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7 Tips To Structure Your Workday For Maximum Productivity

Nancy Howard

December 20, 2020

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The pandemic led most of us to remote working. For some people, it was a temporary change of lifestyle; for others, it is still a reality, and it will stay so indefinitely. For example, Dropbox announced that even after quarantine, their employees would be working remotely. The reason is the general convenience and savings of the company’s resources. According to the company stats, productivity was not negatively affected by employees being away from the office.

Still, this is not a common situation. There are plenty of people who, on the contrary, feel less productive at home. According to Glassdoor, 72% of workers in the USA would like to return to offices. However, data on productivity in offices do not offer inspiring numbers. For example, the VoucherCloud study says that office workers are effective only 2.5 hours per day.

It seems it doesn't matter where you work, and it is up to you to organize your workday and increase your productivity. So, let's see how you can improve it.

#1 Get To Know Yourself and Your Perfect Workday

Elon Musk believes that to be successful, one must work at least 100 hours a week. Writer Tim Ferris believes that only four hours a week are enough. How many hours does it really take to keep up and not sacrifice your life for this? You can find out for yourself in an experienced way.

Try for at least a week (or better a month) to write down how much you work and what outcomes you get. Determine if you are satisfied with your performance and how good you are feeling. If possible and necessary, work less: Stanford University research has shown that when you reach the 50-hour per week work threshold, productivity drops dramatically.

Here is a real-life case: Microsoft Japan tested a 4-day work week and a 3-day weekend for a month and team productivity increased by 40%. Employees were also satisfied: 92% said they appreciate the four-day working week better than a classical working option.

If you are not a Japanese Microsoft employee or can't set your schedule, at least set important tasks during your most productive hours.

#2 Plan Your Day in Advance

The basic plan for the day is a list where you set what tasks you should do during the day. You can spend only 10 minutes to write it down, and it will make you more focused and ready for action.

The advanced version of planning is to set tasks, prioritize them, estimating how much time you will spend on doing them. You can do such a plan in an Excel spreadsheet or any other organizing program.

To define priorities, you can try the MoSCoW method. Consonants (MSCW) state the degrees of priority:

(M) Must have - tasks of critical importance; without them, you cannot move on.
(S) Should have - important tasks that are not critical but are still mandatory.
(C) Could have - tasks that are desirable to accomplish.
(W) Would have - tasks that can be postponed.

#3 Firstly Complete the Most Important Points on the List

No matter how well you plan your day, there is always a chance that something will go wrong, so put tasks with high priority at the beginning of the day. This way, you can postpone less important things for tomorrow and have more energy for complex solution planning.

#4 Include Moments of Rest in Your Plan

Ironically, the key to productivity is not working but getting a good rest. When we are tired, we lose our attention and ability to form creative decisions.

The problem with the rest is that it is tough to find. According to Chris Miall, a neurologist at the University of Birmingham, "the brain rests only when it is dead." Still, we need to try at least not to absorb new and complex information continually. Here are some tips to get a break from a monkey mind:

- Walk outside or just breathe fresh air on the balcony without a smartphone.

- Do not think about what you have to do after this moment of rest.

- Do not watch the time. Even if you have 5 minutes of break, better set the timer and let it notify you when you have to go back to work.

#5 Do Not Work Outside Working Hours

In your plan, define the time you start to work and the time when you finish. It is a myth that "real" specialists should live in the office. You can have hobbies, personal life, and a full right not to do anything when you rest.

Let's compare two countries: Japan, where people are used to overtime, and Denmark, where workers have a strict distinction between work and rest. In Japan, there is even a word, "karoshi," that means "overwork death," e.g., heart attacks because of stress. In 2019, 1,949 Japanese employees committed suicide because of the difficult situation at work.

On the contrary, Denmark is well known for "hygge," or "a recipe of Danish happiness." It is a principle of living in the moment and spending more time with your family and friends. Denmark is also at the top of the list of the "happiest countries in the world" in the last few years and one of the most developed and wealthiest countries.

#6 Check Your Email Only Once or Twice Per Day

Scientists from the London School of Economics and Political Science found that the owners of gadgets are distracted by the phone every 5 minutes and do not even notice it.

If you check your email on your computer instead of a smartphone, it is the same. In both cases, we are prompted by not wanting to miss something important. But in the end, you just lose your time and do not focus on the task. It is better to write down a plan to respond to the mail, for example, in the morning before doing the rest of the work.

#7 Set One Day Per Week Free From Any Work Meetings

Multitasking reduces brain efficiency by 40%. That's why we get tired more when we have several different tasks in the plan for the day instead of one big one; especially meetings take up a lot of energy. Determine at least one day you will do one big thing, and you will feel better.

Our general advice on productivity is to listen more to yourself and your needs.

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