I am a firm believer that the ability to improve a skill is generally limitless – there are no upper bounds on how much one can improve any given skill. The only constraint is that we are here for a fixed (yet unknown) period of time. Between now and that time, however, we can get continually better at anything we set our minds to. Many people also believe this notion and spend many years crafting and improving various skillsets. Yet what may be the most important skill of all – how you work – is often overlooked.
I have presented here four steps you can take to start focusing on how you work. The intent of the article is for someone working in an office setting. However, the general principles can be applied anywhere. Steps 1 through 3 paint a picture of where your workday habits are today and step 4 is a constant and continual improvement of those habits. While all of the steps are important, especially to start entering a productivity growth mindset, it is the last step that is critical. Even if you skip straight to step 4 by simply asking yourself continually, “How can I improve my work methods and habits?” you will start to discover ways in which you can work better, smarter, faster. From there, you will likely find the motivation to do so.
Step 1: Take note of your work habits
Begin by asking yourself the simple question – “How do I work?” Questions that might help this line of thinking include:
- What are the first things you do when you sit down at the beginning of the work day?
- What is your morning like?
- What is your lunch break like?
- How is your desk, computer, and filing cabinet organised?
- How do you handle emails?
- How do you handle interruptions?
- How often do you check your smart phone?
Consider answering the above questions, but only as a way to get started. Think about your day and the habits you normally exercise throughout it. The point of the first step is to get a good, clear picture about how you spend your work day.
Step 2: Ask “What daily habits boost your productivity and what habits hinder it?”
Spend time reviewing the answers you completed in step 1. Ask you yourself – “Does this habit or work behaviour contribute to my overall daily productivity?” If you can easily say yes, without too much rationalization, then consider keeping it as a daily work habit. However, if you can’t reasonably see how a particular habit helps you stay productive, then consider abandoning it. For example, you may notice that your start work day by writing out your To-Do list. This you feel is a positive habit, so you keep it. You may also notice you constantly check your phone for social media notifications. Because you feel checking the phone regularly gets in the way of your work flow, you determine it is a productivity hindering habit.
By binning daily work habits into either boosting or hindering daily productivity, the second step will help you see that some of your daily work practices might not be beneficial while others may be very helpful. Further, the second step will focus your mentality on improving how you work.
Step 3: Add or extend positive habits and develop solutions to stop the bad ones.
After you have a list of productivity boosting habits and productivity hindering habits, start thinking how to add to the good habits and stop the bad ones. Brainstorm ways you can be more productive at work. Some of these new ways may be extensions of currently existing positive work habits. Extending the above example, if you have identified that a To-Do list in the morning is a positive work habit, consider doing it at the end of the day instead of the beginning. For those habits you identified as hindering productivity, think of ways to fight them. For example, if you feel you check your phone too often, consider leaving the phone turned off between breaks.
Step 4: Constantly ask how your work methods can be improved.
As stated above, step four is likely the most critical. After you have a solid starting point of good and bad habits, simply start asking yourself “How can I do this activity/habit/procedure better, smarter, or faster?” Ask yourself this question all the time throughout the day. Experiment, be flexible, and try new approaches to improve how you work. You will find that some new ideas to work better pay off while others ideas do not. By continually asking how we can improve a process, we open ourselves up to finding solutions. The funny thing about asking a question is that our mind will invariably look for ways to answer it.
In summary, these four steps can help you radically transform your work day. More importantly, they provides a framework for two important mindsets. First, it forces one to think about how he or she works each day. Second, it provides a system to improve personal productivity skills by constantly reviewing where improvements can be made. Not only are you learning to produce more, but produce more efficiently as well.