It doesn’t really matter what you do for a living. You can be a nurse or a painter, a secretary, a developer or, like me, a project portfolio manager. Whatever you do, you probably have multiple tasks to do every day. Some of them are smaller, some larger, but every single one of them is important. You have eight working hours a day (OK, sometimes ten or twelve) and it just seems impossible to fit all of these things that you need to do in your schedule. You can relax now because I, too, know that feeling!
In this article, I’ll discuss three main areas of productivity at work:
- good organization of tasks
- focusing on delivering value
- ensuring job satisfaction
My goal is to share my experience and professional tips with you to make your life at work more organized, pleasurable and valuable.
Some time ago I was trying to help a friend of mine to become more efficient. She’s responsible for human resources and recruitment, so confronting a vast multitude of varied tasks is, basically, what her job is all about. When she coordinates two to three recruitments at a time, everything is fine. However, with a larger number she tends to get lost in tasks and stops delivering almost any results at all.
By the time we sat down to talk, she was already feeling overwhelmed, ineffective and, more importantly, exhausted. At first, I had no idea what the issue was. She had a simple list of clear tasks and deadlines – why would it be difficult? I was big on giving undeniably great advice like ‘just do it’ or ‘why aren’t you doing it?’. As you can probably imagine, it didn’t work that well. It turns out that what was natural and easy for me wasn’t so for her. After some brainstorming, we decided to do a little reverse engineering on yours truly and my modus operandi.
First, you need to organize your work…
I’ve divided my good practices and work-hacks into three categories: organization, value and satisfaction. Let me introduce you to each of them, illustrated with examples from my own work experience.
Make a to-do list
Pro tip: To-do lists help to organize your day at work and keep track on what still needs to be done by 5 PM.
As a project portfolio manager at a digital company I usually have quite a lot on my plate. There are days I can’t even see the other side of the huge pile of tasks building up on my desk that are somehow my job. But, I love it and most people say that I deal with it well. My first tip is to make to-do lists. It may sound unoriginal, but if you truly want to be productive then you should have a neat list of what you need to do and when. Without it, you’re bound to forget about something that may one day turn out to be the most important task you were supposed to do. Obviously, this could spell disaster and we don’t want that to happen.
Book some time for big tasks
Pro tip: Big tasks aren’t scary if you approach them with a plan.
Do you run a calendar? If you don’t – start. If you do – use it to book yourself some time to actually get things done. Work gets hectic when all you do is attend meetings or write emails. While they are necessary for discussing important issues with your co-workers and plan for the future, you also need time to sit down by yourself and do a task from start to finish. It’s only ‘done’ when it’s 100% done. 99% doesn’t count. It’s the rule of thumb.
Have a plan for each meeting
Pro tip: Entering a meeting with a plan means you’ll leave it with results.
Meetings, yes, they are crucial. As Anthony Iannarino says in his article  ‘The Value of Meetings’, they give you a strong feeling of the organization’s culture, help to solve problems faster, and ensure accountability. There is nothing worse, however than a meeting that you have no plan for. The cost of a 45-minute meeting attended by five people can be really high, especially when the market of your organization is IT. Therefore, before you decide to invite your colleagues in to have a chat, make sure you know exactly what you want to gain from this time spent together. If you welcome them in with a clear agenda, everyone will know what it is that you need to work out by the time the appointment is up. You’ll also have a feeling of time well-spent, instead of wasted.
Run a weekly work summary
Pro tip: Take a step back and ask yourself if you’re moving in the right direction.
What is also going to help you with your productivity at work is a weekly overview of all your projects. Take a step back, go through all of your important goals and ask yourself if what you’re doing is honestly bringing you closer to achieving them. If not, something should definitely change in your approach. Having an open mind and a habit of looking at things from a wider perspective will prevent you from becoming a ‘busy fool’.
Keep a notebook
Pro tip: Putting information in one place helps to find it much faster.
I have often observed that people have a tendency to write things down on loose sheets of paper that easily get lost and are never there when needed. To avoid this, you can start a notebook for all work-related notes. If you do so, there will only ever be one single place where you can be sure to find all the necessary information. No more worrying about lost instructions, charts and lists.
…next, focus on your value for the organization…
If and how we bring value to our workplace is another pillar of productivity. There is no point in being busy or overworked if you don’t produce results. Nobody cares if you send a hundred emails in one day if they don’t bring any leads. So, while organizing your work, you should focus on what brings the most value and has a favorable time-consumption-to-results ratio.
Deliver to keep your motivation
Pro tip: Motivation is what keeps your productivity high.
If you have a boss, he or she probably says that it doesn’t matter how much you work, it only matters what your results are. It is one of these things that bosses tend to say. To be honest, it’s not just something that is true only from the senior management’s perspective. It’s also the reason why people tend to get easily demotivated. It’s important to remember that bringing undeniable results is a key factor in job satisfaction . When you feel that what you do has no meaning or importance, your self-esteem decreases and you lose your sense of self-worth. Take a minute to think about your tasks and prioritize them according to the value they will bring when completed.
Pro tip: Don’t be afraid of taking responsibility for your work.
If you’re part of a big team with one manager responsible for every single decision, it will either be a case of never delivering enough or having a superstar for a boss. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many superstars around. Presumably, your manager could use some help. Why not give them a hand? Taking ownership is not that scary. All you need to do is put yourself in the customer’s position and make a decision aligned with the project goals. You can ask others for help and discuss it with your manager first, but generally speaking, taking smart initiative is always a good idea.
Identify with company goals
Pro tip: Meeting company goals means that you always deliver high value.
Another important quality of an organized person is feeling responsible for one’s own work and the future of the organization they work for. You can’t accomplish wonders by sticking to the basics. Never stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t going to make a successful person out of you. If you’d like to be valued, make sure that what you do brings value. Identify a company goal you’d like to help with and methodically move towards it.
Motivate others with your actions
Pro tip: Make yourself an example of high standards.
When you use this advice and implement it in your everyday job, you are bound to be more productive and organized. Your colleagues are going to see that and maybe try to do the same. This is a true indicator of your success. Having others follow your work ethics and efficiency methods shows that you do a great job and inspire others to think about their own personal development. After all, thinking is everything.
… and finally, remember to take satisfaction from your job.
You have a notebook now. It’s filled with to-do lists, weekly overviews, priorities, charts and short memos. You’re a true master of delivering value and having it all under control. However, what’s equally important is that it also has to make you happy. As Zarin Bathena says, job satisfaction is what keeps us together . It motivates us, helps us set goals and pushes us to strive for greatness. Ensuring satisfaction from everyday work equals staying healthy and happy.
Focus on one thing at a time
Pro tip: Do not let yourself be distracted.
You’ve got lots on your mind and it’s a busy day, so you’ve started three very urgent tasks and haven’t completed any of them. It probably doesn’t make you feel very satisfied. It’s because of the rule of thumb – if it’s not 100% done, then it’s not really done at all. It’s much better to do one task from start to finish and deliver it than start multiple jobs and complete none of them.
Deliver at least one big task a day
Pro tip: Delivering something huge every day will make you happier.
Another thing is prioritization. If you have a long to-do list for the day and have no idea what to start with, it’s natural to simply take on the easiest task. Then another easy one and so on. Your day has flown by and you haven’t even started what you knew you had to do – the one big job you’ve been putting off. Don’t let it haunt you, face your demons instead. Once you get started, you’ll probably see that doing the scary task is just as difficult as doing anything else, and finishing it will instantly fill you with pride.
By the way, take a look at this TED Talk by Tim Urban on procrastination and how to avoid it using gratification – it’s absolutely brilliant .
Measure your results
Pro tip: Trust your instincts, but verify your progress.
It’s great to know if you’re making progress. You can set a few Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for yourself and observe how they change in time. Think about what influences your productivity, what to improve, what actions to eliminate. This approach will let you constantly become a more organized and more efficient person on your own. KPIs are the cornerstone for any time-management tool.
Believe in gratification
Pro tip: Allow yourself to celebrate after every success.
Sometimes, simply ‘doing things’ isn’t enough. You need some incentive, something to keep you going. No problem at all – think about a treat that you’ll give yourself once you have finished a particularly nasty job. The work might not be exciting, but the prize sure will be.
Take a chance on yourself
Pro tip: Believe in yourself, nobody will do it for you.
Last but not least, believe in yourself, your skills, and your capabilities. You’re a professional trying to be better. This in itself speaks highly of you. Now, take a chance and treat yourself to a productive life using these tips and methods. And remember one thing – no one is going to believe in you if you don’t do it first!
 Anthony Iannarino: The Value of meetings, https://thesalesblog.com/2018/09/04/the-value-of-a-meeting/
 Managing in a results-only work environment https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/managing-results-only-environment.htm,
 Zarin Bathena: Why job satisfaction is an important phenomenon of a vicious circle, https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/310608
 Tim Urban: In a mind of a master procrastinator, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arj7oStGLkU