We all know the feeling. You work hard at the office throughout the day and when it’s time to go home you feel you have achieved nothing. A day filled with busy work has produced little of any merit to show for it.
It does not have to be that way. Here are 15 tips and ways to be more productive at work (without sacrificing your energy).
1. Begin working as early in the day as you can.
Use the time when no one can bother you to get some work done. For most of us that time is early in the morning. Get to the office before everyone else or, if you work from home, try getting up as early as 6 a.m. and starting to work as soon as feasible.
By doing so, you avoid — at least for an hour or two — those annoying interruptions and telephone calls. You can concentrate fully on what you are doing, making you immeasurably more productive.
2. Check those e-mail once or twice a day, no more.
Avoid checking your e-mail or messages constantly. If you constantly check your e-mail or messages, it will tend to distract you and cause you to undertake small, but time-consuming tasks.
If something is urgent enough, someone will find a way to get a hold of you somehow.
Unless checking your e-mail is an integral part of your work, ignore the messages. They can wait for later. Instead jump into your work day immediately.
3. Get six to seven hours sleep.
Research has found that prolonged sleep deprivation can be damaging to our bodies and can cause our brains to lose focus during the day. We start to fall asleep and our attention span is reduced.
Most people recognize this and believe that eight hours sleep is ideal. But research has shown that six to seven hours sleep a night is not only all we need, but is better for our attention span during the day than eight hours.
4. Set deadlines for yourself.
Deadlines help us to concentrate on a task as few other incentives can. By setting up a time at which you should finish a project, you will find you will work harder and more energetically than you otherwise would do. Your mind will concentrate on the one task and that task only until it is done.
Reward yourself for meeting a deadline. You might wait until you have completed the task before having a morning snack, for example.
5. Avoid lengthy meetings.
If you can get out of a meeting, do so. Or, if you are caught up in one that you have to attend, make an excuse to get back to work as soon as you can. Many business meetings go on for way too long and achieve little that could not have been gained in the first five minutes.
If you are a manager or a person who regularly calls meetings, stop and consider whether they are worth the time that they consume. You are taking away from your own time as well as that of others.
You might decide to hold a meeting only once every month instead of once a week, for example. Or you might find a short, online meeting is equally as effective.
6. Take regular breaks.
Unlike your computer, your brain is not designed to work all day and all night without a break. Yet it is capable of amazing accomplishments in a short space of concentrated time. The key is to focus intensely on your work as hard as you can for a set time. Stop and take a break, say for five to 10 minutes, and then settle down for another burst of concentrated effort.
One set of data showed that you should work for 52 minutes and take a 17 minute break every hour, give or take a few minutes. Another ratio might work better for you, but make sure you take regular breaks.
Another method that is recommended is the pomodoro technique, which dictates a 5-minute break for every 25 minutes of work followed by a long break after 4 intervals, take a longer 15-30 minute. Although I don’t like the technique it does work for some people.
But essentially, pick a break schedule that works best for you. The important thing is to work when it’s time to work and take breaks away from your computer when it’s time to take breaks.
Recommended: Pomodoro Timer
7. Get in some exercise.
When you come across a road block in your work, take a break. Chances are the answer to your problem will not come easily or quickly if you sit and look at it. But go for a walk outside if you can and the fresh air and exercise will clear your mind. Suddenly the answer will present itself.
Even if you have no special problems facing you at your desk, a little bit of exercise during the work day can revitalize your thought processes. If you cannot walk outside, try jogging up and down the stairs, even if your office block is only two or three stories high.
Some people like to visit the gym during their lunch break and return refreshed and ready to tackle the tasks awaiting them.
If you want to know what the best time to exercise is, it’s in the morning. Research found that people who exercise in the morning got better sleep. But any exercise is good for you, no matter what time it is.
8. Cut back on caffeine.
That quick cup of java in the morning can get us going, but too much caffeine during the day can lead to crashes when the initial burst is over. You are likely to find, too, that too much coffee after lunch time can disrupt your sleep, leading to insomnia and stress. If a client or a colleague invites you to have a cup of coffee later in the day, choose a decaffeinated blend or opt for tea.
9. Work in batches.
Until recently, much was made of the benefits of multi-tasking, but advisers now suggest that it is better not to try to tackle more than one job at once. They suggest that instead of flipping from one job to another, doing a little of each, that you work in batches, completing one batch, or task, before moving on to the next.
During the time you are working on one batch you should consider going offline, or turning off your e-mail notifications, so that you have no disruptions. During the interval between batches, you can take a break before tackling the next one. By the end of the day you will have completed a series of tasks, or batches, that will make you feel a great sense of accomplishment.
10. Avoid a heavy lunch.
Whether you eat out, heat a frozen dinner in the office microwave, or consume a home-made lunch at your desk, you should avoid fats and processed foods. They are hard to digest and will make you feel tired during the afternoon.
Concentrate instead on light lunches, such as salads, sandwiches or wraps that will satisfy your hunger, but will leave you ready to tackle the afternoon tasks that are awaiting.
11. Clean up your workspace.
Research has shown that an office area that is pleasing to look at can boost productivity. It follows that an untidy desk can reduce output. It distracts you from your work and makes you feel as though you have a muddled mind. In addition, there is the practical element. Looking for that special paper on a crowded desk can slow you down as you try to find it among all the other clutter.
Recommended reading for cleaning up your workspace: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
12. Prioritize your to-do list.
Arriving at the office to find that your to-do list is filled with numerous items that need attention that day can be stressful. Before you even start you are worried that you might not be able to complete them all. It makes sense, therefore, to prioritize the items so that you complete the more urgent first and tackle the others later in the day.
Also be careful not to include to-do items for long-term tasks that cannot be completed in one day, let alone a week. Break them down into smaller items that can be tackled one by one. That way you can end your day having completed all your to-do tasks.
13. Set realistic goals.
It is important that you set yourself targets toward which you can work. Along with deadlines, they help you to concentrate on the task ahead and set your mind to completing it. But be sure that they are realistic. It might be good to have high goals, but failing to achieve them can leave you frustrated, causing your overall work to suffer.
14. Tackle the toughest projects first.
We all tend to put off the tough tasks. We come up with reasons why we’re not able to do them now and we push them off until later in the day. When that time comes, however, we realize we cannot complete the task today and so we put it off until tomorrow.
The result is that you are squeezed for time and might miss your deadline. It is better, therefore, to tackle the tough projects first. Plus if you tackle all the tough tasks first, everything else just seems easier.
15. Work somewhere else for a while.
A change of scenery from time to time can boost your mood and make you more productive. By tackling a project at home rather than at work you might feel more relaxed. Working at the local coffee shop provides a change of atmosphere as does working outside when the weather is beautiful.