How to be more productive

Feel like you’re always chasing your tail at work? Here’s how to master your schedule.

Peter Iantorno November 18, 2015

“Working nine till five; what a way to make a living.”

Back in 1980 when Dolly Parton sang this famous song bemoaning the tough working schedule in America, she would have no idea that some 35 years later, for most people, working ‘nine till five’ would be considered an unusually short day in the office.

Nowadays throughout the world, and nowhere more so than the fiercely competitive UAE, the working week is getting longer and longer, with employees being put under pressure to arrive early and stay late in an effort to meet demanding deadlines.

But if that describes your working week, then we’ve got news for you: you’re not making the most of your time. According to a recent study from Stanford University, average employee output falls sharply when a person works any more than 50 hours per week and reduces to almost zero after a 55-hour work-week.

Not only are long working hours unproductive, but they are also proven to lead to more unscheduled absences due to illness and, ultimately higher staff turnover.

So, it’s pretty common knowledge that too many late nights in the office are bad for all parties concerned (employers and employees), so how do you manage your time so that doesn’t happen to you? We took to questions and answers site Quora to find out.

Dolly Parton nine till five.jpg Times have changed since Dolly Parton sang about "working nine till five" in 1980.

According to Business and Entrepreneurship graduate Thomas Rivet, the key to increasing productivity is simple. “It all boils down to your ability to resist being distracted,” he says. “Focus on one thing. Focus on that which needs your full attention.”

Entrepreneur Lerato Mac believes a systematic approach is the way to increase productivity. The best way to start is to, “Create a to-do list,” he says. “Prioritising that list ensures that you focus on the most important items rather than giving in to the temptation of working on less important items because they are easier to do.”

Mac also states that to be more productive we should, “Take regular breaks, set deadlines, avoid multitasking, schedule phone calls” and, especially important: “Prepare for the next day. Planning your day the night before will increase your productivity,” he says.

While Mac’s idea of always preparing for the next day the night before might make sense in principle, in practice, of course, that can’t always be achieved. Fellow Quora responder Simran Kaur prefers to take an approach that should work for everyone.

how to be more productive at work.jpg Multitasking is a big no-no for those looking to increase productivity.

“I think it’s important to identify your productive hours – i.e. the time of the day you give the highest output,” she says. “This can vary from person to person and it is usually overlooked. Identify these time slots for yourself and schedule the most important tasks at these hours.”

Author and business development specialist Theo J Ellis sums up the general consensus with his advice on the matter: “Write out your top priorities and your least-important priorities,” he says. “Then put more focus into your top priorities every day.”

It really is a simple concept, but one that makes a lot of sense: make time for the most important tasks and ditch the rest. Follow the above advice and you may well end up with enough time on your hands to adopt the dream of the six-hour workday.

Quora respondents are required to use their real names and job titles. The site asks some individuals, such as doctors and lawyers, to prove their expertise.