How to … improve personal productivity

by 21 Aug 2007

Why is it important?

Time is at a premium for most HR professionals, with demands coming from all sides. All too often, the day is spent dealing with other people’s problems and ‘firefighting’. For instance, how often have you put off writing a report, conducting an appraisal or holding a strategy meeting because you had to react to a pressing situation in the workplace?

Constantly consigning such tasks to the backburner, however, is not good for your long-term career development. It’s important to find ways of stepping up your personal productivity. And even if you rate yourself highly on efficiency, there is always room to improve how you do things.

Where do I start?

Take a step back from what you do so you can concentrate on your motivations and what matters most to you in life. Find a way of relaxing, whether you prefer a walk in the park, more energetic exercise, or a gentler activity such as yoga, or even watching television.

“During relaxation, the mind goes through a filtering process that lets out stressful and limiting thoughts,”explains Daksha Paternott, stress management coach, meditation teacher and managing director of the Healing Hands wellbeing consultancy. “When you’re relaxed, you have positive energy.”

She adds that once you have achieved this relaxed state, you should write down your goals in all areas of work and personal life.

“When you pursue goals that make you happy, you naturally become more productive,” she says.

What skills do I need?

The ability to increase productivity comes from within, and it is important to be both self-disciplined and self-motivated. Being well-organised and a good time manager are also important.

While there is a lot of scepticism about the effectiveness of time management courses, and being able to put what you learn into practice, they will give you valuable pointers to help release more time. A simple exercise is to log your activity over the course of a few days and examine whether what you do is helping to achieve your goals.

Be alert to classic time-stealers such as high-maintenance employees, unnecessary meetings and overflowing email in-boxes.

Free your mind and body

Both mental and physical de-cluttering is essential. An untidy working environment will decrease productivity and can add to your stress. Clear your workspace of everything apart from the projects you are currently working on and review filing systems and in-trays.

Build time into your day to regularly free your mind of stresses and strains, such as taking a walk at lunchtime. Practise deep breathing exercises. Paternott says you should ensure a certain amount of the day is spent nurturing yourself. “If you constantly lurch from one task to the next without doing something you personally enjoy, life ceases to become rewarding,” she says.

“To be productive, you have to give yourself permission to take ‘me-time’ and regular breaks. When life or work feels a struggle, shift your focus to something totally different for a very short period and go back with an open mind,” says Paternott. She also advises that you limit your exposure to negative people.

Keep a level head

Don’t set yourself unrealistic aims. Ensure that your goals are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based). Confront and eliminate problems rather than put them off, and don’t waste time worrying about matters that are beyond your control. It is also fruitless dwelling on something that has happened in the past and that you may regret or view as a lost opportunity. Look ahead, not back, and focus efforts and emotion on the present and the future.

For more information

Time Management: Increase your personal productivity and effectiveness. HarvardBusinessSchool Press, 2005, ISBN 9781591396338

Organizing Your Work Space: A guide to personal productivity. Odette Polar and Debbie Woodbury, Crisp Publications, 1992, ISBN 9781560521259

Second opinion on increasing productivity

By Daksha Paternott, managing director, Healing Hands

What's the most significant thing anyone can do to increase productivity?

Stop worrying about things you haven't done. No matter how hard you try to push something to the back of your mind, if it continues to bug you it must be dealt with. To optimise your productivity, allocate a 'bug hour' and spend 60 minutes getting rid of all the things you've been putting off that keep jumping into your mind, distracting and draining you.

What should you not waste time doing?

Doing tasks or pursuing goals you don't really want to achieve. If something isn't working for you, give it a go, but if you are not good at something, acknowledge it or get help. If you are regularly compromising your beliefs and values, it will diminish your energy.

What is your own personal strategy for increasing productivity?

Keeping my life balanced and giving my full attention to whatever I'm doing at the time. If I only have one hour to spend with my daughter, we do whatever she wants. I put all thoughts of work aside to give her my full attention. Then, when I go back to work, I don't have to waste time or energy feeling guilty. For me, productivity is about maximising what you can achieve in whatever time you have by totally immersing yourself in the moment.

What are your three top tips?

1. Don't put things off or let unfinished tasks distract or drain you.

2. Maximise your time by giving each moment your full attention.

3. Listen to what personally drives you and take time out to recharge.

By Scott Beagrie. Courtesy of Personnel Today magazine.