain).

The lead author of the study, Professor Gregory Berns, said: “The neural changes that we found, associated with physical sensation and movement systems, suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist. We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

There is no question that reading is very powerful. It has a strong impact on our brains, and on our personalities as well. If you want to become a better person or improve a certain part of your professional arsenal, read. This is also a great work productivity tip: Read as much as you possibly can. Not just personal or professional improvement books, read anything you can get your hands on.

Don’t waste your time on books you can’t click with. If you don’t like a book within 15 to 30 minutes, move to the next one. There are so many amazing books out there that it’s not worth wasting precious time on books you find mediocre.

If you don’t know where to start, check out these book suggestions on how to be productive at work and in your personal life:

The Power of Productivity, by William W. Lewis
The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy, by Chris Bailey
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, by Stephen R. Covey
Do the Work, by Steven Pressfield

Track the time you’re spending on tasks to stay productive

Time tracking

If you don’t know how much time you’re spending on a task, you won’t know how much time to allocate. That’s what time tracking is for.

Manual or automatic time tracking will help you be more productive at work and at home too. It will guide you towards allocating your time efficiently and spotting potential problems. For instance, you might notice you’re spending too much time checking your email or working on non-important tasks.

Sometimes we have habits we don’t acknowledge. It’s really important to be able to spot them so we can work on them and become our most productive selves. As I like to say, if you know you have a problem, you can fix it. If you don’t, it will probably still be there a year from now. Knowledge is the first step towards healing.

As a business owner, you want to know how your employees spend their time. Through this, you’ll be able to help them become more productive in the workplace. If you notice an employee slacking, you can step in and see what the problem is. Maybe they find it too difficult or someone else would be better at that task. Whatever it is, you can fix it if you can get a handle on what’s going on.

Also, just knowing that someone is tracking their time will increase employee productivity at work. There’s just something about working under the assumption that every little bit of your time is worth money. It helps you prioritize a small number of hours in your workday and focus on one task at a time. Thus, you’ll avoid the dreaded, unproductive multitasking.

Stop checking emails, answering calls, or jumping from one task to another. Time tracking will encourage you to focus on one activity. This way you can be as productive as possible.

If classic methods are too outdated for you, you can now do time tracking using virtual tools as well. For instance, Paymo is a project management software with time tracking functionalities. It allows you to track the time you spend on a task and create time reports based on that data.

Time tracker in Paymo

Time tracking in Paymo

For more time tracking options to improve employee productivity levels, check out our list of time tracking tools.

What the productivity experts recommend

We reached out to some of the best productivity experts and asked them to offer you their best pieces of advice on how you can become more productive. Here’s what they had to day:

“The most important factor in being (and staying) productive at work is based around highly focused blocks of time where you have successfully eradicated every possible distraction. It’s easier said than done, but the results are like nothing else you can imagine.

Whether you work in a busy office with dozens of co-workers, or remotely at home, distractions exist everywhere. Focusing on your single next most important task is the key to consistent productivity all day long.

Identify your distractions, make an intentional plan to eliminate or minimize them, and the get to work on what matters most. That’s all it takes for you to become more productive.” – Jeff Sanders, Author of The Free-Time Formula and Podcaster of The 5 AM Miracle

“Self Awareness is job #1 in everything we do, including work productivity. What are your strengths? What are your gifts? What’s your purpose, vision, or value? You can’t be truly productive until you know who you are, why you’re here, and what you’re going after.

Clearly know the purpose of what you’re doing. Why is your action/business/activity important? What contribution is it making to your life, your business, and the world?

Get up early. Research shows that the vast majority of elite performers in all fields start their day at least 3 hours prior to needing to be at work. The way you start says a lot about how you will finish.

Put first things first. Your mind and your energy are your greatest assets. I teach my clients a practice called “Prime Objective.” Which is basically taking care of you first. When you schedule time for your mind, energy, and body each day, you’ll instantly become more productive. The 90-120 minutes a day I invest in working out, meditating, yoga, Tai Chi and anything else I do for me makes me more productive. I have much more clarity of mind and energy to get more accomplished in much less time. Getting up early is immensely helpful here.

Plan your day and work your plan. I teach my high-level coaching clients something I call “The Master Protocol”. A very detailed plan for each time block of every single day. If you don’t plan your day other people and other things will. The tyranny of the urgent will steal your life and dreams.

Plan your next day before going to bed. Hit the ground running first thing. A vast majority of individuals get up with no clue what they need to accomplish on a specific day and therefore waste hours wandering around, wondering, and getting ready to get ready.

Simplify your life. Move all low leverage activities to outside high-leveraged hours. Delegate them. Or at minimum habituate them so you don’t waste willpower thinking about them. Decision fatigue is rampant in today’s world. Most have too much to do and too little real progress. Progress equals fulfillment.” – James Ray, Leadership and Performance Advisor

“Here are three productivity hacks:

  • Today started last night. Before you end your workday, prepare a detailed list of what exactly needs to be done tomorrow and go even as far as creating a time blocked schedule identifying when you will tackle these to-dos. Doing so helps you execute your tasks without procrastination or debating with yourself as to how you feel about getting these items accomplished.
  • Tackle the toughest, least desirable tasks first. Typically, we have more energy and motivation in the mornings and as Brian Tracy advocates in his renown book, “Eat that Frog!”, once these are dealt with and completed, we feel a greater sense of accomplishment earlier in the day. By having reduced the mental stress of the “ugly frog”, we’re more energized to get on with our day to accomplish even more.
  • Stay mindful of the 80/20 principle. The Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, determined that 80% of our results or outcomes are achieved by only 20% of our activities. There are usually only a handful of these activities and, of course, they vary depending on one’s profession. Identify your 20% and focus your attention first and foremost on these “vital few” activities. What to do about the rest, the 80%, the “trivial many”? Delegate to others, as these tasks most likely represent the 20% in their job description.

Practice these few key steps and you experience a more satisfying and less stressful work environment.” – Susan Rose, Productivity Coach

“While email is an extremely useful tool, I find that it’s often an interruption (even a distraction) from the more meaningful and impactful parts of my work. It’s easy to be sucked into replying to every single email the moment it comes in and by the end of your workday, realize you didn’t accomplish anything else. To help combat against this pitfall in my own workflow, I use a Chrome extension for Gmail called Inbox When Ready that hides your email inbox from view while still allowing you to draft new emails and search for existing conversations.

Aside from using this to keep my day on track, I also schedule 2 x blocks of 30 minutes each on my calendar for when I’m “allowed” to open my inbox and work on replying to emails. While I don’t always 100% adhere to this ideal schedule based on the kind of day/week I’m having and what’s going on with my blog, it’s a good target to aim for and keeps top of mind the fact that my most important work is rarely replying to emails.” – Ryan Robinson, Writer, Part-Time Entrepreneur, and Content Marketing Consultant

“There are two things that I think are crucial for optimal productivity in the workplace. The first is emotionally resilient leadership. Leaders who are emotionally resilient and agile are able to forge deep connections with their people, and enroll, engage, and align them, which leads to collaboration and results. They’re able to help their teams successfully navigate change, even change that happens at a chaotic pace. To influence anyone, you must influence emotionally, and leaders who embrace that will outperform those that don’t.

The second is a culture that allows employees to feel the three things we all crave: safety, belonging and mattering. Any culture where employees don’t feel that they’re safe, that their contributions matter or that they don’t belong in the tribe will not only not reach optimal work productivity, it will lose good talent. I always say “Safety + Belonging + Mattering = Trust” and trust is the foundation of a strong company culture.” – Christine Comaford, Leadership and Culture Coach at SmartTribes Institute

“It feels like it should be easy but it is literally physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. Make use of all the tools at your disposal so you show up ready to be productive. What do I mean? Eat a good meal, drink lots of water and have healthy snacks on hand. Your brain is being taxed so keep it stoked. Sugar, preservatives and too much caffeine will make you fail or make a task so difficult you’ll never want to organize anything again. Know what your goals are and see the completed product in your mind’s eye. Every decision is moving you closer to that goal. A few minutes of a simple breathing exercise or meditation practice will help you stay calm, focused, and beat stress. ” – Regina Leeds, Author of One Year to an Organized Life

“Our ability to pay attention to what matters at work will accelerate our productivity at work and strengthen our workplace and home relationships alike. There are three main ways in which we pay attention: personally, professionally, and globally. It’s about WHO deserves our attention. So be thoughtful. It’s also about WHAT deserves our attention. Be productive. Finally, it’s about HOW we pay attention in the world. Stay responsible.

Let’s pay intentional attention to get more done and prioritize what matters today!” – Neen James, Attention Expert and Author of Attention Pays and Folding Time

“It’s fine to have goals, but to be truly productive without anxiety. I focus on systems every day, rather than goals. For example, instead of obsessing over a goal of “getting 50 new signups for my course,” I simply stay faithful to taking the step by step actions based on a credible strategy. Then, occasionally celebrating and/or learning from the results.

To be *joyfully* productive, I focus on the largest “system” of all: my life’s purpose. I reflect for a minute about my top values before I start work every day.”

– George Kao, Author of Joyful Productivity: A Solopreneur’s Guide To Creativity & Well-Being

“I believe it really all comes down to knowing the expectations that are on you from within and from outside.

Clear communication of deadlines, quality of work, the content of work need to be defined from those requesting there work.

Internally, you need to know how to prioritize, create and maintain the correct amount of momentum, and create the proper pacing when it comes to energy and focus.” – Erik Fisher, Productivity Podcaster

“Achieving world-class productivity involves optimizing your mind, body, and business toolkit. If you want to be productive, you first need a strong sense of purpose as this will drive you forward and keep you on track. Be clear on what you want to achieve and how this is going to help you reach your longer-term goals. Then take consistent, intentional steps to get there.

As a fitness fanatic and qualified personal trainer, I cannot talk highly enough about exercise. Starting the day with a good workout gets the blood pumping. This sets you up for the day, helps focus, and builds discipline. Some top performers incorporate exercise into their days as a non-negotiable. If you exercise first thing in the morning, you can shower, be at your desk and feel good that you’ve accomplished something before the day has even started. If you’re short on time, alternate between upper and lower body exercises to really break out in a sweat.

I swear by working in sprints every day by using the Pomodoro Technique. I set a timer, stay intently focused on one task until the alarm bell sounds and then take a short (5 minutes) break away from the desk to clear my head before the next sprint. I do this continuously throughout the day, especially when my attention span is flagging. Short, sharp work sprints combined with rest periods are the best way to keep energy levels up all day.” – Abigail Ireland, High Performance and Productivity Consultant

“One of the most important tips I offer for productivity is to STOP believing in the myth of “multitasking.” This is more correctly termed “switchtasking,” as your brain is not wired to focus on one active task at a time. Switchtasking causes you to make more mistakes, makes work take longer, and increases your stress levels. For example, if you are trying to have a conversation with a fellow co-worker about a project deadline, and at the same time you are trying to respond to an email from a client, you will take TWICE as long —or longer— to complete each task than if you were to focus on each individually.

Another essential step to improving productivity is the art of saying “no!” Overcommitment leads to us being pulled away from what we do best. Whenever you say no to one thing, you are saying yes to something else. Begin by saying yes to what you do best, by more often saying no to lower-value tasks” – Dave Crenshaw, Productive Leadership Author and Speaker

“In practicing what is known as Mindfulness, one can increase their productivity at work. Mindfulness is simply ‘being present’ and relaxed while focusing only on this exact moment. A common mistake the majority of us make each and every day is believing that our daily work routines, the ones we have developed over months and years at a job, are adequate enough in terms of our ability to be highly productive. The key is to find a way to become more productive at work that doesn’t come with sacrificing health in order to do so.

Simply take 5 minutes out of your lunch break to obtain a ‘mental reset’ through mindfulness practice. A simple mindfulness exercise is – ‘Eating with Mindfulness.’ Grab what you brought for your snack break and instead of popping it into your mouth and eating it quickly, begin by feeling its shape and appreciating its flavor. Take a few minutes to do so. If your thoughts wander elsewhere, gently bring them back to the food. Now slowly chew it. How does it feel to bite into? Is it hard and crunchy? Is it chewy? Is it very soft? How does it feel when you swallow it? Take a moment to appreciate things like these. This ‘refreshes’ the mind and soul, allowing you to feel re-charged and able to be productive for the rest of day.

When we become an ‘expert’ at our job and know how to apply our skills successfully. You might often feel zero need to delegate tasks or feel confident enough to say ‘no’ to additional projects or tasks. People often believe they can ‘take on any challenge’ and ‘don’t need the help of anyone else’. This may work well for a period of time, but it won’t work in the long run, especially when it comes to being able to be ‘productive. Giving yourself the permission to begin saying ‘no’ more often, and knowing exactly when it’s OK to say ‘no,’ is definitely something that takes practice. It’s difficult because our pride and ego often ‘get in our way.’ When we’re able to put these aside, we often feel more confident and comfortable in delegating tasks at work.” – Jordon Iorio, Personal Development and Life Coach

“Instead of trying to tackle a long to-do list, focus your day by determining 1-3 most important tasks for the day. If you can get those done, you can feel good about letting the rest of your to-do list slide… for awhile.

Batch smaller admin tasks, like checking email, into set chunks throughout your day. For example, you could devote 30 minutes in the morning, after lunch, and before you leave to knocking out email and other small tasks. That will free up your brain to focus on the most important activities the rest of the time so you can get more important work done.

Clear your workspace of visual clutter that distracts from your work. Do you need 10 framed photos of your family or would just one do? Do you need all those pens on your desk or just a few favorites? Limiting physical distractions and keeping just what you need to accomplish your work will go a long way toward a more productive workday!” – Rose Lounsbury, Minimalism and Productivity Coach and Author of Less: Minimalism, For Real

Key Takeaways

Becoming more productive at work doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes practice and a mindset change. Start by making small changes and then gradually eliminating your bad habits such as staying up late, eating junk food, or not exercising. Productivity is, in fact, a combination of good habits.

Be patient. Take a few minutes each day to read some of the books we recommended and find inspiration in there. There are also many tools out there to help you on your journey. Truth is everyone can be productive. You just need to take a few small steps and turn them into a new lifestyle.

If you liked this article, make sure you share it with your friends and co-workers. Know any other work productivity tips or strategies? Got a hack for improving your productivity in the office? I would also love to hear your opinion, so let me know your thoughts below.

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Alexander Abell

Great point about sleeping an extra hour to have 5-6 productive hours vs. being a zombie all day. I’m going to commit to fixing my bad sleep habits! Thanks for the article

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Scott Scowcroft

Camelia, wonderfully researched article. Were were you 50 y ears ago when I could have really used your advice (metaphorically speaking, of course)? Hadn’t know about the brain research behind reading. Reminds me to pick up books more often. 🙂

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Pablo Cossio

Great!!!

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Anna G

Good article, some familiar stuff and some new links to explore. Love the idea of a napping policy – are some employers really doing that now?

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The Comprehensive Guide to Productivity at Work...

[…] Productivity is not about just showing up for work. So many things play into it. From sleep to food to preparing your work clothes ahead of time, there are so many aspects that play a role in the way we handle work. Some of them have a bigger impact, others a smaller one, but all of them add up to f…  […]

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Mayra Alvarado

Great info, thank you!

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