How to be more productive: 13 tips to practice today

Zdjęcie współautora – Julia MartinsJulia Martins
1 lutego 2024
12 min czytania
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At Asana, we don’t think productivity is “doing as much as you absolutely can, always.” We don’t even think of productivity as a way to get the most output out of each day. Rather, we think productive people and teams are those that spend less time on work about work—like attending status meetings with no clear goals, searching for documents, or chasing approvals—and more time on work that matters to your organization. 

The most productive teams reduce the time spent on low-impact tasks so they have more time to get real work done—without working more.

Increasing productivity without increasing your workload might seem like a fantasy—but that’s what we’re here for. Learn how work management tools like Asana can help you increase productivity in the workplace and minimize work about work.

How to be more productive

Increasing productivity without increasing your workload might seem like a fantasy—but there are actionable steps you can take to become a more productive person. Here are 13 tips to start improving your productivity, today.

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1. Simplify your surroundings

  • Problem: There’s too much going on in your workplace, which is distracting.

  • Solution: Take control of your surroundings. Focus on what you can control, and work from there.

Whether you’re working from home or from the office, your work environment plays a critical role in how productive and focused you can be. Regardless of where you’re working, practice reducing outside distractions in order to more easily focus on the tasks at hand. The best way to do this is to start small. For example, if you’re frequently distracted by noise, try noise canceling headphones. If you don’t have a great working chair, try using a lumbar-support cushion. Reduce clutter and make sure your desktop is clean and organized. By simplifying yourhome office setup and finding solutions for common distractors, you can find focus and flow, instead of suffering from constant distractions.

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Russell Benaroya, Co-founder and Partner, Stride services
Read: 31 desk organization ideas for your remote office setup

2. Try time management strategies

  • Problem: You’ve developed some bad habits when it comes to procrastinating.

  • Solution: Beat your procrastination with tried-and-true time management techniques.

We all procrastinate. And procrastination isn’t inherently a bad thing—the time you spend procrastinating can actually lead to more happiness and better decisions. But when it comes to increasing productivity and high-impact work, you want to timebox your procrastination so you aren’t spending the whole work day down a social media rabbit hole.

Time management techniques are ways to think about upcoming work in order to get in the right headspace, reduce procrastination, and increase productivity in the workplace. Even just planning how you’re going to tackle work ahead of time can help you focus. There are several time management techniques designed to help with productivity, including:

  • The Pomodoro Technique. To start using the Pomodoro Technique, set a timer for 25 minutes and dive into your work. Once your 25 minutes are up, take a 5 minute break, ideally doing something physical like walking to the kitchen to get a snack (though it’s ok to scroll through social media if you really want to). Repeat the 25 minutes and five minute short breaks cycle four times. Then, after the fourth 25 minute working session, take a longer break of 20-30 minutes.

  • The Pareto principle. The Pareto principle, otherwise known as the 80/20 rule, is simple: it states that you spend 20% of your time on 80% of your work. In applying the Pareto principle to time management, you’re encouraged to work on the 80% of your work that only takes 20% of your time first. By getting quick tasks out of the way, you’ll feel more accomplished and be ready to dedicate focus time to the bulk of your work for the day (the 20% of the work that takes 80% of the time).

  • Getting things done (GTD). The GTD method was invented by David Allen in the early 2000s. In this time management methodology, you write down all of the work you need to do, then break it into smaller chunks if necessary. That way, instead of remembering work in your head and attempting to recall and prioritize your tasks, you can see all of your upcoming work in one place and take action. In order to employ the GTD methodology, make sure you have a system to capture upcoming tasks, like a task management tool.

  • Eat the Frog. The Eat the Frog time management principle is based on the famous Mark Twain quote: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.” In the Eat the Frog principle, you should tackle your hardest work first, before you can procrastinate. Once you finish your hardest work, everything that comes after it will be more pleasant and less difficult—much like anything you eat after consuming a frog.

3. Reduce busywork

  • Problem: Work about work is draining your team’s productivity.

  • Solution: Use a productivity tool to share a central source of truth with your team and boost efficiency for high impact work.

Busywork is a key culprit of work about work—tasks like searching for documents or trying to schedule a meeting via back and forth emails. In the office, busywork manifests as unimportant, time-consuming tasks, accidentally duplicating work, or long processes to find information or get approvals. Without clarity on who’s doing what by when, a lot of our time is drained into unproductive activities.

In order to beat the busywork, build a central source of truth for all of your team's work. When everyone can see the big picture and connect dots on their own, you can spend more time productively collaborating—and less time on work about work. As for how you can build a central source of truth with your team? Try a work management tool, like Asana.

With a work management tool, you can standardize and centralize team processes. Instead of chasing approvals, you can see how your manager or related stakeholders are progressing on a review task. Rather than emailing to ask—again—when a team member will be finished with an assignment, check their progress directly in your shared tool. By reducing busywork, you can free up time for productive, high-impact work.

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Roxane Chicoine, Creative Director, San Francisco AIDS Foundation

4. Capitalize on peak productivity hours

  • Problem: You have scattered meetings all day, so when you do get down to work, you don’t have uninterrupted time to focus.

  • Solution: Schedule your meetings in blocks, so you can focus on deep work during peak productivity hours.

If you’ve ever answered the question “Are you a morning person or a night person?” you know that personal productivity can vary significantly based on the time of day. For some of us, hammering out work first thing in the morning is really satisfying, and those tasks tend to be easier to focus on. For others, you might prefer to get down to business after lunch. Knowing when you’re most productive can help you better approach and structure your day.

Then once you know when you’re most productive, practice building “focus time” into your calendar around your peak productive hours. That way, instead of frequent, scattered meetings, you have a calendar that’s optimized for your focus and productivity. You can do this manually by scheduling a “focus time” block on your calendar, or use a calendar management tool like Clockwise to automate that work for you. Either way, practice optimizing your schedule to boost your peak productivity hours.

Alternatively, consider scheduling your work week so you have an entirely meeting-free day. At Asana, we have No Meeting Wednesday, so we can focus on deep work on that day. Deep work is any focused chunk of time where you can work without distractions. When you don’t have to worry about meetings or distractions, you can dedicate more time to productive deep work.

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5. Avoid multitasking

  • Problem: You’re working on a few things at once, but everything is taking so long.

  • Solution: Focus on one task at a time in order to get into flow state.

Fun fact: humans aren’t actually good at multitasking. When you attempt to do two things at once, your brain actually processes information—for both tasks—more slowly. As a result, instead of doing one thing well, you’re ultimately doing two things less well.

To avoid multitasking and increase productivity, focus on tackling one task at a time. Make sure you have enough deep work time to really dive into your tasks, so you can achieve flow state. When you’re fully immersed in your work, you’re in flow state—which is a more energized, involved, and enjoyable working experience. Flow state doesn’t only help you get work done faster, it also tends to bring out more creativity and engagement in your work.

Easy tips to reduce multitasking, increase flow, and have a more productive day include:

  • Eliminate distractions by putting your phone face down and disabling social media or text notifications on your computer.

  • Before you dive into work, eat a snack, go to the bathroom, and pour yourself a glass of water, so you aren’t distracted by physical discomfort.

  • Listen to calming music if that helps you focus. Consider choosing music that doesn’t have lyrics, or try listening to music in a language you don’t speak.

  • Incorporate fun if you start to feel bored. If you’re working on a routine or basic task, try to make it fun—time yourself, create an internal competition, or look for recurring elements in your work to drive away boredom.

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Joe Tornatzky, Art Director, Gear Patrol

6. Prioritize important work

  • Problem: You have a lot of work to do, and you’re not sure what to focus on first.

  • Solution: Connect your daily work to team or company goals, so you have clarity on which tasks are important and how each task connects to company objectives.

Knowing how your day-to-day work connects to company objectives or team initiatives isn’t just a nice-to-have—it’s a critical component of effective productivity at work. When you have clarity, you can more effectively prioritize your work, so you can ensure you're tackling your highest-impact work first. Additionally, team members who know how their work connects to company initiatives are twice as motivated.

By managing your team goals and initiatives in the same place where you coordinate daily work, your team can directly see how prioritizing important tasks impacts the company overall. This not only boosts productivity, but also improves employee morale and well-being.

7. Cut down on notifications

  • Problem: You’re distracted by constant notifications from email, messaging, and project management tools.

  • Solution: Try snoozing notifications or using Do Not Disturb features.

In order to home in on what you’re working on and get your best work done, you need to eliminate distractions. The biggest culprit of distractions are notifications—whether they’re productive notifications, like email or Slack messages, or non-work-related notifications, like social media pings and text messages.

Increasing workplace productivity isn’t about cutting yourself off completely—rather, look for tools that offer “snooze” or Do Not Disturb features. That way, you can dive into deep work without worrying about being pulled out of your flow by an ill-timed notification.

Do Not Disturb features have another added benefit: they let your team members know you’re working on something. Most tools with Do Not Disturb features alert team members who attempt to contact you that you aren’t receiving notifications right now, so they can more accurately predict when to expect a message back from you. They’ll know you’re not getting notifications, but that you’ll reply to them when you finish your work. This is a great way to build healthy work (and work-life) habits.

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Patti Chan, VP of Digital Product, Imperfect Foods

8. Integrate your business tools

  • Problem: You spend too much time context-switching between different business tools—chat, email, spreadsheets, and more.

  • Solution: Manage your work in a central source of truth that’s able to integrate your business toolkit to avoid switching between apps.

Did you know that the average employee switches between 9 tools per day? When your work is scattered and hard to find, you spend precious, non-productive work time simply toggling between tools to find the right information. If you have the context for your work in one tool, the work itself happening in a second tool, and any communication about that work stored in a third place, simply accessing the information you need to get work done becomes a huge drain on your productivity levels.

Instead, find a central source of truth where you can integrate all of your business tools, eliminate data silos, and ultimately increase workplace productivity. That’s part of the job of a work management tool—which can help your team coordinate and manage work. By pulling your communication and coordination into the same place, you can find the context for work right where work happens.

9. Automate manual work

  • Problem: You spend too much time routing tasks and manually triaging work.

  • Solution: Select a tool to help you automate routine tasks.

Another contributor to work about work is manual work—things like routing requests, sharing tasks with stakeholders, and moving things through the pipe. If you manage a team or a project, you likely spend a good chunk of your day on these manual tasks, instead of focusing on high-impact, productive work.

In order to reduce manual work, try a tool that automates quick work for you. That way, you don’t have to worry that tasks aren’t landing in the right place—but you also don’t have to do it all yourself. Instead of spending five minutes here, 10 minutes there routing a task or cleaning up a form, you can set a trigger that automatically funnels through the next steps. This is one of the easiest productivity hacks to implement—with the biggest results.

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Josh Mitchell, Director of Engagements for Professional Services, GoSpotCheck

10. Say “no”

  • Problem: Frankly, there’s just too much on your plate right now.

  • Solution: Practice saying “no” to new projects, or get in the habit of clarifying your priorities and bandwidth when new initiatives are suggested.

Saying “no” to new work might seem like a counterintuitive productivity tip. After all, aren’t the most productive people the ones who can do it all? Well, not really. Productive people know what their priorities are—which also means knowing what their priorities are not.

When you say “no” to tasks you don’t have time for, you’re making more time for the high-impact tasks you’ve already identified. At the end of the day, you don’t need to “do it all”—you need a way to focus on doing what’s most valuable to you and your team.

In order to say “no” effectively, practice setting expectations with your team. There are a few different ways to approach this:

  • Incorporate change control management strategies. Change control management is the practice of identifying, documenting, and authorizing changes to your work or projects. With a change control process, stakeholders can submit a request for a change—like an altered project scope or updated deliverables. Then, that change is reviewed by you and other project stakeholders. If it gets approved, you can get to work—but by then, you should have clarity on what the change’s relative priority and impact are.

  • Try a work intake form. If you’re getting frequent work requests through all sorts of channels, standardize and simplify those requests with a Form. A work intake form allows you to standardize the details stakeholders are providing when they ask for new work—like the relative priority, ideal due date, and more.

  • Clarify priorities early and often. Even if you don’t say “no,” make sure your team members and stakeholders understand the relative priority of what you’re working on. That way, you can ensure stakeholder and team member buy-in on your work.

  • Try saying “not right now.” If saying “no” doesn’t feel right, try saving tasks for a future date. Keep these in your task lists for a rainy day, but don’t bog down your productivity with things you don’t have time for.

11. Set yourself up for success

  • Problem: You spend precious time each morning trying to figure out what to focus on for the day.

  • Solution: Triage upcoming work before signing off, so you have a clear starting point the next morning.

We all know the feeling of logging on first thing in the morning and getting bombarded with an overfull Inbox. Suddenly, your carefully-structured mental to-do list goes out the window, and you spend your whole morning triaging and responding to emails. Logging on to a disorganized workspace can be a huge drain. 

In order to prevent these types of mornings, set yourself up for success the night before. Before you log off for the day, spend five minutes looking over your task list for the next day. Knowing what’s going to be on your plate is the best way to get started on your productive workday.

12. Increase team clarity

  • Problem: You and your team spend precious time chasing information and approvals.

  • Solution: Share a central source of truth so you can work, review, and find context all in one place.

Ultimately you can reduce work about work and increase productivity at work by focusing on team clarity and project visibility. Today, so much work is siloed and disconnected. Any time we spend looking for, asking about, or hunting down work is time we aren’t being productive—which means you need to make up your high-impact work at other times. But in order to increase team collaboration while also improving your personal work-life balance, you need a way to collaborate more effectively.

The best way to do that is with a work management tool. Work management tools are a way to approach and orchestrate your organization's workflows in order to provide the clarity your team needs to hit your goals faster. These tools help you coordinate people and work in order to ensure everyone has the information they need to accomplish the work that matters most in the most productive way possible.

If you’re ready to get started with work management, try Asana. Asana is a work management tool designed to maximize visibility and minimize work about work—so you can focus on productive, high-impact work.

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Carla De Ciccio, Content Strategist, Telfer School of Management

13. Take a break

  • Problem: You always seem to prioritize work over rest, and are starting to feel worn out.

  • Solution: Normalize taking breaks—both longer ones (with PTO) and shorter, daily work-free moments.

Burnout is common—close to one in four of workers experience burnout four or more times per year. And for many of us, this feels normal— 40% of us think it’s an inevitable part of success. Burnout is a result of overwhelm and overwork, and in reality, it shows us that more work does not mean better results. In fact, burnout can lead to harmful effects for both the employee and the work.

To combat burnout, normalize taking breaks. During the workday, set aside time for quick stretches, going for a walk, and meals. Make sure that you fully disconnect from work for at least those few minutes, and stay present in your chosen rest time. Throughout the quarter, make sure that you’re also planning for PTO days, when you can fully remove yourself from work. Even though it may seem like you have too much to do to take time off, taking time away from work actually improves our focus and productivity.

Read: What is a mental health day? Plus, when—and how—to take one

Productive teams are effective together

The most productive teams are those that share clarity and visibility. That way, you're not being productive in a vacuum—rather, you’re collaborating and connecting to get your best work done in the shortest amount of time possible. Those that manage to reduce work about work—the non-productive tasks that get in the way of high impact work—are also the most productive.

If you’re ready to boost workplace productivity and get your most important tasks done, try Asana, a work management tool designed to help teams work together effortlessly.

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