Increasing Productivity: Five Things to Do at Work Every Day to Boost Productivity

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” — Paul J. Meyer, American businessman

“There are a million ways to lose a work day, but not even a single way to get one back.” — Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister, authors of Peopleware.

“Putting off an easy thing makes it hard. Putting off a hard thing makes it impossible.” George Claude Lorimer, American pastor

Are you working at your maximum level of productivity?
That’s a question some people don’t like to hear; they get all prickly if you even suggest that they’re doing less than their best at all times. But as a productivity expert, I know how easy it is to get overwhelmed by minutiae. It happens to the best of us.

I imagine you’ve probably already adopted the big productivity solutions, and that’s great. But there are plenty of less obvious ways to boost your productivity, and they can be easy to miss. So today, let’s take a look at five simple things you should do every day at work.

Keep it Neat
We’ve all heard the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. Well, here’s a twist: they decide to have a cooking contest, Iron Chef-style. Hare rushes through his recipes and doesn’t worry about the mess, while Tortoise is careful and cleans up as he goes. So Hare races ahead, at first…but then his messiness starts hurting him. He runs out of mixing bowls, and has to wash dirty ones as he needs them. He can’t remember where he put the salt; he slips on oil he’s dribbled on the floor; and he’s so busy trying to catch up with the little things that he lets his side dish burn. Ultimately, he can’t finish everything he wanted to prepare…while plodding old Tortoise, who washed his dishes and put his spices away immediately after using them, wins the race again.

The lesson here is obvious: instead of letting a mess pile up and then taking time out to clean and organize all at once, organize as you go. Put your files and tools back where they belong as soon as you use them. If you drop something, pick it up. If you use up something, replace it. It doesn’t take long—and you don’t have to come to a screeching halt later because you can’t find what you need, or because you tripped on your stapler and sprained your ankle.

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration is a sneaky productivity stealer that can make you sick, affect your judgment, and lower your IQ. It’s surprisingly easy to become dehydrated, too, because you may not ever feel thirsty.

The culprit here is usually caffeinated beverages. Caffeine is a diuretic, so even if you drink coffee or sodas constantly, you can still take a hit from dehydration. Plain water is the best preventative. If you’re not proactive about drinking it consistently and often throughout the day, you’re likely to pay for it with decreased productivity.

Stop Being Such a Perfectionist
Some things require a high level of quality—final reports, presentations, and the like—but most tasks simply don’t. If you feel compelled to get everything right from the word go, all you’ll do is get stuck in the paralysis of analysis, and you may never really get started. That’s a colossal waste of time.

For mundane tasks, just do the best you can within a reasonable amount of time. Set practical deadlines for yourself, realizing that you have to stop somewhere so that you can move on to other tasks. And instead of agonizing over every last detail, give yourself permission to be imperfect; you are, after all, only human.

Quit Procrastinating
We all have things we put off, typically because we dislike those tasks, or we’re afraid of failure, or we don’t know where to start, or we’re paralyzed by perfectionism, or…well, there are a hundred excuses, all as valid as the next. But none of them will help you get your work done.

You have to dismiss those concerns entirely and get busy. How do you do that? By letting go of perfectionism, by eliminating distractions and interruptions in your environment, and by strategizing—that is, by figuring out how you can break down that task into discrete, manageable chunks, each with their own milestones and deadlines. Then get to work.

Visualize Success
I’m not a big fan of “The Secret,” which I feel depends a bit too much on happy thoughts. By definition, true productivity—and the success it brings—requires action, not just meditation.

That said, I do believe that there are times when visualization is a valid tool for boosting productivity. For example, it can’t hurt to spend a little time every evening thinking about what you need to get done the next day and how you’ll go about it, and then reiterating that process in the morning before you start working. This can help you burst through any lack of motivation and uncertainty, especially if you can demonstrate to yourself, based on previous performance, that you’re up to the task.

When you’re stuck or can’t seem to stop procrastinating, take a minute to visualize the outcome of accomplishing your task, and how well you’ll feel when you do. Then think about how what will happen if you don’t accomplish that task. I much prefer positive motivation, but negative motivation can spur productivity when nothing else works!