More than a decade ago, Microsoft got curious about how many hours per week workers are actually productive. They ran a survey prompting people to rate their workplace productivity, and the findings were pretty alarming.
In the U.S., people work an average of 45 hours a week and consider 16 of those hours unproductive. That amounts to more than bathroom and coffee breaks. When you consider the opportunity cost of 35% of work time being unproductive, employers and employees need to take notice.
If you want to boost your productivity, it is not by working longer, it is by working smarter. It is about learning how to squeeze more out of every working hour.
Emulate these five traits of uber-productive people and you will be amazed by how much more effective you will be:
1. They plan their day.
Life is demanding. There is a steady stream of emails, texts, calls and ads screaming for your attention. If you are not able to focus on a set task, you will spend all day doing things that are not productive to your goals.
To be uber-productive, you need to be vigilant about planning your day. Either the night before or first thing in the morning, make a short list of key tasks that you have to accomplish and map out when you plan to complete them. Without a concrete, specific, measurable plan, you have no way of knowing if you moved the ball forward or not.
2. They lead with the pain.
Uber-productive people do not push off the daunting tasks on their to-do list until the end of the day. If they procrastinated, these projects would never get tackled.
Do the least appetizing, most dreaded item on your list first because that is when you have the most energy. After you conquer the task, you will not only feel relieved but motivated to tackle another. Otherwise, you spend the day with that task hanging ominously over your head.
3. They never touch things twice.
How many times have you "flagged" the same email to review later? This is the biggest time-suck. You give the email, project or task your attention, but not enough to do something about it. Productive people do not push things off until later.
As soon as you turn your attention to something, act. Do it, delegate it or delete it. Remember, procrastination is a productivity killer. The "right time" rarely comes around, and when you push things off they build up. A molehill quickly becomes a mountain, and it is easy to procrastinate when you have a mountain to climb.
4. They say no.
If you cannot do something, say so. Stop worrying that unless you say yes to everything, people will not value or like, you.
Uber-productive people know how to draw boundaries and say no if there is too much on their plate. Research shows that the harder time you have saying no, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, and even depression.
Stop using phrases like "I'm not sure" or "I don't think I can." No is a powerful two-letter word, and if you want to be more productive, you need to get comfortable using it.
5. They don't multitask.
Multi-tasking is finally out of fashion, thank goodness.
The human mind is most effective when it focuses on a single line of thought. Multitasking challenges us to simultaneously focus on a jumble of ideas. Not only is this stressful, but it is unproductive.
Related: 10 Business Leaders Running Million-Dollar Companies Share Their Productivity Hacks
Switch-tasking is leaps and bounds more effective. Focus on one task at a time without distraction or interruption, and you will produce higher quality work more efficiently.
To sum it up.
Increasing productivity is not about moving faster or learning to expertly juggle five tasks at once. Productivity is about planning ahead, starting your day strong, tackling things head on and learning to say no, and increasing your focus and attention on the task at hand.
The more productive you become, the less stress you will feel and the more time you will have to take those coveted work breaks.
Productivity will be the best—most liberating—thing that ever happened to you.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors.
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