If you’ve noticed that you aren’t quite as productive at work as you used to be, there are some simple changes you can make that will put you back on track.
While there are some notable differences between working from home and working at an office, most of the advice here applies to either environment. I will address remote work specifically as well. Most of the common issues that cause a lack of productivity are fairly easy to address and fix.
Here are the tips on how you can stop slacking off at work and get back to being more productive.
Table of Contents
Multitasking is a lie
First of all, avoid multitasking. It’s become this mystical activity that everyone wants to do these days because it makes them feel like they’re really getting a lot done. However, it actually decreases your productivity greatly if you are constantly switching from one task to another haphazardly.
This breaks your concentration and ultimately leads to either lower quality work or a smaller amount of work being done altogether. It is far more effective to put all of your attention on one task until you complete it, and then move on to the next task.
You’ll get more done this way because it allows your brain to focus properly on one task at a time without getting distracted by other things. A worker who can effectively multitask is extremely rare. You are better off with a focused approach.
Setting work priorities
So now that you are only going to focus on one task at a time, there needs to be a method to prioritize the order in which you do them. This is important because if you do everything at random, you will not be as productive as you could be with a methodical approach based on the importance of each task.
I recommend using a simple tool like a Kanban board to keep track of what needs to be done and in which order it needs to be done. For those that don’t know, a Kanban board is a visual representation of the workflow. It has columns for each step in the process with cards representing each task and its current status.
The reason this works is because visual representations allow you to see what tasks are still left to be done and which ones have been completed already at a glance without having to go through documents or emails to see where everything is. Using this also allows you to easily identify when bottlenecks in your workflow occur and make adjustments as needed before the problem compounds itself.
It’s far better to keep a straightforward visualization of what needs to be done, which tasks are currently active, and which tasks have been completed than trying to keep everything in your head. You will not remember how far along everything is, or what tasks need to be added based on the status of other work done in the past. Deadlines have a way of being forgotten if you don’t keep a visual reminder in your work area.
If you find yourself forgetting these basic principles when it comes to prioritizing work, make a Kanban board and use it for a few weeks. It’s an easy tool to implement and it made a big difference for me.
Take breaks from work
Yes, taking breaks from work will increase the amount of work you get done and it will help the quality of your work. Taking breaks lets your mind rest so that when you come back to work, you are more focused and able to work more efficiently. Even if you get sufficient sleep and are energetic, taking breaks is still beneficial.
My favorite method for this is the Pomodoro method which I cover in this article.
Try out Pomodoro and see if it works for you. A lot of people have found this has been the most effective time management technique they have ever used to focus and get things done.
I especially recommend this method if you are working from home or in a position that has little supervision. Being able to handle your own breaks and get things done without anyone breathing down your neck is a very tough thing to do unless you use something like the Pomodoro method. Even the worst slackers can follow this technique and do work in short bursts because they know that the next break is only 25 minutes away.
Music (but without lyrics)
This may or may not be for you but it’s worth trying. Some people work better in silence while some prefer music. But the key to using music is that it MUST not have lyrics.
Trying to do focused work while listening to music that has lyrics in it is extremely distracting even if it doesn’t feel like it. Your brain hears the lyrics and processes them which is a distraction.
Try music that has a good beat and keep the volume low. Classical music is always a good choice but there are other options. Make a playlist and set it to loop and test it out. Modify the playlist as you see fit.
This may be task-dependent. When I need to heavily concentrate, I want dead silence. But if I’m doing something that doesn’t require as much brainpower, some low-volume music is a good option.
Remove as many distractions as you can
There will always be distractions. It’s annoying but true. Though, you should eliminate as many distractions as possible. Depending on how much you use social media, turning off the notifications can eliminate a ton of small distractions (Facebook is notorious for its frequent notifications).
Try to opt-out of as many meetings as possible. These meetings are huge time wasters. Ask if your attendance at meetings is mandatory and let people know that you have important work to do.
Only check email (and voicemail) at certain times of the day. If you try to do all throughout the day, you will get distracted and not get anything done. I recommend checking email twice a day.
When you check the email or voicemail, handle the issue immediately if possible. Reply or call the person back immediately after you’ve finished reading it or listening to the message. If your boss, customer, or another employee needs your response more urgently they can call you.
How to stop slacking off while working from home
This is a tough adjustment for a lot of career office workers. More of the workforce is home-based these days and there are some major differences working from home as compared to an office.
With no direct oversight, it is easier than ever for a remote worker to find excuses to slack off. This is where self-discipline and self-motivation come into play. Nobody else is there to motivate you because there’s nobody looking over your shoulder all day. Procrastination has a sneaky way of taking over hours of your day if you aren’t holding yourself accountable.
Instant messaging has become a more common distraction now with more people working from home. Sometimes you will have to ignore meaningless messages from an overzealous colleague if you want to be able to concentrate on your work. After ignoring non-work relevant messages for a while, the other person should take the hint. If not, you can have a conversation with them about the messages and how they disrupt your workflow.