Do you find your workday runs away with you? You start each day with a plan to get everything done and a strict to-do list, but somehow the list is even longer by the time you clock out.
It is easy to let ourselves become distracted when we give ourselves an overload of work to complete in one day - it simply ends up being counter-productive. We end up procrastinating, focusing on low-priority tasks to avoid the high priority ones, and it ultimately leads to us feeling stressed.
Try incorporating these 7 tips to increase your productivity levels and work smarter.
1. Monotask, don’t multi-task
Multi-tasking – while it seems effective in theory – is in fact counter-productive. Research shows that switching between tasks or trying to do more than one thing at once actually slows you down, making you less productive.
Set up a process and environment to encourage yourself to simply focus on and complete one task at a time. Even if you can’t afford to block off hours of time for a single task, even setting yourself 20 minutes or half an hour to make a good dent in it will make you more productive and focused.
Monotasking has been proven to reduce stress, increase productivity and improve focus and decision-making, as well as keeping your brain healthy.
2. Work in intervals
If you tend to get distracted easily when working on a task – maybe something you have been putting off or dreading – set yourself a timer for 10 minutes and commit to focusing on that one task exclusively and entirely for that amount of time.
When the 10 minutes is up, allow yourself 1 minute of “distraction time,” and then set the 10-minute timer again. If 10 minutes is getting easy, bump up the time to 20 and see how long you can train your brain to focus on one task.
3. Take breaks
Working long hours without taking breaks may make it appear like you are getting more done, but that is unfortunately not the case as we get burned out.
Learn to recognise the signs of mental fatigue. These signs might be re-reading the same sentence over and over or aimlessly writing e-mails with no real outcome in mind. Don’t feel guilty about taking a break – your brain needs time to recharge.
Taking regular breaks to move about during your work day helps concentration and boosts your mood and blood flow to the brain – a 5 minute walk around the block (or even the office) or taking 15 minutes to just enjoy your coffee without trying to do five other tasks at the same time (see point 1).
4. Lunch time nap
It is quite common to feel an energy dip mid-afternoon, as your body naturally wants to go to sleep about seven hours after waking. While I imagine most offices frown on napping – look at it as a perk if you are still working from home – you can nap during your lunch break.
If you can, take a 20-minute “power nap” on your break. To increase your energy levels in the most effective way post-nap, try drinking a cup of coffee before your nap.
Research has shown that this method likely works because the power nap helps clear the brain of the sleep-inducing compound adenosine, while the caffeine takes about 20 minutes to have its physiological effect — kicking in just as you are waking up.
5. Be accountable
To combat your tendency to get distracted or procrastinate on tasks that you find withering to even think about, it can be helpful to find an accountability partner.
Whether it’s weekly check-ins with a co-worker or manager or simply setting your own strict deadlines and announcing them to others, having to answer to someone else can often make you more inclined to focus and get a task done.
6. Stay on track
To-do lists – when used effectively - help to keep you accountable for getting things done.
Instead of starting the day in a panic of trying to remember what you knew you had to get done the evening prior, before you finish work for the day, make a list of five to eight tasks that you need to complete the following day (remember – be realistic so you don’t feel stressed and overwhelmed if you don’t complete a list of 25 tasks).
Make this to-do list, then identify your top two priorities for the day and make sure they are completed above all else. Giving the most important tasks your brain's prime time will make you feel more productive. If you work best in the morning, kick off your day with those two tasks as priority and vice versa.
On a separate list, it can be helpful to jot down any personal errands that need to be addressed that day, like booking a flight, reminding yourself to go to the post office or buying a birthday gift.
7. Turn off notifications
We all know that “ping” of our e-mail that makes you immediately dive into your Inbox in a panic to see what joy has landed – instantly taking your mind away from the task at hand and breaking your concentration.
As with the timer tactic in point 2, almost anything can wait for 20 minutes – even an urgent e-mail. Try turning off your e-mail notification sound for 20-30 minutes while you set your timer to get a task completed. This will help you focus without worrying what is going on elsewhere.