How to Increase Productivity at Work: Three Techniques to Get More Done!
As a National AP Scholar and pre-med student, our intern knows a thing or two about productivity at work and at school! This week she shares some of her favorite hacks that translate from school to the office.
Productivity at work or school can be a struggle for many of us! After completing many years of school, and knowing that I have many more to come, I’ve created a system of productivity that works pretty well for me. While it’s definitely made me a better student, it also contributes to the leadership skills I use at work.
The closer I get to work, the more I wonder: Can study and productivity techniques transfer to a workplace to make one more productive?
A lot of Youtubers and social media influencers share their favorite productivity ideas online. Even my favorite studygrams (Instagram accounts dedicated to studying techniques) share a bunch of different productivity tips that can be easily applied to the workplace. (Go out and Google Habits of Productive People. You’ll be amazed!)
Here are a few of my favorites.
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a scientifically proven cycle of working and taking breaks that enhance your productivity while also preventing burnout. While it can take many forms, all it is is a 5:1 block of time ratio of working to taking breaks. Think of it as minutes on and minutes off.
This is how I use it: I work for 25 minutes then take a five-minute break. After 3-4 cycles, I take a longer break to get a snack, or just scroll through my messages on my phone.
One BIG note: When I’m working, I’m WORKING. To earn the break, I must maintain focus during those 25 minutes. To help with that, I use website blockers like the Forest app, where I can set a timer and let my virtual trees grow. (If I exit the app, my trees will die. How’s that for motivation?) Pomodoro is like micro-managing your schedule. There’s not a lot of room for flexibility, but trust me, it’s worth it in the end! I’ve become so much more efficient with preparing material for my students or studying for a test with this method. It’s really important to note that you don’t need to be “motivated” for this method to work, just diligent about consistently using it. (More on motivation in a bit!) How can you use this productivity technique at work? Set up a cycle of 25 minutes of work coupled with a five-minute break. Once you run through the cycle three times, you’ve completed an hour and a half of work. After three cycles, I like to take a 10-minute break instead of a five-minute break. Then I begin another three more cycles.
After your second cycle, it’s time to break for lunch. Simply repeat the process in the afternoon, and before you know it, it’s time to go home. (You’ll be amazed by how fast your mornings and afternoons go!)
As a college student, I keep going until past midnight, but you can stop whenever needed. The Pomodoro Technique works well in a regular 9-to-5 work day schedule and helps prevent burnout.
The Curve of Forgetting
Let’s admit it: Our memories are far from perfect. With all that we have running through our mind, distraction is the norm.
If you’ve ever tried to memorize a presentation or a pitch for work, you know you need a process to overcome the “ Curve of Forgetting This is a scientifically determined curve of how much information we retain. It was created by a German psychologist in the 19th Century. Initially, the curve of forgetting is very steep. Our brains don’t want to remember things that aren’t essential to our survival, as so much information can be looked up nowadays. This leads to us forgetting most of the information we’re trying to remember very quickly, but it eventually levels out.
We can overcome the Curve of Forgetting with repetition. By spacing out multiple repetitions of the information, it’s easier to commit it to long term memory.
How can you use this productivity technique at work? Next time you need to memorize a big presentation or commit some sales facts to memory, try reviewing your material every day at different points in the day, several days in a row. (Try jotting down key bullet points on flashcards and then practice what you want to say. If you get stuck, just take a look at your cards to figure out what’s next until all of the major points are memorized.) As a student, any time I need to memorize information or diagrams for class, I leave my flashcards in my car and look over them when I get to school, home, and work. This way, I go through them at least five to six times a day. You can adapt the system to make it work for you, but give it a try if you want to commit something to your long-term memory!
Zen to Done
Zen to Done is a productivity system based on building good habits to get your tasks done. Every day, list the three Most Important Tasks (MITs) you MUST complete and a few other major projects you would like to get done. All the little things that need to get done daily, like checking your email, don’t belong on the list. Instead, make them habits that are done automatically, like at 9 am and 3 pm each day.
Zen to Done is more of a task-oriented system rather than a time-management one like the Pomodoro Technique. It doesn’t lend itself well to every type of workflow, so it’s best used in combination with other systems.
I use Zen to Done by setting goals for myself every day while making things like textbook readings or reviewing class material part of my daily routine. I also use this for work when I tutor. My MIT might be administering a practice SAT while grading essays is a part of my daily routine. I like using this system along with the Pomodoro Technique and focus on one task for each 25-minute block of productivity. I love that it helps me get important things done on time, but it can be combined with any other system!
At work, begin each day by writing down three MITs and a couple of other big projects you want to get done rather than filling up your schedule with five-minute tasks. (All that does is make your day seem extra full and stress you out more, contributing to burnout.) As you get your MITs done, check them off the list for that sense of satisfaction! If you work in a team setting or lead a team, try posting your MITs for the day in a place where everyone can see them, like on a whiteboard in a common area. This helps everyone work towards the same major goals and can increase the team’s productivity at work! (Remember–leading by example is one of the best ways to show your leadership skills!)
The Motivation Myth
Now for a book recommendation. Whether you’re a student or you’re about to retire, this book is essential for everyone.
The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Set Themselves Up to Win by Jeff Haden is one of my favorite reads and completely changed my outlook on procrastination and motivation.
I first heard about this book from this video and was completely in awe of its topics. The book begins by explaining how “motivation” is a myth. It explains that “motivation” is a brief rush of the feelings that make us want to accomplish something, but it doesn’t last for long. In my own words: motiviation is short term focus!
According to the book, motivation is only brought on by success. When we see ourselves doing well and achieving our goals, we get a hit of dopamine from our brains to keep going. We don’t NEED the motivation to do something, and when we realize this, doors open.
Rather than waiting for motivation, we need a process to start on a task. For example, if I want to make all A’s in my classes, I can’t just tell myself that hope for the best. Instead, I need a studying process to ensure I spend enough time on each class so that I can maintain a 4.0 GPA.
This is applicable everywhere in life: You can make a process to get a task done so that you can make your deadline, or you can have a process of exercising to run a marathon. There are many more tips in the book and I highly recommend that you give it a read!
So how do these techniques look if used at work? It’s all about the process!
Create a Zen to Done checklist right when you get to work.
Cycle through your day using the Pomodoro method.
Before you take breaks, review any material you need to commit to memory to flatten out the curve of forgetting.
By creating a process and making it a habit, you’ll be successful at achieving your goals. This leads to your brain releasing “feel-good chemicals” every time you get something done!
Tweak the Obvious
If you’re looking for a few quick ideas to become more productive, consider these five actions:
1. Track Your Time
Ugh. You knew I was going here, right? The truth is that we all waste time, we’re just not always aware of it! For a few days, record where you spend your time, minute to minute. You’ll find opportunities to increase your efficiency and decrease stress!
2. Stop Multitasking!
3. Get a Routine
Numerous studies show that a morning routine is a habit of productive people. Think of all the times we make decisions each day, many of which are before 9 am! (What should I wear? Which email should I reply to first? Should I go grab a cup of coffee with my friend or focus my attention on this project?) Take the stress out of your mornings by creating your own routine.
4. Chunk Your Emails
This is a popular tactic among famous entrepreneurs and CEOs. The idea is that you only check your inbox three times a day, at specific intervals throughout the day. This helps to avoid being chained to your email and it also gives you time to focus on other important tasks.
Worried that you’ll miss an important message? Use your auto-reply to set an outgoing message to alert those sending urgent requests.
5. Identify Your Time Wasters
If you’re like me, it’s easy to get distracted and procrastinate! Have you ever made a list of all of the ways you like to waste time and/or put off what’s most important?
Doing something that is not productive is wasting time and energy and it often leads to more wasted time and energy. It’s important to identify how we waste time, so we can stop doing those things and redirect our energy towards something more useful.
Start by making a list of all the things you do which you know are not productive. Make a note on what you can do instead. When you find yourself focused on a time waster, redirect your energy.
What I won’t do:
– Watch TV
– Browse TikTok for hours
– Spend my day on Reddit
– Decide now is the time to clean my apartment
What I will do instead:
– Read that book I bought five months ago
– Write a 500 word blog
– Reconnect with a friend or past coworker
But Wait…There’s More!
If you’re looking for additional techniques used by highly productive people, check out YouTube! The productivity hacks listed in this blog are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s an entire rabbit hole full of tips if you do a quick search!
Some of my personal favorites to get you started are Ali Abdaal, who’s a junior doctor in Cambridge and posts about productivity in everyday life and also the academic world, and Matt D’Avella, who focuses on productivity as a minimalist by avoiding distractions.
You’ll find many ways to enhance your productivity and your memory. While there’s no particular system that works for everyone, I have no doubt you’ll find a one that works for you!
Sakshi Krishna is a student at the University of Texas at Dallas studying Biochemistry as part of the National Merit Scholars Program. As a recent high school graduate and tutor for current middle and high school students, she knows firsthand Gen Z’s motivations and aspirations. Sakshi is also a National AP Scholar and has an insatiable need to buy every highlighter in every color!