Time’s a funny thing – the more we have on our plates, the fewer hours there seem to be in a day. But whether in the office or at home, we can increase our productivity by learning new ways to approach our tasks and doing away with those habits that aren’t helping (you might be surprised just how much of our time they eat up)… After all, it’s not about cramming even more into our already packed days, but rather making what time we do have count more.
So let us ease the pressure a little and give you a helping hand with your to-do list with our top five productivity-boosting tips.
1. Eliminate the distractions
So that shocker of a project just hit your desk? Make space for it. Multitasking is a productivity-killer so cut the distractions – and yes, we do mean your smart phone too! Turn it off, hide it under your sofa or tackle the urge to constantly check what’s new by downloading an app that trains you to leave your phone alone – we know… the irony! From pointing out exactly what activities are sucking up all your time to rewarding you for not touching your phone for 30 minutes with a beautiful growing tree, using a phone app to keep us away from all those other apps can be a surprisingly effective way to help us put our focus back to the task at hand.
The same goes for browsing the internet and going back again and again to check for new emails. One study concluded that a whopping 47% of online time is spent procrastinating! Unless you have to, limit checking your emails to a specific time of the day and use a browser add-on to block any distracting sites during your work hours.
2. Take a ‘productive break’
Some types of tasks, especially creative work, can sometimes grind to a standstill when we’re under pressure. So if the inspiration has dried up, don’t stare at a blank screen until you despair or give into procrastination – instead, take a moment to consciously engage in a reinvigorating activity. If you can get out, go for a run, take a walk or spend your lunch hour in an art gallery or some other place you wouldn’t normally go. If you’re stuck inside, take ten minutes to meditate or stretch out in a yoga pose. Finally, sometimes all our mind requires to get the creative juices flowing again is a little break from the internal ‘editor’ that’s constantly demanding perfection – try filling a few pages of a notebook with a stream-of-consciousness style writing (forget about spelling and grammar!) or take a sheet of blank paper and doodle whatever comes to mind before you get back to your task.
3. Fuel productivity with the right foods
It’s hard to get anything done when our focus falters and we’re having trouble concentrating. What you had for lunch may have a lot to do with it! Making healthy food choices is not only good for our bodies but affects our productivity, too. Eating a healthy diet, getting our five helpings of fruit and veg at least four times a week and regular exercising are all linked to higher productivity. So how do you put this into practise? Start by stocking up with healthy snacks – fruit, nuts, carrot sticks with hummus, wholegrain sandwiches with avocado, etc. – and reach for them instead of sugary treats throughout the day to keep your energy up. A quick sugar hit is just that – after the initial energy boost you’ll soon end up feeling even more tired and unfocused. Go easy on empty lunchtime carbs too and opt for generous helpings of veggies with whole grains that will provide you with a more sustained energy to see you through the rest of the day. And keep a glass or a bottle of water handy! Hydration is not only important for clear skin but clear thinking too.
4. Bring mindfulness to your desk
At first glance, setting aside some of our work time to sit quietly with our eyes closed might seem like the antithesis of productivity. But how often do we waste time by being unable to concentrate and having our minds constantly wander to things that are irrelevant to the present moment? Having a calm mind increases our productivity by boosting our ability to focus on the task at hand.
Before starting work, try to find 10 minutes at home to relax and focus on your breath with your eyes closed – you may find counting each inhalation and exhalation helpful. By taking the time to calm your mind, you’ll soothe any stress you may be experiencing about the workload that’s waiting for you and will be better equipped to ignore distractions and to prioritise your time effectively. While at work, go for another mindfulness boost (or two) by briefly bringing your awareness back to your breath and the present moment before beginning each new task – even focusing fully on the experience of enjoying a cuppa during a break can transform stress levels.
5. Embrace structure
With oodles to do, from mini tasks to long-term projects and everything in between – both at work and at home – it’s really easy to get overwhelmed. However, just a smidge of structure can go a long way in eliminating stress and powering up productivity.
Try this: print out a weekly planner, write a list of things that you have to do during the week (such as work projects, appointments and so on) and fill those in. Then make a list of things that you want to do, like working towards long-term goals, socialising, self-care and leisure activities, and slot those in too. If you haven’t got enough space, go back to your list and pick out the things that are most important.
Instead of being restrictive, knowing exactly what we’re doing and when during the week helps us avoid being distracted by all the other things that need doing – it’s a lot easier to stay motivated when we’re looking at a to-do list of one item instead of 50!
Scheduling pleasurable activities is also important as it can help tame our urges for instant gratification. Knowing that we’ve made the space for fun in our week, we’ll be less likely to resent all the mundane tasks that we need to get done in the meanwhile.1