3 Simple Ways to Increase Productivity in Your Workday
“Add a supernatural motive to your ordinary professional work and you will have sanctified it.” Saint Josemaría Escrivá
As a culture, we have become obsessed with productivity. We feel busier than ever and many people spend 50+ hours per week working. A 2014 article by The Economist pointed out that being “pressed for time has become a sign of prosperity, an indicator of social status, and one that most people are inclined to claim.” It also gives several reasons why “time for mothers, and especially working mothers, always feels scarce.” Even with growing research that longer hours don’t lead to greater productivity, this trend seems to remain strong in 2019.
When I worked in an office, there were times I felt overwhelmed by the busyness and pressured to perform faster and better. However, if I burnt myself out, it wasn’t as obvious amidst a team of coworkers. Now as a working mother from home, those pressures take on other forms. I find my business suffers in greater and more obvious ways if I don’t take care of myself or discipline my time well.
In Scripture we read, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). I love the simplicity of this verse. When I labor and am burdened, it’s not the next greatest project management tool that will solve my problems. Instead, the Lord is continually calling me to center my mind and heart on Him. Once I’ve done this, I’ve found that focusing on changing myself and my habits have the most positive effect on my workday.
Here are three simple (but not always easy) ways I’ve learned to increase my productivity.
1. Shift focus away from “productivity”
My worth is not in how much I produce, and neither is yours. This is a spiritual and professional lesson I’m still learning every day. But I’ve learned the first step to being more productive is letting go of my standards and expectations for being productive. If I spend all my time and energy trying to be more productive, then I spend less time doing the work that matters.
Although I experienced a lot of pressure in past jobs to continue producing (and I still do in my own business), what my bosses really wanted from me were results. So instead of focusing on crossing off my to-do list and managing my busyness, I focus on which actions will get the most important results today.
2. Determine the most important task for the day
Once I’ve let go of a mindset that’s hyper-focused on productivity, I choose which task is most important. I first learned this concept in Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Work Week. He explains that we need to determine the one “mission-critical” task for the day, then focus only on completing that one thing.
It turns out this is easier said than done. As someone who has been overwhelmed by my to-do list on more than one occasion, I find it incredibly difficult to choose only one mission-critical task for the day.
But implementing this exercise has had the single most positive impact on my work. It forces me to look at what’s important rather than urgent. I want to be able to say, “If the only thing I do is complete this one task, today will have been successful.” And, as Tim Ferriss explains, if I find myself with three or four tasks that I feel I must do in one day, then I haven’t truly understood what “mission-critical” means.
I’m going to be honest - I don’t actually do this successfully every day. But I try, therefore training myself to habitually look at which tasks will bring results.
3. Don’t check email or notifications first thing in the morning
Speaking of results and importance, emails and other social notifications rarely fall into either category. In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he explains how email always feels important or urgent. However, if something was truly that important, then the person most likely would not be sending it to you in an email (at least not one that needs an instant reply).
I do believe good email etiquette means responding within 24 hours. I also admit texts and Slack notifications can be equally invasive on my time. But withholding from answering email for the first few hours of my workday allows me to focus on priorities when my head is clearest and I’m naturally focused.
What simple strategies have you found to increase your productivity?
Emma Moran loves all things design and business. She has Bachelor’s in multimedia and marketing as well as a Master’s in Business from Franciscan University of Steubenville. Emma was the director of a marketing and communications department at a Catholic high school before starting her own business, Creatives on Fire. You can learn more about how she helps female creative entrepreneurs here and check out more of her writing here. She is also a wife and mother of two beautiful daughters.