Quick -- how many hours are in the average workday? The seemingly obvious answer is a little over eight hours – it’s the standard, and it’s backed up by data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But for executives, the workday stretches to nearly ten long working hours. Here’s the twist: research shows that across the board, full-time workers spend just two hours and 23 minutes getting anything done. That’s bad news for the bottom line, considering that highly productive companies enjoy 30-50 percent higher operating margins than their competitors. It’s no wonder organizations and individual team members – from the intern pool, managers & coordinators, all the way up to the C-suite – consistently seek out productivity tips, tricks and tools to get the job done.
Chances are, that’s exactly why you’re here. As a leader, you’re tasked not only with managing your team – your plate is overloaded with important work and urgent daily tasks, all vying for an equal share of your attention via a steady stream of meeting requests and deadline notifications. And you don’t need to be hurtling toward burnout to feel the effects of an overstuffed agenda. Call it a distraction, writer’s block or just boredom; even the most successful leaders suffer from temporary bouts of inefficiency sometimes. So, how do you increase productivity at work?
Well, that depends on who you ask. Some business leaders swear by a four-day workweek, while others rely on proven project management methodologies – think Six Sigma or Agile – to move faster at work and tackle important work on their behemoth to-do lists. Still others will contribute to the growth of an over $70 million productivity software market. What eventually works best for you will depend on you, your team, and your organization. Here are a few productivity tips for managers, and all leadership to help you save time, reduce stress and stay focused.
Determine Your Goals and Objectives
It can be surprisingly easy to lose sight of what you are hoping to accomplish once the work piles up and overwhelms your to-do list. Everything tends to take on the same level of urgency once you’re under – or past – looming deadlines. It’s worth remembering that everything isn’t equally important. Take a beat and look at that list with fresh eyes. Zoom out to get the bigger picture and figure out what your overarching goals are. What milestones will you and your team need to hit to reach those goals? Thinking of these goals as “big buckets” will help you move forward if you’re experiencing a bit of analysis, task, or tech paralysis.
Within each of these, you’ll have a set of objectives: ideal outcomes and minimum results you know you’ll be able to measure. With these lined up, you can backward-plan to get projects back on track if they’ve slipped or keep new objectives from piling up and wrecking your calendar. The next step?
Make a List to Make the Most of Your Workday
We know. This step threatens to make you even more overwhelmed in the short term – it feels like an addition to your list, not a way to streamline it. But by placing all your to-dos in one place, you get them out of your head so you can attack them one by one.
Even if you’re a pen-and-paper person, consider getting a task management tool online such as Todoist to keep all your responsibilities in one place and mark them for different days throughout the week or a specific time of day. Make use of the tools you have on hand, too. Microsoft 365 comes with a suite of hidden organizational treasures. For instance, you can turn emails into action items with the click of a button. Or explore automated app features like Zapier, which allow you to turn a single Slack message into a card on Asana. These can help keep your to-do list current without forcing you to stop an already productive workflow to revisit it.
However you choose to make and update your list – whether you start your day or spend 15 minutes every few hours maintaining it – you’ll save time overall when it’s no longer living entirely in your head. Then you will be ready to:
Managers Must Organize and Delegate Tasks to Attain Optimal Productivity
An important part of organizing your to-do list is sectioning it off, not just to prioritize tasks but to find the ones you shouldn’t be spending your time on at all. You have already put in the work to cultivate a team of successful people and outstanding talent; now, it’s time to let them get to work. It’s not just okay to delegate to capable employees — it’s the hallmark of an effective leader!
Assigning the right work to the right employee can do more than vastly reduce the length of your to-do list. If you’re prone to micromanagement or can’t shake the feeling that the only way to ensure something is done right is to do it yourself, then relearning these behaviors can boost morale. You may find that you can motivate a slow employee, build team confidence, and jumpstart overall productivity when you hand over the reins.
Of course, some of the work on your list will be yours alone to manage and knowing how to prioritize tasks effectively will help you make the most of your workday. Since some items on your list come with built-in (and fast-approaching) deadlines, label those as the most important and in the process give yourself a map to carry out your top projects in order. A lot of leaders employ a decision matrix of some kind to decide what requires the lion’s share of their attention. A common one looks like this:
Neither urgent nor important. Cross these off because they don’t belong on your list at all.
Urgent, but not important. These tasks are perfect candidates for delegation. Assign them to capable members of your team.
Urgent and important. Get these out of the way as soon as possible yourself.
Important, but not urgent. Put time on your calendar to address these tasks after higher priority tasks are squared away.
Schedule a Meeting – with Yourself
When we say “put time on your calendar” we mean that quite literally. How many days begin with the best intentions only to be relegated to hours of constant meetings, interruptions, and frustration? When you know that you have deep work that will require an interruption-free chunk of time, work that into your daily plan when you set your calendar.
Block out time on your calendar in one-to-two-hour segments just for you to work. Use this time to focus on your list and enjoy increased productivity in the process. Any collaborative work in the form of meetings with other team members or leadership can be planned around these busy blocks instead of the other way around.
Managers Who Set the Right Tone Achieve Maximum Productivity
Setting the right tone for in your work environment boosts productivity almost at once, so spend time at the top of your busy blocks to take stock of yours. Too quiet? Turn on some Spotify. Too loud? Shut your door or invest in some good noise-canceling headphones. If you know you’re prone to distractions, set your phone to silent or block all but emergency phone calls, or disable social media apps and sites between the hours you intend to work.
However you work best, create an environment that will allow you to do it. Setting the right tone inspires focus and facilitates a flow state, which makes it easier to keep that momentum going. You don’t need to finish everything. Just take it on one task at a time and soon you’ll find you have the traction you need to knock everything out.
Bonus: Productivity Tips for Managers Working From Home
Remote work is a lot more common now thanks to the events of 2020. Now that the initial shock of the transition has worn off, there’s some good news for managers – recent research shows that employees are nine percent more productive in hybrid or full-remote work environments. Of course, we don’t need to tell you that the boost isn’t automatic. Working from home has its own set of unique challenges. Here are a few time management tips for making the most of the workday when you and your team are not in the office:
Create a Workspace You Can Walk Away From
Separating work from the rest of your life is key to avoiding burnout, a known productivity killer. If you don’t have a separate room to use as an office, find a corner of your home that can serve as working-only space, even if it’s just a pullout table for your laptop that you can collapse at the end of the day and stash in a coat closet. Keep your space separate, and keep it clutter-free. Studies show that a chaotic desk can add to your mental load and make you more likely to procrastinate, neither of which helps increase productivity.
Keep the Same Schedule Every Day of the Week
It can be tempting to sleep in once the morning commute is no longer a concern, but there’s a rather good case to be made for preserving a block of transition time before you start your workday. Get up, get dressed, take the dog for a walk or spend some time preparing mentally for the day’s work, and then get to it at a pre-appointed and consistent time. This makes it easier to disconnect at the end of the day and sets up a series of mental cues for getting into “the zone” when it’s time to work.
Managers Should Work Away From Home Once in Awhile to Ensure Peak Productivity
Some days, even the most productive worker just cannot get into the groove at home, and that’s true for managers and leadership, too. Maybe your Wi-Fi is acting up or the kids are home from school. Maybe the construction down the street is particularly grating, or the silence you usually thrive in is suddenly too quiet. Whatever the reason, it’s useful to have a “third space” to head to that’s separate from your home or office with characteristics of each. Maybe it’s the public library or your favorite coffee spot or a friend’s home – a place you can go to “reset” your headspace and jumpstart productivity just by virtue of being someplace different. We’re not just pulling this out of thin air, by the way – science backs this idea up.
Don’t Forget to Make Time to Eat, Sleep and Stretch Your Legs
If you’ve worked for a solid hour on an intensive project, reward yourself with a quick break. Walk around the block, grab a coffee or catch up on the news feeds, blog posts and text messages you’ve been resisting for a minute or two. By allowing yourself to break up the work, you’ll give your head a rest and can expect a boost of productivity afterward. Just be sure not to let your break run too long.
Want even more ways to hack your team’s productivity along with more tips for managers? Check out the latest edition of The Weekly Ledger, Increasing Productivity In The Workplace. Or, if you’re one of the many leaders suddenly tasked with doing a lot more with less resources, discover how Personiv can help.
We have over 35 years of experience helping leaders like you unlock more time in the day and protect their teams from burnout. For more productivity tips for managers, check out our recent case study, Outsourced Accounting Efficiency In The Logistics Industry and learn how our virtual accounting solutions did exactly that for one of North America’s largest premier providers of fuel, lubricants and chemicals to the Energy, Marine, Mining, and Industrial markets.