In fact, it’s one of the most helpful skills you can learn. But if you’re wrapped up in work as it is, then—understandably—being even more efficient ends up on the back burner.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be a complicated process. Here are nine questions you can ask yourself right now to figure out how you can be more productive.
1. What Project Most Needs My Attention?
Be honest: Are you working on multiple things at once right now—simultaneously checking your Twitter feed, reading this article, and drafting up an email in your head?
It might seem like you’re getting more done, but research has found that it actually takes four times as long for your brain to process everything when you’re multi-tasking.
Translation: Focus on one thing at a time, and your productivity will skyrocket. To kick things off, start with your most important task.
2. What Time of Day Am I the Most Productive?
Take a look back at the last week and figure out what time of day you’re most productive. Is it first thing in the morning as you drink coffee, or later in the evening when the rest of the world is slowing down?
Once you know, you can plan your days around your “golden hours” instead of fighting to get work done during periods when you’re likely to face a bit of a mental lull.
3. What Interrupts Me?
Do email alerts cause you to drop what you’re doing to see what just came in? Are you obsessively checking social media throughout the day—after which you struggle to get back on task?
If your inbox is distracting you, close the tab and silence your notifications while you dig into your other work. So long as you don’t do it all day long, and you still have one line of communication open (e.g., someone could still pick up the phone and call you if it was urgent), you don’t need to worry that you’ll miss something major.
4. Am I Listening to Music?
You might think complete silence would help you do your best work, and for complex tasks that’s true. However, studies have shown that listening to familiar music can help you be more productive—especially when you’re stuck doing repetitive tasks that usually make your mind wander.
Just stick to something you know: When you listen to new lyrics, you can get distracted as your brain tries to memorize them.
5. Am I Taking Breaks?
When you have a lot to do, do you implement a work-only strategy, even eating lunch at your desk? That can impact your productivity—by driving it down.
Researchers have found that taking breaks actually helps you stay focused, so you’ll be able to work more efficiently. To change your habit, try the Pomodoro technique which’ll force you to take breaks at regular intervals.
6. What Are My Long-Term Goals?
While breaking down your goals into small, easy-to-chew bites is a great way to keep yourself motivated, it’s important to have a long-term goal.
Say, for example, that you need to pull together some data for an upcoming report. If you remind yourself that it’ll help you grow your client base, which is one of your major goals, you’ll be less tempted to put it off for another time, because you’ll have remembered just how much it matters.
7. Am I Asking for Help When I Need It?
If you’re getting overwhelmed by your workload or you’re struggling to be productive, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Think of it this way: It’s easier to lift something heavy when you’ve got two people.
If you feel like you’re never going to complete something, it’s easy to put it off, thinking essentially, “What’s the point?” But if you divvy the work up and make it manageable, you’ll be more inspired to get started.
8. Am I Rewarding Myself for a Job Well Done?
Are you taking some time to celebrate when you finish a job? Or are you jumping feet first into the next project ?
Rewards bolster motivation and increase productivity. Take the time to treat yourself for a job well done, even if it’s something as simple as a fancy cup of coffee, or a new book, or accepting the compliments you get!
9. Am I Happy?
It’s unrealistic to think you’re going to be jumping for joy all day, every day. But you know that feeling where you want to just be done with it and go home for the day? Clearly, you’re not going to get a lot done if you’re just thinking about how much you don’t want to be doing your work.
So, if that’s the case, look for a way to improve your mood. Are you hungry? Would it be helpful to go for a walk? Or maybe listen to some music—which, yes, would be doubly beneficial in this case? Instead of forcing yourself to stay glued to your desk while you work on something you don’t like, see if there’s something positive you can do or look forward to,
My final question is this: How many productivity hacks have you tried today? Recognize that time management can become your biggest time waster if you spend more time researching tips and tricks and writing out to-do lists than you do on your actual work.
So, if this is the first productivity article you read today, you’re probably in the clear—but if it’s your fifth, it’s time to buckle down and get to work. Really.
Photo of person being productive courtesy of Kohei Hara/Getty Images.