The average employee spends about 60% of their time on work about work. That’s things like attending readout sessions with no clear goals, searching for documents, or chasing approvals. So if you only spend 40% of your time on high-impact work what, exactly, is productivity?
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 and more time on work that matters to your organization. The best teams—and the most productive ones—are those that reduce the time spent on unimportant tasks so they have more time to get real work done—without working more.
But getting there takes effort and focus on productivity best practices. That’s what we’re here for. In this guide, get 12 tips to increase productivity and minimize work about work, so you have enough time for the work that matters.
Problem: There’s too much going on in your working environment, which is distracting.
Solution: Take control of your surroundings in simple ways. 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. In 2020, those environments changed significantly when the COVID-19 pandemic unexpectedly sent many of us into remote work. You may not have had time or space to create a good work from home setup—and if so, you’re not alone.
In April of 2020, we surveyed over 5,000 global workers to get a sense of how their work from home life had changed. We found that 53% of global respondents didn’t have a dedicated desk, PC/laptop, or reliable internet connection, and 43% of them were working from kitchen tables, sofas, or even beds.
No matter 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 cancelling headphones. If you don’t have a great working chair, try using a lumbar-support cushion. By simplifying your surroundings and finding solutions for common distractors, you can find focus and flow, instead of suffering from constant distractions.
“Distractions are costly, so we’ve focused on eliminating them wherever we can. With Asana, people are able to get into a flow and do their work without disruption because everyone knows where things stand and what they’re responsible for—no stand up required."
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. 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 on/five minutes off practice four times. Then, after the fourth 25 minute working session, take a longer break of 20-30 minutes. As for why it’s called Pomodoro? This technique originated in Italy, where kitchen timers were traditionally tomato-shaped, and pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato.
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.
Problem: Work about work is draining your team’s productivity.
Solution: Try a productivity tool to share a central source of truth with your team, and reduce the barrier to entry for high impact work.
Busywork is a key culprit of work about work. In the office, busywork most frequently manifests as unimportant, time-consuming tasks, accidental duplicative 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. Work on big ideas, without the busywork. 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.
“Before Asana, a lot of my time was spent organizing the work—like managing requests, collecting status updates, or tracking down small details—instead of strategy or design. Now I save time and there are less review rounds because I have all the information I need up front and in one place."
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.
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 and increase flow:
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.
“The standard of our creative team, for a while, was just to react to work. But we’ll never do the best work we possibly can without a clear process."
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. 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.
Conversely, if you don’t have a clear and easy way to connect your daily work to your team and company objectives, there’s no way for you to have a good sense of what to prioritize. The best way to do this is with a work management software, like Asana. By managing your team goals and initiatives in the same place where you coordinate daily work, your team can best prioritize, align, and get great work done. In fact, according to the Asana Goals Report, 84% of employees that do use a collaborative work management software say they have a clear understanding of how their individual work relates to company-wide goals, compared to 43% of employees who don’t use work management tools.
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.
Being productive 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.
“We encourage our team to work the hours that make the most sense for them as long as they communicate it clearly in advance. When it's time to put it down, put it down. Turn off the notifications. While one teammate may want to post at night because it's after the kids go to bed, that doesn't have to create a sense of urgency for others."
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 10 tools per day? When your work is scattered and hard to find, you spend precious, non-productive time simply toggling between tools on the search for 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.
Instead, find a central source of truth where you can integrate all of your business tools, eliminate data silos, and ultimately increase 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.
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 for visibility, 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, Rules in Asana can do it for you. With Rules, select a trigger—like a new task being created or a task’s status changing—and an action—like adding stakeholders to a task for visibility or changing the due date. This is one of the easiest productivity hacks to implement—with the biggest results.
“With Rules, we now save 2-6 steps for each of our 40-50 customer requests per sprint because tasks are automatically added to other projects and moved through each stage."
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 that connect to your company initiatives or important goals and align with your project plan. 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.
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. Instead of encouraging deep work and boosting your productivity, it’s a constant distraction.
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 day.
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 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.
“Asana allowed us to see the overall amount of work that we were actually doing, and then it allowed us to be able to reprioritize and re-strategize the types of work that we were doing."
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. The most productive teams are those that manage to reduce work about work—the non-productive tasks that get in the way of high impact work.
If you’re ready to boost 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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Increasing productivity isn’t hard. It just requires you to be more deliberate about how you manage your time.