There are only so many hours in the day, and unless you want to find yourself working nights and weekends, you need to make the most of your time at work. The question is, do you work harder or smarter? My vote is for the latter.

Here are five tricks to improve your productivity at work.

Less is more

Many people confuse productivity with being busy. If you have twenty things on your list and manage to get fifteen done, that’s pretty productive, right? But what if those last five things are the ones that were actually important – say, actually working on the talking points of your presentation rather than finding just the right clip art for the slides.

This is where prioritizing comes in. Take stock of your team’s upcoming deliverables and then zero in on the most pressing work for the day (or week). Once you’ve done this, you can then delegate, postpone, or completely remove less important tasks. The key is to make sure your workload is reasonable.

When you can look back at your day and know that what you got done was important, that’s more productive than doing lots of unimportant tasks.

Don’t multitask

The unhappy truth is out: we can’t actually multitask as well as we think we can, and any attempts can quickly make things fall apart. You soon have eight PDFs and three half-composed emails open as you juggle two chat windows, listen to a conference call, and search for that sticky note that was here two minutes ago I swear – sorry. Yes, you have a lot of demands on your time, and the occasional interruption or rapid task-change is often unavoidable. But when you really need to get something done, shut everything out and work. Turn off your phone and desktop notifications, set your status to “do not disturb”, and make like an introvert for some peace and quiet.


Focus with some music

Studies have shown that music we like can help us focus. Choose an instrumental playlist without lyrics, especially if your to-do list involves reading or writing. You may prefer more upbeat electronica in the morning, and classical later on once you’ve got your momentum going. Video game and movie soundtracks can also be a lifesaver – they’re composed to be used as background music anyway.

If you’re looking for some new tunes, you might want to google “study music playlists.” Thousands of high school and post-secondary students create and share these to boost their concentration during exam season, and they work just as well whether you’re in front of a textbook or an expense report.


I, for one, welcome our new app overlords

You may be a workplace superhero, but the human brain has its limits. Sure, we’re using more than 10% of our brains, but why waste any of that other 90% trying to remember things we can offload just as easily? Nobody will think any worse of you if you need to check your notes before answering a quick question.

Instead of overstuffing your mental capacity, you can go old-school with pen and paper for your to-do lists and agendas, or you can use technology to your advantage and find a productivity app that works for you.

Take breaks

On a daily basis, it’s important to stop working once in a while. Yes! Stopping work can make you more productive! Whether you use the Pomodoro method or a well-timed coffee run, it’s a good idea to give yourself a mental break.

This also expands to a macro scale. You may not have unlimited vacation time, but make sure you use whatever time you have to recharge. And whenever possible, avoid checking emails while you’re resting so that you can return refreshed and ready to be productive.

Even if you only use one or two of these methods, you should see a boost in your productivity in no time – but remember, practice makes perfect, so don’t get discouraged if it takes a while to build up these habits. You’ll soon end up with the satisfaction of knowing you got the important stuff done, and it definitely won’t look bad on your performance review.

Now, go forth and exercise that productivity muscle!