THE BLOG
08/31/2015 12:02 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Process Is the Secret Weapon for Boosting Productivity

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Image by Dennis Hamilton via Flickr

Many professionals start off their day staring at a blank screen, waiting for orders, or drowning in email. The idle time lost hoping your manager may hand over a list of to-dos for the day could have been better spent sleeping, walking to work or exercising. Email is a regular drain on efficiency, too. According to a study by McKinsey & Company, reading and answering email takes up 28% of our entire work week.

Unstructured working arrangements paralyze teams; distractions such as email encourage poor time management. Fortunately, schedules and routines breed efficiency and process creates predictable workflows.

To maximize productivity, the most successful people build structure around their work. Often, they plan what to do and how to do it far in advance. This allows them to block off time once a week to manage their calendars and invest the majority of their working hours fulfilling high-impact tasks instead of wondering what they should do next and which steps they ought to take to complete a project.

The consequences of context switch

"Without structure and with too many distractions, it takes workers up to 25 minutes to get back on task. That's a lot of lost time," says productivity consultant Helene Segura. This, of course, adds up as a person is asked to switch context sporadically throughout her working day.

"Neuroscience tells us that it takes the brain an average of 60 seconds to restart when switching tasks. Think about how much time we lose when we don't have a routine and just flit around," says Segura.

Thankfully, we do not have to be productivity machines that simply never stop working. Instead, awareness around the consequences of context switch may encourage you to see tasks through to completion instead of constantly jumping from project to project. She adds, "Having a focused process or structure allows our brains to crank out higher quality work at a faster rate, even if it's for only 10 minutes at a time."

Developing process

When you accept that an unplanned work day creates more chaos than it does results, it is time to start developing processes around how you work. But you will want to take it one step at a time.

"Hone new habits for productivity. Take 20 minutes to think and plan," advises entrepreneur and career expert Stacia Pierce. Once you have a structured course of action, then you can begin. "Start using a kitchen timer to get more done in less time. The ticking clock will remind you to work expeditiously and stay focused."

With a clear list of tangible tasks and unambiguous deliverables, professionals may easily access their skills and output results, especially in the absence of meaningless distractions. Consistency also aids in producing quality work at high volume.

Remember that real change does not happen overnight. To build productive processes which you can happily commit to, Pierce suggests, "Master your momentum. Progress happens little by little. The key to avoiding procrastination is saying no to the urge to be distracted." To regain control of your time, methods such as the Pomodoro Technique, 18 minutes and the Pareto analysis may help you better manage your work hours.

How do you streamline workflows and maximize your efficiency?

This post originally appeared on the Central Desktop blog and is republished with permission.

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Danny Wong is the co-founder of Blank Label, an award-winning luxury menswear company. He is also a digital marketing consultant and freelance writer. To connect, tweet him @dannywong1190 or message him on LinkedIn.