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Tips for Being More Productive at work

Updated on July 3, 2014

Why work doesn't happen at work, and how you can be different

Below is the video that inspired this post. The video shows Jason Fried, Co-Author of Rework, a book about how to be productive when starting your own business. The motto is, "stop talking and start working." In the video below, he goes into detail about how meetings and managers are the most unproductive, non-value-adding, time-sinks that exist in office life. I'll teach you tips to be productive in the office despite the odds being stacked against you! First, let's learn how to use meetings to our benefit!

Jason Fried: Why work doesn't happen at work

The Single Tip that Changed my Productivity at Work: Schedule time for yourself!

You come into work, knowing that a major report, project, whatever, is important and needs to be worked on. You get in the office, sit down at your desk, boot up the computer, and check your calendar. You have a meeting in an hour. And another one after that, then it's lunch time, then you have a free block of time, then a final meeting and you'll go home for the day. "OK," you say, "I'll work on my report, project, whatever, in that free time after lunch." All is good in the world.

During the first meeting of the day, you get an email. It's a meeting invite and it's scheduled for that only block of free time you had.

Now what? Now you had no time to work on what you wanted to accomplish that day!

Now, you're probably not the one that's calling all the meetings, so what can you do about it?

Use Outlook to your advantage! Schedule time for yourself!

When you sit down in the morning, bright, refreshed, and ready to tackle your goals, set up a fake meeting on your outlook calendar to reserve the time you want to use for tackling those goals. Invent a convincing title for the meeting, or better yet set the meeting to private, so that people that try to schedule meetings with you will see that your time is already taken. This single tip drastically changed my productivity at work.

Now take it a step further. You most likely have a large project that is important to you and the business, but you very rarely find extended time periods to sit down and work on it. You know it requires time on at least a weekly basis or you won't complete it. Schedule recurring weekly meetings with yourself specifically to work on that project. This way you'll not only have time to work on the project, but you benefit from the routine of always working on that project at the same time each week.

Fake Meetings, No One Has to Know

Some Rights Reserved, CC BY 2.0, Used unaltered.
Some Rights Reserved, CC BY 2.0, Used unaltered. | Source

How to beat meetings with Outlook

That free time you want to keep free?

Schedule a fake meeting for yourself.

Got a project that needs to be worked on every week?

Schedule a recurring fake meeting so you work on it the same time every week.

"In the office the most virulent distractions are email and phone calls."

Tip #2: Limit your exposure to email and phone

Now that you've scheduled large blocks of time to actually get work done, are you still having trouble focusing? Interruptions at work are very common, but in the office the most virulent distractions are email and phone calls. Take action to limit your exposure to these distractions.

Set outlook to only receive emails every hour

Or every half hour, every two hours, every four hours. Outlook performs an action called a "Send/Receive" to pull emails from the server and show them to you. By default it does this every five minutes. Do you really need to be that up-to-date on your email? It can be more productive and beneficial to be able to focus, uninterrupted, for a longer time period, than it is to be the first one to see the company newsletter.

Set your voicemail to favor an email

Phone calls are another distraction. One tip to minimize the impact of phone calls is to let them ring through and customize the voicemail message they will receive. Record the following voicemail greeting.

"Hello thank you for calling! This is the office phone of John Smith. To get in touch with me quickest, please send an email to In a time-sensitive situation, I can be reached by cell at 555-555-5555. Thank you! "

This way one of three things happen.

  1. They send you an email. This is the intended result. The message comes to you in an email, which outlook ignores until the next send/receive, at which point you can deal with it on your own terms. No interruption!
  2. They leave a voicemail. Not the intended goal, but still keeps you from being interrupted.
  3. The caller calls your cell. You know that the caller means business and must be talked to. Requiring an extra hoop to jump through filters out most distractions and leaves people who really feel they need to talk to you this instant .

This is the goal

CC BY 2.0, Used Unaltered.
CC BY 2.0, Used Unaltered. | Source

Prepare your working space for work!

There are a few simple and powerful steps you can take to prepare your working space for work. These simple tips keep your mind and body comfortable and focused on the task at hand.

  1. Let the light in
    Keep your office well lit. Natural light is the best, so keep the window open if you have one. If you don't have access to natural light, try to keep your office well-lit by indirect light. Indirect light is light that bounces off a wall or ceiling before it hits you. Indirect light is generally seen as softer and more pleasant. Something as simple as pointing your desk lamp towards the wall, can figuratively brighten up your day.
  2. Keep Warm
    Take control over the temperature of your work space. You want to be cool, but not cold and warm, but not clammy. Keep a sweatshirt in your office for the winter months, or if your office dress code doesn't allow sweatshirts, wear a base layer underneath your office clothing. In the summer months keep a fan in your office and keep ice water handy.
  3. Listen to music, but leave out the vocals.
    Background ambiance helps many people focus. Some like to turn on the TV, listen to the radio, a podcast, or play a favorite album. In my experience, if you're humming or singing along, then your brain is not 100% focused on the task at hand. Singing or hearing vocals causes your brain to recognize and think about those words. You wouldn't try to read a book at a concert, but trying to work and listen to your favorite, catchy tune is the same principle. My suggestion is to play music without vocals. The easiest way I've found to do this is to play Vitamin String Quartet songs. The Vitamin String Quartet plays instrumental versions of classic and recent popular artists. You can find instrumental renditions of artists varying from Billy Joel to Incubus. Check them out online at spotify.

Letting the sun in is no problem with this office

 CC BY-SA 2.0, Used Unaltered
CC BY-SA 2.0, Used Unaltered | Source

Make tomorrow a better day at the office!

I encourage you to take these tips and try them tomorrow at the office. Try them for the next month. Find out what works for you and what doesn't. Productivity isn't a concrete science, and how to be the most productive varies from person to person. The key is to try new things and find the system that works for you!

Tell us what worked!

What tip was the most helpful?

See results

Try it out and...

Tell us what worked! Take the poll to the right and please leave a comment about your experiences being productive in an office setting!

Thank you for reading!


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