Understanding Productivity in the Workplace

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How to Get Stuff Done At Work

Productivity. Possibly the king of all business buzzwords, it’s a term that gets liberally applied at performance reviews, and frequently discussed at board meetings. In almost any professional occupation, regardless of skill level or seniority, it’s crucial that we remain productive, lest we be fired. But what can we do to boost this vital attribute?

What exactly is productivity?

Many employers might be loath to admit it, but there isn’t really one simple answer to this question. The Oxford English Dictionary definition for productivity simply asserts it as ‘the state or quality of being productive’, and the definition for ‘productive’ consists of multiple explanations – it’s far from clear-cut.

In its essence, productivity at work is simply your output, whatever that may be, when measured against input (usually time, and effort). If you can get lots done in comparatively less time, with comparatively less effort, you’re productive.

There are plenty of steps your employer can take to boost employee productivity, but what about you? To improve your productivity at the workplace, it’s first necessary to determine exactly what being productive looks like in your role, and then work out what factors contribute to your ability to perform well.

Most of us already know what constitutes as productive in our jobs, but speaking with managers or colleagues is a great place to start, as it can help clearly define specific areas to consider.

Fortunately, there are several ways you can boost your overall workplace productivity, mentally and physically, regardless of your role requirements.

Arrange your working environment appropriately

There is a very well supported and documented link between the design and layout of a workspace and the productivity of employees working there. Many environmental factors can have a big effect, and more research is emerging to support this.

Take, for example, the link that has been found between natural light and productivity. This has been acknowledged by many businesses, freelancers and startups working from home- many have even started to install things like architectural glass solutions into their workspaces, flooding workspaces with natural light to boost productivity and wellbeing.

While these are certainly good signs for the future of employee wellbeing, chances are you don’t have a lot of say over the design of your office. The key to boosting productivity lies in using what autonomy you do have over your workspace, and making small changes that can have a big difference.

The easiest change you can make is to declutter. If you regularly use any tools (e.g. pens), create a dedicated space for them to save time scrambling around for things. You could even consider things like filling a pitcher of water at the start of the day to save repeat trips to the kitchen, or water cooler (although sometimes a water-cooler-chat isn’t a bad thing).

Essentially, think about the things you regularly do during your working day, and set up your workspace to make these as simple and accessible as possible.

Look after yourself physically and mentally

Arguably the most important factor to your overall productivity at work is your general wellbeing. If you look after yourself, and come into work feeling healthy and refreshed, you will quite simply get more done. There are countless steps you can take to remain healthy, but a few are more conducive to productivity.

  • Eat healthily: It’s important to eat at regular intervals throughout the day. Don’t skip breakfast, and opt for something that will give you plenty of slow-release energy. Try to choose something for lunch which will give you the boost you need in the afternoon, and avoid sugary drinks/too much caffeine which will lead to a 3.30pm productivity crash.
  • Exercise: There is an abundance of research that shows keeping fit through exercise improves general overall energy levels, and leads to a higher rate of productivity at work. Try to get in at least a couple of hours of strenuous exercise a week.
  • Be kind to your mind: A healthy mind, as well as a healthy body, leads to productivity. Try to engage often with stimulating activities like reading, solving a puzzle, or writing in a journal to keep your mind active around the clock – not just at work. You could also consider taking up meditation. The benefits of meditation are varied, from reduced stress to boosted energy levels, all of which contribute to higher levels of productivity.

Take regular breaks.

Taking breaks is hugely important. This is particularly true if you work at a desk, on a computer, or in a role looking at a screen – but it applies to everyone. Extended periods of work without a chance to stretch your legs, get some fresh air, or simply unwind, can lead to a drop in productivity.

Be strict with yourself about when you will/won’t take a break. You could try something like the ‘Pomodoro technique’, in which you work solidly for a set amount of time and then take a short break, repeating this throughout your day.

Organise tasks, and set strict and realistic goals

One of the most effective ways to boost your productivity at work is to set clear, achievable goals throughout your day. Having a merely vague idea of what you should get done can result in you becoming distracted regularly throughout the day, and being far less productive.

Break down what you need to accomplish for a specific amount of time, be that a morning, day, or even week. Organise tasks into ‘need to be done now’, ‘need to be done soon’ and ‘can be done later’ groups, and then plan what you will do and when.

The most important thing is to be realistic and strict with yourself. Be honest about how long each task is likely to take you, and plan accordingly; don’t try to do too much in a short space of time. Factor in some flexibility in case something urgent crops up, but be strict with yourself. If you plan to work on one task from 9-10am, then focus for that period. You’ll be surprised by how much more you can get done.

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Workplace productivity is, of course, hugely important. There are all kinds of little changes you can make to increase how efficient you are at the office, but something to remember is that all of these improvements can be applied not only to your work life, but your personal life too.

Few things are quite as good as that feeling you get when you really achieve something. And remember, we work to live, not live to work. Using these tips at the workplace, and in all aspects of your life, can help you to achieve your full potential.

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James is a graduate of English and American Literature and a passionate writer, with a particular interest in travel, architecture, and technology. He's a member of the team at digital marketing agency Gooey Digital, and outside of work his hobbies include playing music, reading, and watching films.

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