Ask the intern: How to maximize your productivity in the workplace
“Hi there, I’ve just started my internship in Hong Kong and I find it hard to stay focused for the whole day. I do enjoy the work, I really do, but I often get easily distracted and end up taking ages to complete certain tasks. Do you have any advice on how I can manage my time better or how to be productive at work?” – Andy
Hi Andy, thanks for reaching out! Doing an professional internship or working a 9-5 job in the office definitely requires some concentration skills, especially if this is your first professional experience. The structure of a working day means that you have to manage your time efficiently. Establishing a good work ethic will help enormously when you need to meet deadlines for tasks and projects. This differs to studying in the sense that you work within a tighter schedule; you have to abide by the office hours of your company. However, it can be hard to stay focused and motivated throughout the whole day. For example, you may not be a morning person, or you may find it hard to concentrate after lunch. During my two international internships, I’ve learned a few things that have helped me stay efficient throughout the working day. So here is my advice on how to be productive at work or at your internship.
1. Give yourself time to wake up
The way you wake up often sets the precedence for your whole day. Sleeping in until the very last minute, then gulping down a coffee while rushing into the office, will make you feel stressed and rushed for the day. In addition, if you arrive at work half-asleep, the first few hours of your day are likely to be unproductive since your brain is still turning on. In order to avoid this, give yourself plenty of time to wake up and get ready in the morning. Factor in the time that it takes you to get ready, as well as your commute. If you find it hard to get out of bed, then set your alarm 10 minutes earlier, so that you get up at the right time. Make sure that you eat something too, as this will fuel your brain for the day. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, punctuality is important. You will look and feel professional if you arrive on time and you’ll start the day on top of your work.
2. Make a to-do list with deadlines
I find it useful to write down all the tasks I have and when I need to complete them. It can be hard to keep track of everything that you need to do, so having it all written down will help you manage your time. It’s also a good idea to note the deadline of each piece of work so that you can plan ahead. Depending on what works for you, use a notebook, planner, or even your computer desktop. There are also lots of to-do list apps which you can download on your phone or work computer to help keep you up-to-date with all of your tasks. Make sure that you are reasonable and realistic when planning your to-do list. If you set your own deadlines, then give yourself enough time to complete your work to avoid cramming it all in at the last minute.
3. Take breaks
Take small breaks during the day, and make sure that you take some time off for lunch. I find it very hard to work solidly throughout the day, as my brain starts to wander, and my work is of a lower quality when I get tired. I think it is more beneficial to go and get a snack and take a proper break at lunch, than to try and power through the whole day. This way you can return to your work with a fresher pair of eyes, and a rested mind. The same goes for if you are struggling with a piece of work. It can be frustrating to keep chipping away at it if you are getting nowhere. I would suggest taking a break and coming back to it with a clear head. Your day will feel more manageable if you schedule three breaks: a 10 minute morning break, your lunch hour and 10 minute afternoon pause. With those stopping points scheduled in, you will soon find that you’re more productive when you are working.
4. Be clear about what task you are working on, stick to it and avoid multitasking
If you are not clear about what you are working on, make sure to double-check with your colleague or supervisor. It is always useful to research around the topic, but I would suggest clarifying your tasks in order to avoid doing any redundant work. This is especially important if you are working towards a tight deadline; it will be more productive to focus your time and energy on the specific task that you need to complete. With this in mind, I would recommend only focusing on one task at a time. Unless you have an on-going project, it will be quicker and easier to concentrate on one task, rather than multi-tasking. For example, if you receive an email with a new task, it can be distracting to start working on that straight away. At the end of the day you will more likely feel less productive if you have worked on different things simultaneously, as you will not have fully completed anything. This will depend on your internship, but at least for small tasks, it is more efficient to work on one thing at a time.
5. Limit distractions
I’ve already mentioned that it’s important to keep your personal and professional life separate. This is not only workplace etiquette, but also crucial to your productivity. It’s very easy to get distracted by your social media and keeping in touch with friends back home, so limit the interruptions and turn off your notifications and put your phone away when working. You can chat to your friends during your break, but keep your brain focused on your work in order to be more efficient.
6. Know when to stop
If you are getting restless and tired at the end of the day, it is probably a good time to stop working. Your productivity levels will decrease, and your work will not be your best. Similarly to taking breaks, don’t try and power through unnecessarily if you feel like you are getting nowhere. It will just be frustrating and useless. It may be better to go home or take a break, then start afresh in the morning. Instead, switch to small tasks like managing your emails, prepping your to-do list or doing little things that do not require much brainpower. In this way, you are still being active and productive without wasting any time.
I hope this answers your query! Keep sending your questions to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re looking to gain professional experience then apply here for an international internship. The past year of interning abroad truly has been the best year of my life!
Photo 1. by The Intern Group.
Photo 3. by The Intern Group.