A Simple Productivity Tip

We all have morning routines at work. Get in, get the gear out and set it up, then walk over to get coffee. Chat with people here and there, on the way back and then settle into your chair. Check emails, drink coffee, reply to IMs, continue with coffee, gossip with near by colleagues, finish up the coffee and it is almost an hour since you came in and no real work is done yet. There is already a fresh batch of emails in the inbox which means more time spent not doing the task you want to do and we have not even gotten to the day’s meeting schedule yet. Trivial things like these can easily and quickly drain your day and leaving you with little time to do your actual work resulting in either staying up late or, even worse, consistently falling back on schedule.

Here is a quick productivity experiment for you conduct this week. Monday, go about your work as you usually do on any other Monday. At the end of the day, before leaving think of an important task you need to complete for the next day. It does not matter if the deadline for that task was Tuesday, but make sure to pick something you consider a priority. Write that task down on a sticky note, preferably with a marker. The stick this note on your monitor, right in the center. Then leave your office.

Next morning, Tuesday, once you arrive at your desk pick up the task that is written on the stick note. Keep at it until it’s done. Don’t bother checking email, Facebook and Twitter updates, if your office doesn’t block them, until the task in hand is complete. You are not to shift your focus to anything – not to the endless stream instant messages from friends and colleagues, not to the pointless gossiping with neighboring cubicle dwellers and definitely not for coffee break. Yeah, you read that right; you can’t break focus even for coffee.

I know you are just about ready to send a predator drone for an air strike on my head at this point, but stick with me here. Although coffee may seem like a kick starter for your morning work routine, it is a placebo that has a become an subconscious dependency for your brain. Disable all desktop notifications if you have to. Ignore the urge to get up from your desk, no matter what the reason, until whatever task you are working on is completed.

Once you finish it you are free to do whatever you please. Pour through those useless emails and IM drivels and chat with your colleagues to your heart’s content. Go ahead and finish off your day as you wold normally do, except today you have already completed the most critical task which means overall productivity of the day has already peaked.

Before leaving work, make sure to write down the task of your choice for the next day and stick it to your monitor and finish it off the first thing next morning. Again, no breaks or any kind of multitasking until the day’s first task is done. Once you complete it, you are free to do whatever you please. Do that for the entire week. Sticky note in the evening, task completion on the next day.

I guarantee that by the end of the week you’d be amazed at the amount of work you accomplished on a daily basis. You see, in most office environments, big parts of the day is wasted on nothing but distractions and triviality. 99% of the emails and meeting invites you get are because of ‘Reply All’s and the constant coffee and water breaks, which not surprisingly, lead to more bathroom breaks, do more harm than good. Once distracted, the human mind takes about 25 minutes on average to bring back complete focus and when you factor in the constant desktop notifications of one form or another, 25 minutes of unbroken attention is hardly possible. Kill the distractions, or at least consciously ignore them for a while, and you will find your productivity sky rocket.

Although I have been using this technique for a about a month in my office and seeing great success in terms of getting sh*t done, I ‘d like to know how it works for you. Couple of quick tips; chose your tasks wisely – they must be large enough to be important but small enough that you can complete it fairly quickly. You can’t hold the urge to go to the bathroom for long. Second, if you absolutely need coffee before you do anything in the morning, consider drinking at home before leaving for work or get it before you get to your desk.

Remember, once you lay your eyes on that sticky note you can only do the task written on it and nothing else.

Do you have your own awesome productivity tip to share?


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