You’ve probably heard the phrase work smarter, not harder. There’s something about a baby on the way that really lights a fire under me to figure out how to be more productive. I know we’re going to feel shorter on time soon, have more distractions and just want to spend time with our new baby. So, this post is all about everything we’ve been working on as it relates to how to be more at productive at work, and really in life because you can apply this stuff to all the things. So, let’s do it!

Horizontal image of people working around a table with laptops, notebooks, coffee, phones, etc. with text overlay that says, "how to be more productive and (and in life)".

But first…what is the difference between productive and busy?!

Before we dive into tips for how to be more productive at work (and in life), let’s first talk about the difference between busy and productive. Because there is a difference…and it’s a big difference.

I think of busy as how I used to be when I worked in public accounting (and even corporate accounting and finance). My to-do list was always a mile long, chalk full of tasks (typically in no particular order), and my goal would just be to check as many things off the list as I could. I felt frantic most of the time, and more often than not I spent most of my day responding to emails and putting out fires rather than accomplishing anything on my actual to-do list. Sound familiar?!

Switching gears now. Productive is systematically guarding your time to get the most meaningful work done first. It’s not necessarily accomplishing more tasks on your to-do list. It is all about getting the most important, critical, needle-moving work done first. And sometimes, that even means letting some of those other “tasks” go because you may find they don’t actually matter.

Because the most important, critical, needle-moving work is the work that drives your greatest impact on your business/life, this is the crucial work you should be spending most of your time on. But for most of us, we just don’t. Instead, we let our days get hijacked by the demands of others and rarely get the crucial work done.

Now that we have established the difference between busy and productive, let’s talk about how to be more productive!

Two people sitting at a table going over business plans.

5 tips: how to be more productive at work

1. Get clear on what matters

You must first clear out all the clutter in your head and pin down what actually matters. What is your most important, critical, needle-moving work?! This will be different for everyone. And we like an exercise we heard about on a podcast that was helpful for us. Kate Northrup, author of the book Do Less, was interviewed on the Goal Digger podcast (episode #256). In this episode Kate walks through this exercise, but essentially it goes like this.

  1. Take out a sheet of paper and create two columns.
  2. On the right side of the sheet, make a list of your big wins – these are the great things you’ve accomplished, the big goals you’ve tackled, the things that have propelled you/your business forward, etc.
  3. On the left side of the sheet, make a list of your daily/regular tasks – these are the things you do regularly and consider your “work”.
  4. Now, look at both columns and draw a line from the big wins on the right side of the paper to the tasks that led to them on the left side.
  5. Finally, assess your results – what are the key tasks/activities that you do that bring in the big wins? These are what matters, and where you should aim to spend more of your time.

Kate goes on to discuss how this is an example of the 80/20 rule…80% of your outcomes are derived from 20% of you work. We like to use this as a visual guide for where to spend more time creating impactful results in our business and life. Give it a try to figure out what matters for you!

2. Figure out when you are most productive

Justin and I both are most productive first thing in the morning. We feel most energized, creative and focused. This is our sacred time. When do you feel most awake, alert and ready to take on what matters? This is different for everyone, but most people will say either first thing in the morning or later at night. Early birds or night owls. What is it for you? And what do you currently do during that time? Are you using your most productive time wisely and most effectively?

3. Do your most important work when you are most productive

It seems simple, right?! But one of the biggest tips we have for how to be more productive at work (and in life) is to do your most crucial, needle-moving work when you are most productive, fresh, alert and creative. To take this time, safeguard it and make it sacred is critical for becoming more productive.

The reason it seems simple, but often gets overlooked is because we often arrive at our desks and get sidetracked or derailed before we ever begin our most important work. Whether it’s checking email, social media or chatting with co-workers in the break room as you get coffee…consider if you are wasting your most productive time.

4. Start with the hardest work

This is like taking it to the next level. If you do your most crucial work when you are most productive you will immediately notice an increase in your productivity and a decrease in your stress. But…if you want to be a rockstar of productivity, start your crucial work session with your hardest work. Just get it done first thing so it’s off your plate, and you will have such a sense of accomplishment that you will be motivated and fueled to get through the rest of your most important work. Seriously, give it a try and tell us if it’s as much of a game changer for you as it has been for us!

5. Work on one thing at a time

This is another simple, but sometimes hard to execute tip for how to be more productive at work. Eliminating distractions, and plowing through just one thing, all the way to completion will also be a game changer for you. The sense of accomplishment from completing something is huge! It’s off your list, no longer hanging over your head, and you are free to move on. Start and finish your most crucial work, and see how much more confident and accomplished you feel.

Bonus tips – like icing on the cake!

Here are some bonus tips for how to be more productive at work.

  • At the end of each day, plan out the following day – we spend five minutes at the end of each day planning out our most critical work for the following day. This makes is so that right when we start our day, we hit the ground running. The day has already been outlined, and we just have to execute.
  • Wait until later in the day to check your email – rather than firing up your email first thing in the morning, leave it closed until later in the day. Justin likes to wait until after 11am to check email. I tend to use a break anytime after I’ve accomplished my hardest task of the day. This has helped us own our days much more. We don’t start our day getting hijacked by responding to emails and putting out fires.
  • Close out all the tabs and apps you are not using – this helps to eliminate unnecessary distractions. You won’t see a new email coming in or a notification from a news site or chat. Have open only the things you need to get your crucial work done.
  • Consider your most critical work and link it back to your goals – make sure that the work you’re doing is in alignment with your greater goals. Is it your most critical work to push your goals forward And check in often to stay on track.
  • Decrease and eliminate mental weight – Justin did a full post on mental weight, and it’s a good one. If you want to clear space and tension in your life, read this post!

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What tips are you going to implement for how to be more productive at work (and in life)?

So, what aspect of how to be more productive at work (and in life) are you going to start working on TODAY? Comment below, and tell us what you are working on. If you enjoyed this post and found it helpful please be sure to share it! Tag us in your productivity posts on Instagram @realsimplegood and #TheRSGLife. And give us a follow if you don’t already! We can’t wait to see what you are working on and cheer you on!

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