An Incomplete Guide: Increasing Your Productivity at Work

The secret to productivity isn’t really a secret.

(It’s focus.)

The trouble is, we’re not good at concentrating for a full eight-hour workday and, what’s worse, according to this study, the average person can only focus intently for 90 minutes being needing a break. Add sporadic phone notifications that we can’t seem to stay away from and office -chit-chat to the mix, and it’s a wonder any of us get anything done.

Training yourself to focus, through repetitive practice, is essential to optimising the time you have available to you. Here are 10 practices I use to enhance my productivity in office. I hope at least one of them is helpful to you, too.

1. Declutter your workspace

Having an uncluttered workspace leads to an uncluttered mind. Although seemingly trivial, a tidy (or at least, tidier) space makes it easier to get work done – without the stress of not being able to locate your stapler, or getting suckered by visual distractions.  

2. Put your phone away

Unless your cell phone is absolutely necessary to have on your desk, put it in your bag/ out of reach/ in a drawer. Notifications, personal emails, and the cute picture of a cat your grandmother sent aren’t going to aid your productivity.

At work, I keep my phone in my drawer in case I do need that cat picture for some mid-day motivation (and so I can still hear if any calls come through).

Uncluttered desk, with only a laptop and vase with some lillies.
3. Make use of routine

Following a routine limits decision fatigue and ensures you have realistic expectations about your day. Decide when you’ll get up, exercise, take lunch, fit in other hobbies, have meetings, and when you’ll leave the office so you know how much time you have available at work and at home.

4. Don’t say yes to every request

Although saying yes will get you well-liked at work, you’ll probably find yourself spread thin (and thus, not very productive). It’s healthy to admit when you have a lot on your plate; healthy to admit you can’t take on another project right now. Your honesty will probably be appreciated more than the disappointment of you not being able to complete something by a deadline or the stress you’ll experience if you overwork yourself.

5. Get Lost

Don’t make yourself so available.

One of the most productive people I know isn’t reachable for 3 hours a day. He comes into the office, reads the paper, and then disappears into a nearby coffee shop to work.

“The key to my productivity is not being available for distractions and unnecessary interruptions. If something important comes up, I can be reached. If it’s not important, I’m left alone and get a lot of work done.”

6. Do your most dreaded task first

The best thing about dreaded tasks? They feel so great to complete.

Completing the tasks you dread first will make you feel accomplished (and even if they don’t: at least they’re done, right?). Afterwards, you can gleefully focus on the tasks you enjoy more. 

7. Is it really necessary?

I ask myself this often. Surprisingly, the answer is often no. Unsurprisingly, you often don’t have to do things that are unnecessary. 

8. Unsubscribe and unfollow

As well as decluttering your workspace, decluttering your mailbox and mind are important too. If you’re subscribed to a handful of newsletters (even mine!) consider how many of them you genuinely enjoy and how many are just taking up space.

Go through your subscriptions, your podcasts, your mobile apps, your social media accounts and be brutal: get rid of what you don’t need or value.

close up of a simple clock.
9. Identify your time wasters at work

Make a list of things that steal your time at work (like mail, water-cooler chit-chat, necessarily long meetings, etc) and see what you can do to limit them.

Try scheduling 30 minutes in the morning to answer your emails, set a timer, hop to it, and then move on.

10. Take breaks

You can’t be productive if you’re on the go for 8 hours a day.

You need time to decompress, to think, to get away from your screen and colleagues and boss and ever-growing to-do list. Take breaks periodically to realign your focus and boost your energy. (Try to schedule these breaks into your routine/ daily planning too, to ensure they get taken.)


Do you have anything to add to this list? I’d love to know how you stay productive.

P.S. What I was like on my very first day of work.

6 Comments

  1. […] How to increase your productivity at work and childhood dreams. (Art by Patya […]

  2. […] count too. I’m sure you’ve got a lot to do this year: whether that entails becoming a parent, getting a promotion, re-watching every episode of Suits that’s ever aired or keeping your houseplants […]

  3. I left my phone at home today ” by accident ” or may be not ? Most productive day…I had in a long time….x

    1. Woo-hoo! Go Debbie!
      That must be such a satisfying feeling.
      Maybe I’ll take a page out of your book and do the same thing in a little while…

  4. I don’t have anything to add – but I do love your concept of getting lost. I think making my self available to every phone call every email when it happens reduces the chances of getting planned events done. Thank you, I am going to try this one – will let you know how it goes.

    1. I hope ‘getting lost’ helps you as much as it’s helped me (which is A LOT).

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