Professional Development

Saying “no” and other work productivity hacks

Written by Eric Titner

In today’s nonstop, hectic work culture, the lines between our professional and personal lives are blurred and intertwined like never before, which often means that we’re always operating at breakneck speeds to complete everything we need to get done in a given day. No one likes to end a day with the sense that they didn’t add enough checkmarks to their to-do lists. And since no one has figured out a way to add more hours to the day yet, we have to compensate by maximizing our work productivity.

Particularly at work, staying on top of responsibilities is mission-critical for a variety of reasons—not only does failing to handle assigned tasks on schedule reflect poorly on you, but it can also have long-term consequences on your career and future opportunities. Delayed projects can adversely affect the workflow of your colleagues. Plus, the negative impact of falling behind at work can include added stress, anxiety, depression, loss of sleep, and a host of other unwanted mental and physical effects.

There are ways to make what may feel like a maelstrom of daily tasks a little more manageable. Consider utilizing the following foolproof work hacks to help you stay on top of things.

First, get organized

Don’t expect to be able to allocate your time, energy, and resources to tackling your daily to-dos effectively if you don’t have a good handle on them and what you need to get done each day. You’ll have to get organized.

There’s no “one size fits all” approach to organizing—use whatever tools work best for you for keeping track of and staying on top of everything you need to get done. There are a wealth of organization tools available to check out—including apps, software, and good old-fashioned notebooks and paper. Feel free to use the trial and error approach until you devise a system that works for you, but don’t fall prey to thinking that you can juggle it all in your head—that’s a recipe for disaster. Consider the time you spend building a good organization system a real investment in your productivity—one that will surely pay off in the long run.

Take the time to prioritize

Are you the sort of person who looks at a long list of tasks and, overwhelmed by its sheer size, chooses to turn away and put it all off for later instead? Breathe—and consider a better approach.

When faced with an imposing to-do list that threatens to decimate your productivity, fight back by taking a few minutes to prioritize every item. If you’re unsure of what should come first and what can wait, it’s fine to ask your manager—you are taking proactive steps to get your work done in the most helpful way possible. Once you’ve prioritized, you can narrow your focus on the most important tasks first. As your list shrinks, you’ll have the bandwidth to tackle those less critical tasks later, with a renewed sense that everything is going to be okay.

Break down complex tasks

We all know what it’s like to face a complex, multi-faceted task with multiple sub-tasks and interconnected dependencies—it can often seem downright impossible to complete. A simple approach to keep these toughest to-dos from halting your work productivity is to break them down into smaller, more manageable tasks. Tackle them methodically, one by one. Breaking a big to-do into smaller to-dos has the net effect of chipping away at previously insurmountable projects and keeping your work productivity high.

Use the secret weapons

When it comes to being productive, you have two “secret weapons” at your disposal that are often underused, but can make a big difference—getting help and saying no.

When faced with an enormous task, one where it makes more sense to utilize the capabilities and energy of other folks, don’t hesitate to ask for help. People often view asking for help as a sign of weakness, but in fact, it’s the opposite. Asking a team member for assistance is a strategic use of available resources to maximize work productivity and complete a task. After all, do generals go off into battle alone, or do they develop a plan to use the troops and resources at their disposal?

Another underused strategy for staying productive is to avoid taking on more than you can handle at any given time by simply saying “no.” True, this can be misused and abused in the face of tasks you simply don’t want to do, but when used responsibly and appropriately, saying that you simply don’t have the time to tackle a task at the moment can help keep you focused, on track, and at the peak of your productive potential. Be polite, and make sure you back up your “no” with reasons why focusing on the unwanted task will make you less productive for other things on your list.

If you’re eager to take your work productivity to the next level, then consider using the strategies and advice presented here to help you get moving in the right direction. Good luck!

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.