I have a simple trick for being more productive at work: make sure that you work through your least productive hours of the day.
For the average office worker there are three points in every day when it's hard to motivate yourself:
- First thing in the morning when you are still waking up and contemplating the day ahead.
- Early afternoon, especially if you decided on a particularly hearty lunch (2.55pm according to a poll in the US).
- The last hour in the day when your brain starts to shut down and start thinking about your evening plans (even worse on a Friday).
Thankfully, there are plenty of tasks that can keep you busy during these times and stop you from wondering onto Buzzfeed or checking Twitter.
Increasing your productivity during your least productive hours can have a dramatic effect on the amount of work you get through.
With that in mind, here are my tips and tricks for getting more out of the three least productive hours of the day.
If you have any that you’d like to add, I’d love to hear them in the comments.
Be More Productive in the Morning
1/ Write out and check your to-do list – You have got a to-do list right? It doesn’t have to be a fancy piece of software (although tools like Evernote are great), a handwritten note on a piece of paper attached to a wall will do.
The morning is the ideal time to outline everything you need to get done that day or week, so make the most of this time, and if you’ve already got one written, check it over to see what you should be getting up to over the course of the day.
We mention this in our Time Management Tips for Managers post along with some other great bits of advice.
2/ Deal with Emails – Depending on what your job is, it’s probably quite likely that you already check your emails as part of your morning routine.
What I’m recommending here though is to deal with your emails. Notice the difference?
Dealing with them means to respond to people and complete any resulting activities if possible. It doesn’t mean scan your inbox and put off doing anything about it until later.
Usually what you face in emails first-thing won’t be too strenuous so it’s a nice way to ease yourself into the day.
3/ Read industry blogs/news – Again, this depends on what industry you’re in, but something that I find particularly useful to get done first-thing is updating myself on the latest and greatest in my niche.
Not only does this keep me current, allowing me to continue to impress clients and bosses, it’s an easy thing to do while you’re still a bit groggy.
Remember though, this isn’t just an excuse to slack off and stare at the screen, it should provide you with real insight and be helpful for your role. Perhaps, even think about taking notes if you think it would help.
4/ Schedule and attend meetings – This is a tricky one; some people find early morning meetings useful and others think they’re hell on earth.
Personally, I find that if I get any of the ‘boring’ meetings out of the way early on, I’m more productive afterwards as I’m not thinking or stressing about an upcoming meeting all day long.
5/ Do something different – Sometimes, a lack of productivity actually stems from too much routine. You can get stuck in a rut and feel lethargic towards working.
If you can then, that first hour at work is the perfect time to shake up your routine a bit. Maybe go for a walk and jot down your to-do list on the move. Or perhaps you could do a task you normally leave until the afternoon.
Varying what you do will make things that bit more interesting, which will in turn make you that bit more productive.
Be More Productive After Lunch
It's never easy to work after lunch; you've broken your morning workflow and that heavy lunch is sending you to sleep.
Be More Productive at the End of the Day
1/ Tie up any loose ends – When it hits 4pm it can be tempting to leave that spreadsheet or presentation slide to tomorrow.
Don’t! Or at least don’t if you can help it. Try and get things finished before you leave; you’ll thank yourself the next day and it means you’ll have more time to focus on the next set of task you have to do.
2/ Catch up on forgotten things – Similar to above but the key here is to use that time to go over tasks that might have been lost or forgotten amongst the hustle and bustle of the working day.
The more administrative-type tasks are often the sort which can easily be missed, the form filling, data entry-style stuff.
Get ahead on the minor tasks and you’ll have more time for the big things tomorrow.
3/ Review your to-do list – Just as you should spend time in the morning to go over what you need to do that day, so too should you spend time in the evening going over what you did and didn’t get done.
Not only does this allow you to make provisions for what needs to be completed tomorrow, it will (hopefully!) give you some sense of achievement when you see exactly what you’ve got done.
4/ Think about tomorrow – By that I don’t just mean sitting there, staring in to space, pondering the upcoming day. What I mean is, constructively think about what you need and want to get done tomorrow.
Going over your to-do list helps this but it’s also worth going into more detail on specific tasks.
Work out where your time needs to be allocated tomorrow, today.
5/ Tidy your workspace – This might not seem like a productive task in terms of actually getting your work done, but as they say ‘a tidy desk equals a tidy mind’.
Using this opportunity to get your physical space de-cluttered will mean your mental space is de-cluttered tomorrow.
Hopefully those tips have been helpful for you in thinking about making the most from your less productive moments. Of course, you can pick and choose as many or as few of these tips to do at once – being productive is all about find out what works best for you.
Our Time Management Course will also help; worth coming on if you're still struggling with making the most of the time available to you.