Being more productive isn’t rocket science; in most cases, it only takes a few small changes to our work habits. If you find yourself needing to boost productivity, but want to avoid working longer hours or packing more into your already-full calendar, take a step back and think about how you can work smarter, not harder.
Here are seven easy ways to make every day more productive.
1. Take 17-Minute Breaks
The Association for Psychological Science suggests that working in 90-minute intervals may be the prescription for maximizing productivity. Scientists monitored elite performers, including musicians, athletes, and chess players, and found that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes.
For those of us not included in the elite cohort, the secret may be 52 minutes on, 17 minutes off. Research conducted by DeskTime, a productivity app that tracks employees’ computer usage, concluded that the highest-performing 10% of employees tend to work for 52 consecutive minutes followed by a 17-minute break. During those 17 minutes, employees left their computers to take a walk, exercise, or grab a cup of coffee. So, instead of chaining yourself to your desk (or working through lunch as so many of us often do), reward yourself with a break. You will probably feel more refreshed, focused, and productive.
2. Tackle Unresolved Issues
We all have tasks we wish we could magically cross off our to-do lists (e.g., writing the first draft of an upcoming press release or completing an expense report from a recent business trip). Instead of ignoring the tasks and adding extra stress to your life, psychologists suggest making a plan to address the issues. Set a recurring meeting every day – maybe an hour in the morning or after lunch – to tackle unresolved issues. This will free up your intellectual and emotional resources while maximizing productivity.
3. Use Apps to Prevent Distractions
Are social media and email distracting you from completing your work? Over 100,000 people use Freedom, an Internet, social media, and app blocker, to improve focus, boost productivity, and prevent valuable time from becoming fragmented and lost. With Freedom, users can create block lists, add devices, and schedule sessions for specific amounts of time. The Google Chrome extension, StayFocused, also increases productivity by limiting the amount of time users can spend on certain websites.
4. Write a List of Daily Goals
With so much going on, it can be difficult to keep track of everything you need to do. To stay focused, create a list of daily goals and keep it somewhere visible on your desk. Not only will this keep you focused, it will allow you to prioritize your work. David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, explains that prioritization governs productivity. He suggests the 1-3-5 Rule. Assume that you can accomplish one big mission, three medium tasks, and five small things on any given day. Get those done the best you can. Then, at the end of each workday, make the next day’s 1-3-5. This will allow you to create a condensed list of priorities and stay on track.
5. Try a New Playlist
Is a noisy workplace affecting your productivity? Grab some headphones and turn up the music! Studies conducted by the University of Birmingham, England show music can help workers complete repetitive work – such as checking and responding to emails – much faster. Not sure which playlist will work best for you? Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute suggest listening to nature sounds to enhance cognitive functioning, optimize concentration, and increase overall worker satisfaction. Not interested in the sounds of waterfalls or thunderstorms? One study by Canadian researchers found subjects performed better while listening to up-tempo beats, such as classical baroque music.
6. Catch Some ZZZ’s
Economists have realized a great night’s sleep is a critical part of the productivity equation. A study by two economists found that sleep has a definite effect on productivity, which in turn might affect worker wages. In fact, just one extra hour of sleep a week raised short-run wages by 1.5% and long-run wages by 4.9% as a result of raises and tips for higher productivity. For an employee earning $50,000 a year, that’s a bonus of $2,450 at the end of the year for sleeping an extra 12 minutes per workday.
7. Schedule Fewer Meetings
Meetings aren’t always time wasters; some solve problems, align teams, and spark innovation. However, meetings can take up 35% to 55% of your time without adding any value to your workday. Instead of scheduling unnecessary meetings, invest in tools like AnswerHub Knowledge-Driven Productivity (KDP) to allow your workers to capture and share knowledge, discuss new ideas, collaborate, and boost productivity without the need to sit in a conference room for an hour.
You don’t have to be superhuman to accomplish more each day. Start by mastering a few simple habits – such as getting a good night’s sleep or making a 1-3-5 list – and the increase in your productivity might surprise you!