Productivity 101

We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and we’re all home far more often than we ever expected. However, many of us are feeling less productive than ever.

You’d think that with all this extra time at home, you’d finally be conquering all those long-ignored to-dos on your list. Or since you no longer have to commute in, you’d be using that gained time to go above and beyond at work. But for many of us, that busy bee scenario is not happening.

Being quarantined and socially distanced has given us more of a ‘make it through the day’ mindset instead of a ‘get things done’ attitude. Many of us are telecommuting, possibly burnt out, and the news is giving us whiplash–making it harder than ever to get away from the screen.

So, let’s look at some simple methods for practicing better time management to be more productive during these Groundhog’s Day times of working from home.

Beating procrastination (or what we’ve been calling, pandemic paralysis)

Your procrastination of a specific task often results from some (conscious or subconscious) anxiety you might have about that task. For your well-being, you should try to identify why you’re procrastinating with a task. What are the hidden scary bits that are making you put off the task? If you can give a name to your anxiety, you’re that much closer to defeating it.

In the short-term, procrastinating on one or two tasks is typical and not a big deal. But if you’ve found that procrastination has become a bigger problem for you–with work and errands piling up around you–you’ve got to address it.

The only procrastination tip you need

What we love most about fixing procrastination is that it’s easy to get started. Step one is to start small. Choose the most straightforward task that you have to do and do it for five minutes. That’s it! Set a timer for five minutes, and you’re allowed to stop doing the task once the timer goes off. You can give any task five minutes, right? Nothing scary about that.

Although, if you do want to keep working on the task after the timer goes off…it’s allowed (and our hope that you will find this happening!). We believe that if you try this timer trick every day in the morning for one item on your list of procrastinated to-dos, you’ll find yourself slowly but surely cutting down the list.

Measuring your company’s productivity levels

How do you measure productivity at your company? We’re not talking about hours spent. We’re also not talking about the definition of productivity — a standard equation for measuring employee output. That productivity formula is focused on labor work and doesn’t take into consideration trade-offs that a business might have to make to increase employee output.

Harvard Business Review has examined how businesses can “measure the unmeasurable.” They suggest a multifactor productivity approach, focusing on how a company should measure productivity with a metric extracted from its competitive position in the market. For example, if a business is competing on speed with other companies in their market, they should focus on a time-based metric to measure productivity per worker. If the main competitive advantage in their market is network size, then new sign-ups should be the focus of productivity metrics.

Another approach to measuring employee productivity company-wide is to calculate the gross profit your company makes for every dollar spent on your workforce. Its result should give you a good bird’s eye view of your company’s overall productivity and efficiency, though it does not provide you with insight into an individual employee’s output.

Why you should have a personal productivity metric

But when it comes to your personal productivity levels, you should try to define a personal productivity metric for yourself–outside of your company’s metrics and bottom line. If you don’t measure your productivity output, how do you know that you’re working better or worse than the week before? It’s impossible to claim that any time management method is better or worse than another without a yardstick for efficiency.

Any personal productivity metric should incorporate quality and efficiency–but those are subjective elements. How do you know the quality of your work? For many office workers, an annual performance review is the only measurement that they receive in their job. And even that is pretty subjective.

So, how to choose a personal productivity measurement? Start by examining your duties. For example, if you are a customer support representative–are you collecting any data on customer satisfaction after your interaction? A quick automated survey asking, ‘How did I do?’ could help you collect qualitative data on your performance. Measure your average daily satisfaction rating with customers against how many customers you help per day.

If your duties are more abstract, like a product designer, you could determine efficiency from a metric like hours spent receiving feedback or doing further passes on designs. You could weigh that efficiency against quality, which you could measure by analytics in the product once your design is live and in front of users.

These are examples to frame your thought process as you try to figure out your productivity metric since it should be just that–personal. We suggest reserving some quiet time and sitting down with a sheet of paper. List your current duties and daily tasks. Also, think about where you want to go in your career. Imagine what your responsibilities will look like if you reach that goal career title. From there, zone in on those areas where you know you need to improve to get to your ideal career.

Looking at those areas where you need to most excel to reach your dream position, figure out how you can measure the quality and efficiency of your output so that you have a way of measuring productivity daily. If you want to go the extra mile, write out your new personal productivity metric and hang it above a calendar in your work area. At the end of every day, record how you did onto the calendar. Review your numbers weekly while taking a few minutes to think about what worked well that week. By taking diligent stock of your output, you’ll be on your way to long-term productivity growth.

How to boost your overall productivity? Our best productivity tips so you can get through 2020

1. Don’t use the word “boost.” In fact, excise all business jargon from your vocabulary. Never again say, “ping” or “OKR” or “Slack” or “knowledge workers” or “optimize.”

2. Immediately end any Zoom meeting whenever someone on the call says, “Let’s circle back.”

3. Delete all social media and never, ever look at a newspaper.

Can’t do any of that? Us neither.

Ok, here are our serious tips for productivity.

The best part of becoming more productive? It involves doing a bunch of things that aren’t work.

1. Use a to-do list (duh!) Might we recommend our own?

- You’re not going to get any better at productivity if you’re not planning.

2. Exercise.

- It might sound crazy that we’re telling you to do something other than work, but exercise releases a lot of good endorphins that will help you focus when you’re ready to work.

3. Keep that work-life balance.

Again we’re suggesting something other than work! It’s almost as if having a healthy personal life helps you to have a healthy work-life./s

4. Work in batches

- Always remember to take a break. If you work yourself to the point of exhaustion every time you sit down to work, you’re going to start (or keep) avoiding it. Try the Pomodoro method if you find that you’re having trouble remembering to stand up and get away from the screen.

5. Turn off and tune out distractions.

– Understand how you work best. If you need a quiet space, make sure you find a calm space. Likewise, if you need a lot of noise, play some music or background sound. However, resist the urge to have Netflix playing in the background.

6. Take all your vacation days

– You might be in a state still under quarantine from COVID-19 but take your vacation days. Make it a staycation or a drivable distance from home, whatever you need to do to relax after improving your productivity.

Still looking for more insight? Check out this post on Personal Productivity from the Pleexy blog.

Clear your to-do list, unclutter your life