Productivity: How to do it better at work

These days, we’re always looking for ways to save time, maintain or boost productivity and maintain work-life balances.

Technological advances promise us we can have these things.
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All the information we ever need is at our fingertips. It’s wonderful, isn’t it? Is it?

The average human attention span is eight seconds, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Eight seconds.

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For comparison, the average attention span for Goldfish is nine seconds. Granted, we are easily distracted, thanks in part to social media, smartphones and tablets. We spend our working days in front of a computer, next to our phones or tablets, with several internet tabs open, while listening to iTunes or radio. A study in the UK found we can also toggle between devices 21 times per hour.

So how on earth do we maintain productivity during work hours (or non-work hours, for that matter) with so many distractions? At BITS, technology is our business, so it’s something we’re constantly thinking about. As I write this, I have three Chrome pages open, one with 15 tabs. Seriously. I also ate in front of my computer while I wrote this.

Since it appears I also need a lesson in maintaining a balance, I’ve found some tips that may help you. (and me)

Email

Most people check their email as soon as they start work. After all, you could’ve missed something! However, it’s easy to get wrapped up in reading and responding to emails and avoid the actual tasks you’re paid to do. So, how do you deal with it?

One suggestion is to not check it first thing in the morning. Many people are at their most productive during the first few hours of their day, so that should be the time where you focus on what needs to get done. If that’s not possible, give yourself a maximum amount of time per morning to scan your email for urgent notes. Set up regular times to check it, but focus on your work in between those email updates.

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Image via Flickr, rishibando

Apps

There are thousands of apps creative to maintain and boost your productivity. (Watch out, even trying to find your favourite can eat up precious time!)

  • Google, the boss of all things internet, has some wonderful tools to combine all your needs in one place. Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Talk, Google Sites and Google Reader to name a few.
  • Evernote is an app for smartphones, tablets and desktops. It’s more than a note-keeper. It’s a text editor, link-keeper, photo upload tool, and voice recording device all which can be used together or separately. The program saves all your entries in the cloud so that you can get to them from any of your devices.
  • Basecamp is an online project management tool that we use often at BITS. It’s a place to discuss ongoing or future projects, share ideas and information, where everyone can log in separately. Project leaders can create a "project" and manage all the work associated with it, from who should have access to the information contained to scheduling, task-assigning, and questions that come up. It also has email alerts, so members don’t need to be logged in to know what’s going on. It’s particularly great for a company in which some or all employees work remotely.
  • Harvest is a time-tracking app we favour. It’s a third-party extension to Basecamp that tracks employee hours, manages projects and monitors expenses. A timer is set and can run to follow employee hours or project hours. Time can also be set manually. Harvest is web-based and has a mobile application for both Android phones and the iPhone, so the timer can be set in one place and stopped it in another. For expenses, you can enter the amounts manually or attach receipts. The mobile app allows you to take a picture of the receipt on your phone and attach it to the expense report, which means that you can submit the receipt for dinner with a client almost immediately.
  • Codekit is a development tool we rely on, which makes magic things happen with stylesheets (Ian’s words). It brings all kinds of files together with Less, Sass, Stylis, Javascript, CoffeeScript, Compass, TypeScript and more. It automatically refreshes browsers on any device, and you can watch changes on your website immediately as they happen. It refreshes any HTML5 web browser and every major OS.

We even use Skype to send a quick message or have a meaningful video chat. It gives us the ability to communicate with everyone – not just those at our office – but people who work for us remotely and of course our esteemed clients, wherever in the world they may be. There are so many apps, it may be overwhelming just to know what to choose. Passive Panda has a great list of all kinds of productivity apps that you can check out here.

Breaks

Many experts say taking a break can actually help boost your productivity.

Take time each day to get away from your computer – go talk to your coworkers, get outside, meditate, exercise, have lunch, maybe even find a place to take a nap. Allowing yourself to recharge can help you focus more while at work.

By eating lunch or spending break time at your desk, you’re running the risk of burning out, as well as physical stress such as headaches, neck and back pain from not moving around enough.

Self-control

A lot of what you do is in your hands. Really, some self control and will power can go a long way in helping you stay or become productive.

Keep an honest record of your work day. (However, we wouldn’t suggest you share that list with those who sign your paycheques) Watch for times when your distractions give in to your work time. When do you look at Facebook? When do you find yourself glancing at your phone? When are you staring off into space? Perhaps you need to re-write this record and figure out when best to take time to do these things. If you know in advance you’ll have time for distractions, look at them as rewards for good work and they may help you focus on the task at hand.

Turn off notifications if they distract you. Looking at the little red dot on Facebook or seeing a notification come up on Twitter can easily persuade you to look away from what you’re actually being paid to do. (Unless you’re being paid to be on Facebook or Twitter, then carry on) Does your phone make noise when you receive a text? Turn it off. Does your computer automatically show email pop-ups as they come? Nix it.

Start tracking your estimated time to complete projects, and the real time in which it takes to complete them. Adjust your future estimates accordingly. If distractions get in the way of your tasks, you’re only going to get frustrated with yourself for not meeting your deadline.

For more, check out 12 successful entrepreneurs who share their best productivity hacks.

And if this blog post is taking you away from work, we apologize. Save it for later, we’re not going anywhere.

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