How to Increase Productivity in the Workplace

Aine Hendron
29 Jun 2021

We are all gifted with the same 24 hours each day. How do we choose to spend it? Many people live by the clock at work: they arrive, they do their job, they leave, and the cycle repeats. 

But what happens in those hours between when we show up at the workplace, and when we go home? How do we ensure we are using that time wisely, to be productive and improve the quality of the business, even while doing simple tasks? 

In this blog, we look at six techniques designed and proven to give your workday an injection of productivity and inspiration.

1. Micro improvements: Kaizen Method

Making small, daily improvements can greatly improve your business over time. It’s a concept known as ‘Kaizen, which means ‘change for the better’ in Japanese. Essentially, Kaizen means to make micro-improvements to your business, which accumulate into large-scale changes over time that improves operational efficiency.

Seating Matters, a global furniture manufacturing company, say that Kaizen has allowed them to work more efficiently, and achieve their expansion plans. All of the equipment in Seating Matters’ Irish factory is on wheels so that it can be rearranged if they can think of a more effective layout. For example, if it takes workers 30 seconds to walk between work stations to complete a task, the equipment can be rearranged so that the walk is shorted to 20 seconds, or 15, or as low as possible. These are known as two-second improvements. 

Apply the Kaizen philosophy to your business by considering how long it takes to get things done. If your morning meeting runs on by 5 minutes every morning, then that’s 25 minutes wasted in a week, and 100 minutes a month. That’s a lot of wasted time that could have been used to complete important work.

Total transformation doesn’t occur overnight, but taking small steps in the right direction will help you arrive at the same result. 

2. Prioritise difficult tasks: Eat the Frog

This technique was coined by Brain Tracey, who wrote the book Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. Tracey was inspired by a Mark Twain quote: “If the first thing you do in the morning is to eat the frog, then you can continue your day with the satisfaction of knowing that this is probably the worst thing that will happen to you all day.” [1]

The Eat the Frog method means to complete the most difficult and perhaps unpleasant task on your to-do list first, so that everything you do afterwards will feel easier. In his book, Tracey asserts that every working day should be planned in order to fully optimise your time. It starts with determining a long-term goal, writing it down, and setting a deadline. Then, write down all of the actionable steps necessary to achieve the goal. Organise the list in order of priority. Tracey suggests using ABCDE method to set an order:

A: Tasks that should be prioritised, or your project will definitely fail. These are the frogs.

B: Tasks that are also important, but don’t carry as serious consequences as A-tasks.

C: Tasks that you need to complete, but aren’t urgent or detrimental to your goal. 

D: Tasks that you’d like to complete, but you can delegate or leave for another time.

E: Tasks that can be deleted. [2]

Another way you might want to try this technique is by organising your goals into a master list, monthly list, weekly list, and daily list. By completing your most challenging and important tasks, you can know with certainty that you’re progressing towards your goals and targets. 

3. Stop procrastination: two-minute rule

The Two-Minute Rule states that “when you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.” This isn’t to say that your task will take two minutes, but rather taking the first step and starting the task takes two minutes. David Allen popularised the two-minute rule in his book, Getting Things Done (2001). He is behind the phrase, “If it takes less than two minutes, do it now”. [3]

However, the rule is slightly more complex than that. Out of context, this quote suggests that you should drop whatever you’re doing to complete any random task that pops into your head while you’re working. 

A critical aspect of the rule is that the two-minute action should be firmly related to the task at hand. When working remotely, it can be difficult to focus on work in the comfort of your home. You may be completing a slightly difficult piece of work when you notice a pile of dishes by the sink. Interrupting your workflow by getting up and washing the dishes, because they’ll only take two minutes, is breaking the two-minute rule. It’s counterproductive to allow distractions to overtake the task at hand. Instead, write to-dos down, or store them in your mind for later. 

If your goal is to clear out and organise your filing system, for example, the two-minute step to beginning this task is to organise documents into piles. These may be ‘keep’, ‘discard’, ‘come back to later’ and ‘move somewhere else’ piles. Without the two-minute method, it’s easy to simply open the filing cabinet, notice a document that needs amendments, and start working on it instead of completing your clear-out. 

James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, subscribes to the two-minute rule to cut procrastination. He states: “a habit must be established before it can be improved. Instead of trying to engineer a perfect habit from the start, do the easy thing on a more consistent basis. You have to standardize before you can optimize.” [4]

The two-minute rule works perfectly alongside the Pomodoro technique.

4. Maximise efficiency: Pomodoro technique

Work more fluidly by breaking your time into segments. 16 x 30-minute segments sounds far less intimidating than 1 x 8-hour chunk, which is the span of the average work day. Consider breaks when creating a schedule, as they are equally as important for productivity as active work. 

Taking regularly timed breaks is known as the Pomodoro technique. The technique was named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Francesco Cocirillo used as he created and perfected the technique [5] (‘pomodoro’ means ‘tomato’ in Italian). It works as follows:

  • Decide on the task to be done.
  • Set a timer - typically 25 minutes, maximum time recommended is 45 minutes.
  • Focus solely on the task until the timer rings.
  • Take a short break, 3-5 minutes. The break marks the completion of one "pomodoro". Four pomodoros make one set. 
  • After a set is complete, take a longer break, preferably one lasting 20 minutes or longer. 

After completing a full set of the Pomodoro technique, two and a half hours should have passed. Implementing this technique over a long period of time is said to improve overall attention span and agility when performing difficult tasks [6].

It is easier to find the motivation to complete difficult tasks once they have been broken down into manageable sections. There are also some further steps you can take to get the most from your pomodoro, such as:

  • Prepare your working sessions for the day by timetabling when you expect to get things done.
  • Pair small tasks together. If you have three little tasks to complete, do them all together in one pomodoro session so that you can complete larger, more focused tasks in fewer sessions.
  • There are no pauses. Once your session has started, you must work with no interruptions, since there are breaks so often. If another task comes to mind while you’re working, write it down on a to-do list for later. [7]

5. Effective time management

Be honest about how time is being spent. When coming to the end of the workday, it’s easy to adopt the mindset of ‘it’s tomorrow’s problem’. In reality, the 20 minutes until home-time might not be enough time to start and complete an entire project, but it is enough time to begin some initial research that will lighten your workload tomorrow. If your employees are restricted by time, remind them that doing half of their research is better than doing none at all.

Failing that, spending those 20 minutes cleaning your organising the workspace should boost productivity. Or writing tomorrow’s to-do list. Or reflecting on the work you’ve completed today and consider methods for improvement. There is always something to be done! 

6. Work smart and hard

This blog focuses less on working hard, and more on working effectively. Another way you can boost productivity is by having adequate technology systems in place for your employees. Investing in a software system that is built to fulfill the need of your business will streamline operations, and allow you and your employees to focus on the task at hand, without setbacks and inconveniences caused by technology issues. 

Some things to look out for in a point of sale (POS) system:

  • Insights on peak times, days and seasonal trends
  • Reports on how well products are selling and their profit margin
  • Integration with accounting and bookkeeping software
  • Overview of labour costs, and the ability to manage employee scheduling and payroll
  • Multiple device connection which links to your master POS. For example, handheld tablets/iPads, tills, kitchen order screens, and docket printers
  • Click and collect services, and payment processing for customers who wish to use card or Apple, Android, and Google Pay

All of these features, and more, are available with Epos Now’s POS Software

By using a POS system you can make better-informed business decisions that lead to higher profits, less waste and, higher productivity levels among staff. Offer a user-friendly experience for your employees with a system that is built to support all the necessary integrations and add-ons that your business needs to thrive. 

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