The Practical Guide to Office Productivity

7 Sep 2022

We sometimes leave the office feeling as if we did not make the most of it. We go into the office expecting instant productivity. But when we close those unfinished documents, we realize how little we actually did. Fortunately, the secret to office productivity isn’t rocket science. It’s simply a matter of self-reflection.

A productive office is where the staff knows what to do in making the most of their day. That being said, we all handle responsibilities differently. There needs to be an understanding that the secret to office productivity is knowing what works best for us. Early morning meetings can be a boost of energy for some, but not for others. You need to foster office productivity for everyone, and this starts by knowing what type of worker you are.

Do You Multitask?

We praise multitasking, even likening it to a good employee. Someone who multitasks switches between tasks rapidly or even juggles multiple at once. I bet you even claimed to be one in your first big job interview. But for as much as we glorify multitasking, it’s not something we are meant to be.

A 2001 exploration on productivity showed that you detach the more tasks you switch to. It’s fine to talk on the phone while cooking, or solving a puzzle while listening to the radio. However, only 2% of people can efficiently multitask complex work. The rest show less activity in parts of the brain the more they juggle tasks. So, engaging in more than one activity decreases your performance overall. Repeated multitasking coupled with the difficulty of the task makes work harmful. It creates long periods of creative and mental blocks. If we are consistently sidetracked, then we end up never paying attention at all. 

Headphones On with Visual Reminders

Multitasking is an exercise in keeping attention and being accountable for your own time. If you keep losing focus, the first thing to do is to remove distractions. Common offices are not designed for deep thinking, but they are built to encourage collaboration. The good thing is that a pair of headphones and the perfect playlist can transport you to your own mind palace. Streaming platforms have countless playlists and videos for deep focus. They immerse you and simulate environments through music and sound effects. Our personal favorite is wizard tower library music or old songs playing in another room.

A pair of headphones can keep you focused throughout the day.

You should also have visual reminders when working. These should be brief, to the point, and clearly defines the steps that move you toward your goal. It is easier for us to process rather than store information. This is why seeing steps for a single task is easier than memorizing your entire plan. 

Productivity Techniques for the Office

The Kanban method is a good visualizer to organize workflow. Making work visible is the first step in the Kanban method. Next is organizing the stages of work through four columns: Piled Up Work, To Do, Ongoing, and Done. Each column has different sticky notes representing each task. This uses a “pull method” where your team can only pull a new note once they finish the last one. It cuts down multitasking, simplifies instructions, and visualizes accomplishments.

We also recommend the Pomodoro technique by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. This method begins with a to-do list broken down into tasks you can accomplish within 25 minutes, and a timer. You would do the task for 25 minutes straight, then mark it off once finished. After every task, give yourself a 5 minute break. For every four tasks, you can take a longer 15-30 minute break. The beauty of this technique is turning work into a challenge to be accomplished on time. It also breaks down projects into smaller work like the Kanban method to help stop multitasking. Lastly, you have a guaranteed break with every task to refresh your mind.

Do You Procrastinate?

Procrastinating is a given when you’re trying to be responsible. We can’t consistently focus on our desks for an entire day. In fact, a typical office worker gets distracted or interrupted every 3 minutes either by their office mates, checking their phone, or by wandering thoughts. What’s worse is that it takes more than 20 minutes to turn your attention back to your project. This usually results in cramming before the deadline and waiting for the rush of panic. 

Despite what people think, procrastination is not an issue of laziness. Most who procrastinate value their work, and know that there is a deadline. Procrastination has been studied intensely in the academe. For students, delaying papers and projects is a psychological issue of self-protection from failure and judgment. So, they delay work to have time as an excuse when their personal abilities are threatened. It’s never an issue of hating work or seeing it as unimportant. It’s the body failing to self-regulate productivity by delaying responsibilities.

The lack of progress in our office comes from either a personal or situational reason. Common personal causes are when the fear of feedback, exhaustion, or anxiety outweighs attempts at effort. Meanwhile, situational causes often come from a lack of support or a stressful work environment. 

Productive Focus Techniques

As with most productivity techniques, knowing how you can maintain office productivity begins with you. Be realistic when it comes to adjusting your work routines. Organization tools like project management software can be helpful to some. But for others, these tools are just extra work. Be sure to find a method that works for you, one that is more helpful than it is tedious.

Visualizing your workflow helps in knowing what your next step is.

The big problem with procrastinating is not the delay of work itself. Rather, it is being stuck in a liminal space where there is neither work nor rest. Instead of brute forcing your way toward productivity, you should acknowledge that you are tired. Thoughts that go nowhere mean that the body should be somewhere else. So, go ahead and take a walk during those creative blocks because it truly helps. Stephen and Rachel Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory suggests that exposure to nature can refresh our focus and concentration after too much thinking. Even just having a plant to water around the office can help refresh your mind.

Another technique for office productivity is to know your peak productivity cycle. We have different hours of productivity throughout the day, and knowing yours can reduce your likelihood to procrastinate. Psychologists from the Journal of General Psychology studied delayed lives through a time perspective. It’s beneficial to know when your peak and slump (most and least energized) times are. Peak times are best for creative work; when your mind is ready to think and then act. While slump times are for menial tasks like mopping the floor. 

Office Productivity Starts With You

The hard pill to swallow is that office productivity starts with you. Ask yourself if you are a multitasker, procrastinator, or in between. Then hold yourself accountable to the new adjustments needed. It’s easy to look up productivity techniques and memorize them. It’s another to apply these methods to your everyday life, even adjusting them to your own taste. But remember to forgive yourself if you’re lacking focus now, or veer off as you go. We all struggle to keep up with our productive office mates and bosses. But at least we all try our best to do our best.