According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in America spend 8 hours and 30 minutes per workday at work. However, one other research shows that they spend only 2 hours and 53 minutes of that time actually focused on work — and, a lack of work structure and an excess of work distractions are cited as one of the main culprits for wasted time.
Considering that wasted time equals wasted money, the American economy is currently losing billions of dollars on a weekly basis as a result.
With that in mind, it’s high time to make the effort to increase the number of hours people spend productively focused on work — even if the initiative has to happen one company at a time.
To help facilitate this progress, here are 4 easy time management tips that can help your company improve workplace productivity.
1. Create and stick to schedules
The first step to improving workplace productivity is understanding what everyone needs to do in the first place. So, it’s vital that your team creates and sticks to comprehensive to-do lists and schedules.
Each morning, you can all take the first 15 minutes to write down the tasks you need to work on that day. Then, decide how much time you’ll spend on each task, and write that down as well. As a point of reference for how much time you should allocate to each task, you can print out some timesheet templates and take note of the time it took you to finish these tasks in the past.
After you’ve all listed and scheduled your tasks for today, you can share them for the team to see — this way, you will all know what everyone is scheduled to do at any given moment, so it will be easy to arrange team meetings or individual consultations during available schedule gaps.
2. Prioritize tasks
Priority tasks are those you should allocate the most time and effort to. To illustrate their importance, let’s look at the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. According to it, working on 20% of select tasks will help you achieve 80% of your goals. So, if individuals and teams focus their efforts on the right tasks, they could be working less, but finishing up more during the same time frame.
One handy time management technique you can use to identify priority tasks is the Eisenhower Matrix. To implement this technique, you’ll need to allocate the tasks from your to-do list to 4 quadrants that are labeled according to the level of “importance” and “urgency” they represent:
- The 1st quadrant is for tasks that are both “important” and “urgent”.
These are your priority tasks, and you should work on them first.
- The 2nd quadrant is for tasks that are “important”, but “non-urgent”.
These are the tasks you should work on after finishing up the tasks from the 1st quadrant.
- The 3rd quadrant is for tasks that are “unimportant”, but “urgent”.
You should delegate these tasks to someone else, considering that they require speed, but not necessarily your own involvement.
- The 4th quadrant is for tasks that are “unimportant” and “non-urgent”.
These tasks are the very opposite of “priority” tasks and you should simply eliminate them from your schedules. As a result, you’ll leave more time for the tasks from the 1st quadrant — i.e., your priority tasks.
3. Make breaks mandatory
Taking breaks may sound counterproductive when you’re racing to beat a deadline. However, pushing your team to power through tasks at all costs is the real counterproductive practice here.
This is because working without taking breaks leads to workplace stress. And, research by the American Psychological Associaton shows that the economy loses as much as $500 billion due to workplace stress, as people under stress call in sick more often or simply cannot perform as well as they should. So, don’t forgo breaks when working.
According to the science of Ultradian Rhythms, our brains experience regular alternating activity periods — periods of high brain activity that last 90 minutes, followed by periods of low brain activity that last 20 minutes. These are your ideal work/break timeframes, and your team can use them to define workflows.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you must take a 20-minute break after each 90-minute work session. You are, however, advised to work on your priority tasks for no more than 90-minutes in one go. Afterward, take at least a 10-minute break, before slowly easing into another 90-minute work session.
4. Create “focus bubbles”
If your team can’t focus, they can’t be productive. And, the best way to focus is to create your own “focus bubbles” that will keep you away from distractions and time-wasters.
One research centering on music and productivity had 71% of surveyed people say that listening to music while working helps them be more productive. So, the first step toward creating your own “focus bubbles” should involve music — when you want to focus on work, just put on your headphones and pick an instrumental playlist on YouTube. It’ll help you concentrate, drown out background noise, and send a signal to coworkers that they shouldn’t disturb you.
The second step to creating your own “focus bubbles” involves blocking distracting websites. After all, there is no point in drowning out background noise if you’re going to focus on Facebook and Instagram instead of work. Choose a website blocker app, and use it to minimize the time you spend on time-consuming websites during work time.
These tips should help you improve your workplace productivity as soon as you start implementing them. As time goes by, more and more meaningful tasks will get done faster, stress will decrease, employee happiness will increase, and you’ll establish fertile ground for future productivity and continual progress.
Marija Kojic is a productivity expert specialized in time management techniques. She works at Clockify, where she enjoys helping people discover meaningful and effective ways to work smarter.