6 ways to be more productive at work

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How to Increase Your Work Productivity

We all have tough days at work when we just can't seem to get it all done. Maybe you're coming back from vacation and are having a hard time hopping back into your routine; maybe your boss is training you for more responsibility, and it's overwhelming you; or perhaps you are covering for a workmate who has called in sick.

However, what if you feel like that all the time? Feeling that way adds to our stress level and reduces our productivity. It's not just about the impact on our mental sanity, either – feeling constantly overwhelmed affects our physical, long-term health. According the Cleveland Clinic: "Newer information supports the idea that not only does physical illness cause stress, but stress may bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases."

Bottom line: We need to be able to get our work done without feeling overwhelmed, otherwise our physical health can be impacted. The following tips can help you feel more in control of your workload:

1. Use the time-blocking method.

Productivity is the result of intelligent planning – not working extra hours every day. This is where organizing and prioritizing comes in. Prioritize your tasks by week, and then by day. Take 30 minutes on Monday to prioritize your tasks and projects for the week. What are the two biggest projects or tasks you need to accomplish? Focus on the larger items rather than the everyday email-checking or following up with clients.

Use the time-blocking method, in which you block out the time on your calendar for the projects you need to complete. Mark the time on your calendar so no one else can schedule a meeting during that time. Then, be flexible during the week. Things change, and you can't always control your schedule. Spend a few minutes in the afternoon to prioritize your tasks for the next day. Create your to-do list, and adjust your time blocks for the following day. Your time blocking should be a weekly and daily planning task.

Finally, check tasks off as you finish them. We all like that small rush of adrenaline we get from checking things off the list.

Action tip: Take 15 to 20 minutes at the beginning of each week to plan your week. Then take five minutes each afternoon to organize your next day, defining the top three priorities and length of time each one will take. Block out the time you'll need on your calendar.

2. Create a routine, and stick to it.

We are creatures of habit, and so are our brains. When we establish routines, we can carry out tasks faster since we don't have to "think" about the task – or prepare for it – as much, and can work on autopilot.

This can be helpful for less important, daily, repetitive tasks in the office. Decide on a routine that works for you in your job. For example, after you get organized in the morning, you may decide to check and respond to all your emails. Then you prepare for any appointments and meetings for the day. After that, you could start on your list of projects. When you group together smaller tasks, and your brain creates that habit, you will be able to fly through them and move on with your day.

Assigning days of the week for certain things helps as well. Mondays and Fridays could be administrative days, for example. Tuesdays and Wednesdays could be dedicated to client meetings. Not everyone can control their schedule this much, but try to create as much structure as possible.

Take it a step further, and create your ideal schedule. How would you like your calendar to look? Write it down. Create it as a separate Google calendar, so when you are scheduling your week you can use it as a guideline. Choosing certain days and times of day to work on specific projects and tasks can help you create a routine that will make you more efficient. Finally, stick to the routine. Take a breath, and prioritize.

Action tips: Decide which small tasks you could group together every day, and decide when you will do them. Create an ideal schedule for yourself using certain days and times of day for specific tasks. Consider when you are most productive for tougher tasks.

Also consider your workflow and typical deadlines. Take a few minutes to consider the typical flow of your work in any given week to understand when it's best to tackle certain tasks. Then, take action on the next tip below.

3. Keep track of your time.

Maybe you feel you are organized at work but still don't have enough time in the day for everything. Log your time for two weeks, writing down how much you spend on each task and activity at work. Track everything from emails to lunch to conversations with workmates to work projects and breaks. This will allow you to see where the majority of your time is being spent and then make any necessary adjustments. You may be surprised with the results. If you need to, speak with your boss about where you are spending your time and if it's the right balance and percentage of time in each area.

Action tip: Find an app, or buy a notebook to use today so you can start logging your time at work tomorrow. The clock doesn't lie, so make sure to log your time honestly. At the end of each week, tally up how much time went into each activity. You may find lots of time going into unimportant emails or conversations with workmates. Decide how you can channel that time into more important tasks so you can get everything done in the day.

4. Remember, you are a professional.

While it is helpful to schedule your harder tasks during a time of day that you feel more alert, like after your afternoon espresso, do not let this always be an excuse to wait to feel like you are ready to complete your tasks. Be honest with yourself., and get started on the project you need to tackle. Set yourself up for success by gathering every tool you need to complete the task. And turn off unnecessary distractions, such as your cell phone and email alerts. Try listening to music or an audiobook, if your job permits you to do so, and power through.

Action tip: If your line of work allows you to listen to music, create a power playlist for that time of day when you feel less motivated to complete tasks. Try turning off your phone alerts while you are concentrating on projects so you can stay focused.

5. Own the Pareto principle.

This is also known as the 80/20 rule, which basically means that 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of effort. Keeping this rule in mind will help you focus on the most important tasks and get better results. You may find that certain tasks look just as good when you only do the most important things instead of using a lot of time to perfect small details. For example, instead of spending a lot of time perfecting an email to your colleagues about a team meeting, you could simply use bullet points for the issues you need to discuss as a team and then move on to other tasks.

Action tip: Review your time-tracking log. Decide when you can use the Pareto principle in your work day. Identify which projects or tasks you spend too much time on because you're being too much of a perfectionist or trying to avoid other items. Sometimes we want to perfect every single task, but this principle helps to control that urge. When too much time is spent on simple tasks, there isn't enough time for the important ones.

6. Stay balanced.

If your office allows you to take breaks during the day, take advantage of it, even if you only take five minutes instead of 15. Get up, walk around, go outside and get some fresh air. Also, respect your day off. If you take the weekends off, don't work unless it's absolutely necessary. Enjoy your time with friends and family doing activities that have nothing to do with work.

This will allow you to return to work feeling refreshed, happy and ready to take on a new workweek. It gives your brain down time and can even allow you time to subconsciously muse on problems you need to address at work. When you get back to work, you might just have a new solution.

Action tip: When your workload is prioritized and organized, decide on which days you can take breaks. Try not to take work projects home with you on the weekends. Turn off your phone and email notifications as often as you can when you're working on a project that requires full focus.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

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