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8 Productivity hacks most businesses are afraid to try

  • 8 min read

Productivity is a key concern for every SME, as well as a top priority for the government.

Put simply, the average British worker just doesn’t achieve as much in their working day as their equivalent in, say Germany, which is damaging our international competitiveness.

So, how can you boost productivity within your own business?

There are a number of simple, inexpensive and easy-to-apply productivity tips that could make a big difference in your business.

Some of these unusual hacks may seem counterintuitive, but they might just be able to help your staff achieve more.

We talked with top productivity coaches Claire Evans and Grace Marshall to find out more.

Claire is a time management and productivity coach, author of Time Management for Dummies and works with clients in the UK and abroad to boost their productivity while finding a better sense of balance in their personal life.

Productivity Ninja, Grace, author of How to be Really Productive, is a qualified coach who brings both a psychological and a practical perspective to productivity.

1. Switch off

Smartphones have transformed the way we live and work. Most of us probably couldn’t imagine working without our mobiles anymore, but you can have too much of a good thing.

We all relish being connected, but you can be too connected.

Does your phone beep and buzz every time you get an email, news alert, tweet, text message, Facebook post or app update

It can be useful to turn off your notifications – or at least the non-urgent ones – at certain times of the day, or if you are focused on a task.

Those alerts will take your attention away from the task in hand, making it hard to get your focus back, and Claire advises avoiding late night alerts too.

She says: “It’s not a good idea to check your devices late at night, because the brain gets overstimulated at a time when it should be resting.

“Switch of your tech at least an hour before bedtime to make sure you get enough sleep and are fully rested for the next day.”

2. Minimise meetings

Meetings are a necessary part of doing business, but they tend to run on to fill all the time allocated, even if they don’t really need to.

Schedule a meeting for an hour, and it will inevitably last an hour, so why not make meetings half-an-hour long instead?

It can inject a sense of urgency and keep people focused on the subject at hand.

Grace says: “Imposing tighter time constraints on meetings means conversations have more purpose and helps bring more clarity to the process.

“It’s about managing people’s attention, not just their time.”

More people in a meeting also means more time is taken, so make sure that only the people who really need to be there are invited.

Amazon boss Jeff Bezos has a strict rule that he will only attend meetings where the entire group could comfortably be fed with two pizzas - that’s around six or eight people. Otherwise, it could be a case of ‘too many cooks’.

Some of these unusual hacks may seem counterintuitive, but they might just be able to help your staff achieve more

3. Sweet music

Everyone loves music, so you might think playing it in the workplace would prove a distraction.

There is evidence that playing music can improve your productivity, but it has to be the right kind of music, and it depends what kind of work you are doing.

If a worker is charged with a repetitive task that doesn’t require a great deal of thought, for example, then listening to background music can help make that job more enjoyable, boosting their efficiency.

However, if they are working on a more immersive task that requires creative thought, music can still help – as long as it is the right kind.

Claire agrees: “Music can help to block out other distracting sounds in a noisy work environment, which can be really useful, but if it is too intrusive then it can make it harder for the brain to focus.”

She recommends an instrumental playlist to aid concentration and creativity, and there are plenty of playlists of classical or ambient electronic music available on streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music that you could try, but keep an eye on the volume - music should only ever be background noise.

4. Nobody’s perfect

We all want to do our jobs to the very best of our abilities, but there can be a point where perfectionism becomes an impediment.

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg said: “Done is better than perfect.”, and Grace shares that view.

She says: “Not everything you do has to be gold standard, often silver or bronze is perfectly good enough.

“Some people have high standards and find this really hard, but it’s important to prioritise your work.

“A presentation to your team, for example, doesn’t have to be as refined as a presentation to a client.”

So, maybe that piece of work could be made better, but is it the most productive use of your time to agonise over incremental improvements to something that is already up to standard

Instead, assign every job an appropriate time slot and stick to it. Work on it to the best of your ability during that time and then move on to the next job.

5. Take a break

Most of us work to a pretty standard work routine, coming in at nine and leaving at around five, with an hour-long break for lunch.

But scientists at the University of Illinois have proven that trying to concentrate on one task for hours at a time means you lose your focus and your productivity actually declines.

They found that by taking a 10-minute break every hour, workers were able to maintain their focus for longer periods of time with no drop in performance.

Claire agrees: “The more tired you become, the less productive you are. By taking some time out you can reenergise, recharge and refocus – and don’t neglect meals either.

“Even if you are incredibly busy, it’s important to take more breaks. Working for shorter blocks of time and imposing mini-deadlines on yourself helps to focus the mind.”

Some go even further and favour the Pomodoro technique, a time management plan developed by Italian Francesco Cirillo during the 1980s, which promotes working for 25-minute intervals, broken up by five-minute breaks.

So, if you have a big job to do, you can actually achieve more by giving yourself regular short breaks, instead of one big one at lunchtime - it’s not slacking off, it’s even been scientifically proven!

6. Email embargo

Email is a driving force in our working lives, but there is a danger that it can take over.

One option can be to schedule time slots into your working day that are purely for reading and replying to emails.

You can put these times in your email signature if you want your contacts to know your routine.

And don’t think that all emails have to be responded to instantly. If something is really urgent, there are other ways for people to communicate with you, like the phone.

Claire adds: “The majority of emails we receive are not urgent, so by checking your emails once or twice a day, you can still keep on top of what is coming in.

“You can set up filters in your inbox so you are only alerted if you get messages from particularly important contacts or on certain subjects, if you need to.”

Clients and colleagues shouldn’t expect you to be constantly available, and there is a danger that being ‘always on’ and responding to emails at all times of day can create stress and ultimately have a negative impact on performance.

7. Work from somewhere else

For some people, their work desk is where they can work most effectively, but there is a growing acceptance that is not the case for everyone.

With the right mobile technology, we can now work just about anywhere and still achieve all our goals: WiFi, web-video conferencing, tablets and mobile printers mean there is almost no limit to where we can work.

Staff like the flexibility, especially millennials, and working from a different location every once in a while can help to give workers space for creative thinking and fresh thinking.

8. Cancel coffee

Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world and we have been drinking it for hundreds of years to give us a hit of caffeine.

It’s a stimulant, and many people rely on their morning mug (or two) to kickstart their day, but regular coffee drinkers build up a tolerance to caffeine, so after a time they need a coffee just to feel normal.

Drinking water, on the other hand, helps the brain stay hydrated, helping you think faster, focus and be more creative.

A study by academics at the University of East London found being properly hydrated leads to a 14 per cent improvement in productivity.

That’s because the brain is 85 per cent water, and if it gets dehydrated, it can sap energy and cause tiredness.

Grace Marshall said: “Because so much of our work relies on our ability to think clearly, we need to ensure we stay healthy in body and mind.

“Instead of reaching for a coffee, try a glass of water, or even going outside for a walk and some fresh air.

“Taking some time away from work to recharge and recover helps us to be our best when we return.”

Learn how businesses from various sectors are employing technology to their advantage by visiting Brother’s business solutions homepage.

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