For all the technology and design that goes into making the modern workday productive, e.g instant messaging apps that help you communicate with colleagues opposite you in an open-plan office — it remains filled with distraction. Facebook, perhaps the greatest distraction the world has ever known, recently released an “at work” interface, presumably to compete with office apps such as Slack, doubtlessly realizing everyone was already on Facebook at work anyway.
Ironically, it is sometimes necessary to move in the direction opposite technological efficiency to improve your productivity. As workplace expert Katherine Minshew recognizes, we all want to get more done. Here she explores the ways that being more productive doesn’t mean being “always on,” or perpetually available.
Her first recommendation is to get to know yourself better. Despite our 24-hour work culture, there are times of the day when you’ll naturally be more productive. There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to which time works best for you — it comes down to personality quirks. So, says Minshew, embrace your individuality and if you work best late at night, allow yourself that option. Modern employers, ultimately thanks to communication technology, are likely to be flexible about the hours you work, as long as your hitting your professional goals.
Secondly, while the open office plan facilitates communication, it also facilitates interruptions. While cubicles were perhaps claustrophobic and anti-social, they did provide a quiet space for work to occur in. Today, headphones, or other physical barriers like books, can provide a bulwark against the tendency to interrupt in our communication-ready offices.
Finally, Minshew recommends that you delegate like your job depends on it. Perhaps indeed it does. The goal is not to pass the buck to open space for real focus to occur. Delegation is another kind of barrier that prevents tasks from encroaching on your most important priorities. So don’t be surprised if you and your team are delegated to, and don’t hesitate to farm out projects that are better handled by other individuals or other departments.
Kathryn Minshew: A couple tips I have for being the most productive version of yourself, since we all wish we could get more done, one is to really figure out when you do your best work. I think there's a classic expectation that we all start work at 9:00 and work at 5:00. That's the kind of way that it's always been done, but for many people that's not actually the case. I know people who are could incredibly productive in the morning and then have a slump in the afternoons. For me I actually get really productive late at night. I can just sit on the couch with my laptop and just crake through things that would be challenging for me to do at other times. So my first tip is figure out when you personally are productive and then protect that time. That actually leads really well into the second tip, which is to put up barriers. So for example, it's really hard when you're sitting at your desk or if you're somewhere where people have easy access to you to not get interrupted. Somebody has just one question or there's a fire that suddenly needs to be put out and you are the only one who can do it. And so when I really need to be my most productive self I will often physically put up barriers. So this can mean coming into work an hour late and just taking that time at home to really focus. It can mean actually booking a conference room, not for a call but because I just need to be in the zone. For one of my cofounders she will actually sometimes have headphones that she'll put on whether or not she's listening to music because it actually lets her really zero in on time to just completely focus.
And then my third tip for being your most productive self is to delegate like your job depends on it, which in effect it does. I think that many of us suffer from what I might call superman syndrome, which is this idea that we have to do everything ourselves. But businesses are built up so that you can delegate, you can share work. Figure out what is it that's on your plate that potentially should be taken care of by somebody else on your team or another team. Depending on your work place it can be a really useful opportunity to go to your boss and have a conversation about whether your priorities are the right ones or whether there's anything you can shift off your plate so that you can focus more deeply on something else. At the end of the day you've got to figure out what works for you, put up those barriers and delegate so you can really get the absolute most important work done.