Written by: Leigh Perkins // May 15, 2020
Last updated: May 15, 2020
Adjusting to work from home or returning to the real world of doing a job in an actual workplace could tax anyone’s ability to concentrate. As we struggle to maintain or improve our output, we all have urgent questions about working more efficiently in the midst of distractions and upheaval, such as “I need productivity tips: Does music help you focus?” Read on for answers.
What Variety of Focus Challenge Are You Dealing With?
To simplify the massive universe of work distractions into manageable concepts, think of obstacles to your productivity in two defined categories: internal challenges and external challenges. It is not only easier to gripe and groan about the external challenges than it is the internal (because they’re often someone else’s fault), it is also an easier challenge to solve (because we’re all so much better at solving someone else’s problems than our own). So, let’s start there, with the easier solutions.
External Challenges to Your Productivity
Blame the whining of the pool pump next door or the documents missing from the Dropbox file or your temperamental Wi-Fi, makes no difference, really. If outside forces are keeping you from completing your tasks on time, on budget, on point (and in a good mood), they’re the kind of external challenges you need to confront and improve. Otherwise – tough love alert – they’re just excuses.
So, what are the most common questions about external challenges to productivity and how do you solve them? Read on.
How Can I Become More Organized?
Lack of organization is the misfiring engine that drives your workday right off the rails. If you’re used to having your day scheduled by your manager or by the routine of an office, it can be a challenge to create your own workflow at home and operate without a boss nearby. But it is no less of a challenge in a busy workplace to keep up with appointments, meetings, emails, deadlines, and materials. Here are some helpful organization tips:
- Improve your calendar management to optimize efficiency.
- Set up your office for success.
- Leave your workplace free of clutter at the end of the workday.
- Clean your virtual spaces to lose the digital junk that distracts you.
- Download productivity apps.
What Do I Do About Noise?
Your efficiency could be taking a hit from too much noise or, paradoxically, too little noise. If you’re new to working from home, you might be feeling a bit bonkers from the lack of buzz, chitchat, and clatter your officemates normally produce, firmly believing you will never get another decent project completed unless someone rattles the coffeemaker in the next room and complains about parking.
On the other hand, maybe silence is a distant dream if you are working from home with rowdy preschoolers or a hard-of-hearing elder who is glued to game shows on TV all day. It’s an issue for on-site work too, with your senses becoming overwhelmed in the thick of an open floor plan office. There are remedies to either scenario.
Productivity tip for too much quiet:
- Instead of using Slack or email, call a coworker to ask a question and hear a friendly voice. Complain about working from home or the parking at work; feeling more connected to your colleagues by sharing grievances could be good for you and help you find solutions to problems.
- Turn on the television in another room, possibly on a game show.
Productivity tip for too much noise:
- Work in a room – any room – with a door, and close it.
- Invest in noise-canceling headphones.
- Play white noise in the background.
Productivity tip that works for both -- too much or too little noise:
- Create or download a playlist for more productive work. Music is scientifically proven to improve efficiency, but tunes can be counterproductive if you don’t choose the right kind of music.
How Do I Handle Technical Difficulties?
On-site, you can call IT to rescue you when your desktop crashes and remote IT can fix your glitches at home, too. But it will help you be more efficient to master the programs your team is using so you can troubleshoot on your own and get back to work quickly.
- Sign up for webinars and tutorials for new programs or platforms or old ones you still need help on occasionally.
- Order the latest gear (as long as tinkering with it doesn’t become a distraction).
- Google it first. Start with the search field before you panic and lose half a day to jiggling your computer cord or begging a chatbot to solve your problem. The solution is out there and you can probably find it on your own.
How Do I Manage Competing Demands?
Longtime freelancers know all too well that their work-at-home status often prompts friends and family to assume they have gobs of time to run errands, even when a deadline looms or a meeting is planned. If you’re new to working at home or have a problem setting boundaries in your workplace, it is essential to your productivity that you learn the power of the word “no.” You will be shocked by how stress-relieving and productivity-boosting it is to nix competing requests or those that drain your time.
- Send the “do not disturb” message via out-of-office auto-response, “will call you back soon” auto-text, wearing headphones, and locking your door.
- Turn off notifications and alerts. Interruptions kill your concentration.
- Train yourself to answer emails only at dedicated times, say first thing in the morning and the last hour of work.
Internal Challenges to Your Productivity
With nobody to blame but yourself, facing internal challenges to your productivity is so much less pleasurable than posting a defiant “Not Now: I’m on Deadline” notice on your office door. But if you confront the obstacles that impede your efficiency, your workday not only becomes more productive, it becomes that much more rewarding as well. Here are common questions about internal challenges to working more efficiently.
Why Do I Lack Motivation?
Your job is not so bad you want to jump ship, but it’s not so great either. How do you reignite the spark?
- Motivate yourself like your job depends on it. Because it kind of does. To gain the life-changing skill of self-motivation, set measurable goals that seem slightly beyond your ability.
- Request additional responsibilities (or fewer if you lack motivation because you’re overwhelmed by your workload).
- Ask for a raise if you’re motivated by money.
- Make an effort to befriend a colleague. Research proves that having a close friend at work boosts your engagement. Engagement is tied to productivity.
How Do I Get Rid of My Bad Work Habits?
If you know your bad habits are to blame for inefficiency at work, that’s half the battle. Fixing it is the other half.
- Replace bad habits (like a smoke break) with rituals that benefit you (like a movement break every hour).
- Make the most of your routines, from morning to bedtime.
- Let go of gossip. Smearing others does bad things to your own reputation.
- Block off time for social media or save it for lunchtime only. Turn off notifications from Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and Twitter so you’re not tempted to waste time when you should be working.
USF Can Help You Maximize Your Productivity
Our top productivity tip: Learning new skills and gaining new insights into your working style can boost your expertise and efficiency. USF’s Office of Corporate Training and Professional Development offers an exceptional lineup of live online programs to build your leadership, human resources, project management, and process improvement skills.