Even the world’s most successful people fall prey to periods of debilitating procrastination. With countless notifications at all hours and the vast world of social media at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to get distracted. But thankfully, there are ways to mitigate these distractions and create an efficiency-promoting environment. In fact, to seriously skyrocket your productivity, you needn’t dedicate more than one minute—of your morning, your afternoon, or even your evening—to the goal.
Yes, just making a tiny change or two can make a big change on your productivity levels. For instance: Adding some red and blue accessories to your desk or investing in a potted plant. Or, if you want to learn some actionable hacks, look no further than the (10+2)*5 Method or the ever-popular Pomodoro Technique—which, it turns out, you may be doing incorrectly. (Don’t worry: we’ve outlined the proper way.) If you’re pining for some productivity hacks, read on. By the time you’re done, you won’t even consider drafting up an unconquerable to-do list. And for more ways to win at work, don’t miss The 50 Top Secrets of a Perfect Work-Life Balance.
Ditch the Computer
Bring a notebook to your next meeting instead of your laptop. According to Personal Productivity Secrets author Maura Thomas, this will banish any possible technological distractions (like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram… you get the idea.) “[Writing on paper] helps to eliminate mental clutter and uncover those intellectual gems you know are in there somewhere,” Thomas says. And for more ways to say goodbye to technology for good, don’t miss the 11 Easy Ways to Conquer Your Smartphone Addiction.
Check Your Email (Way) Less
A productivity hack, courtesy of Extreme Productivity author Bob Pozen: Ignore your instinct to check your phone every time it buzzes. Stopping your workflow every few minutes to read an email is a huge distraction and disrupts your process, so instead “retrain yourself to look at your email every hour or two.” And for more ways to make the most of this silly thing we’re all hopelessly beholden to, learn the 17 Genius Email Hacks That Will Improve Your Life.
And Avoid the “Reply All”
To keep your inbox clutter-free and your productivity at its peak, Pozen also suggests removing people from an email chain that don’t absolutely have to be there. Work inboxes can easily grow to unmanageable levels, thanks to dozens of unnecessary CC’s, so just remove those coworkers when you reply and you won’t have nearly as many responses (read: distractions) flooding your yours.
Hew To the “Two-Pizza Rule”
When you’re scheduling a meeting, keep Jeff Bezos’s “two-pizza rule” in mind. The billionaire never invites more people to a meeting than two pizzas could satiate. With fewer people in the room, the meeting won’t get off-topic, and everyone can get in and get out in a timely manner. And for more ways to make the most of meetings, learn the 14 Ways to Conquer Your Next Business Meeting.
Pop Outside For Some Fresh Air
Everyone knows that the great outdoors boasts a slew of benefits, but few weekend warriors realize the impact that a lack of open air can have on their ability to get things done. Unfortunately, the stuffy air we breathe in inside the office makes us less productive, less strategic, and generally just less capable of doing our jobs. So get outside during your lunch break and make sure to take in some of that fresh air—it’s also one of the 20 Best Ways to Calm Your Anger Instantly.
Go Green—at Your Desk
Can’t step away from your desk for a few minutes to enjoy the great outdoors? Then bring Mother Nature inside! Keeping a plant at your desk can improve your overall emotional investment in your work—and in tandem, your productivity.
Invest in a Standing Desk
We’ve all read the articles on the positives of a standing desk, but it’s not just the body that benefits from this popular office contraption. Believe it or not, sitting and slouching all day is as detrimental to our productivity as it is to our posture; researchers from Texas A&M University showed that people who used standing desks were 46 percent more productive. And for more reasons to stand while you work, learn Exactly How Many Calories You Burn While Standing at Your Desk.
It is oh-so-tempting to reach for a sweet or salty snack when you’re under the gone. (Comfort food is the solution to many of life’s woes.) But aside from sizing up your waistline, these troublesome treats will only make you groggy and add to your work-related woes. Instead, grab an apple, some baby carrots, or some sliced peppers and hummus as your afternoon snack. These healthy foods will make you more curious, creative, and happy—and in turn, transform your stress into satisfaction.
Master the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique—named after the tomato-shaped timers that popularized the trend in the 1980s—is almost too simple. Here’s how it goes: work at a breakneck pace for 25 minutes, then kick back and relax for five. Rinse and repeat. Every fourth cycle, relax for a whole 15 minutes. It’s just one of the many tips to Double Your Productivity Every Single Day.
Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
The more you promise to get done, the more you’re spreading yourself thin—so don’t be afraid to say no when you already have too much on your plate. It’s certainly not fun turning down a colleague’s request for help or a friend’s invite to lunch, but your productivity will be all the better for it.
Dress to Impress—No Matter Where You Are
Working from home comes with the benefit of being able to wear PJs while you chip away at your pile. But as convenient (and comfortable) as this is, these also thwarts your productivity. So when your home becomes your workspace, opt for the same outfit you’d wear into the office: It will make you feel more competent and in control, says Mason Donovan, author of The Golden Apple: Redefining Work-Life Balance for a Diverse Workforce.
Clean Your Desk
During your next lunch break, throw out everything on your desk that isn’t an absolute necessity. Having too many distractions in your line of sight can clutter your brain and distract you from what you’re actually at work to do: you know, your job. And if you need help, try these 20 Easy Tips for Keeping Your Desk Organized.
Tackle the Toughest Beast First
A little piece of advice, courtesy of career coach Stever Robbins: Don’t leave your bigger projects for the end of the day. Unexpected problems and last-minute meetings tend to pop up as the day goes on, so leaving your toughest tasks for later increases your chances of falling behind. Plus, checking the biggest thing off of your to-do list first thing in the morning will give you a much-needed confidence boost and burst of energy.
Eat Cake For Breakfast…
Or whatever your favorite food is. Beyond the Headline podcast host Jenna Abdou swears by this day-starting method. As she explained to Fast Company, with every bite, she finds gratitude and mindfulness, which in turn makes her more productive throughout the day.
Practice “Tabless Thursdays”
With the number of distractions online, it’s easy to end up with dozens of open tabs. Luckily, The Atlantic writer James Hamblin came up with a solution: Tabless Thursdays. On Tabless Thursdays, you must close the window you’re on in order to browse a new one. By forcing yourself to tackle just one thing at a time, this trick will help you maintain focus.
If you have a big meeting coming up that you need to focus on, or if you just find yourself wasting way too much time scrolling through social media, some Google Chrome extensions, like StayFocusd and WasteNoTime, allow you to select certain websites that take up significant chunks of your day and self-impose time limits—one hour, two hours, whatever works! We recommend starting with Facebook, the greatest time sink of them all.
Listen to the Sound of Flowing Water
Do you find that your office gets so loud that you can’t focus? Plug in your headphones and drown out the drone of your coworker’s not-so-dulcet tones with the soothing sounds of running water. This natural noise is indistinct enough that it doesn’t pose a further distraction—plus, the sounds of nature have been shown to minimize anxiety.
Chat with Coworkers
Don’t plop down at your desk in the morning and stay there silently until the clock strikes 5:00 p.. You might think that you’re doing yourself and your company a favor by working sans breaks, but socializing with the people you work with for even just 10 minutes can sharpen your focus and cognitive function. And if you need a good conversation starter, learn the 30 Office-Friendly Jokes That Are Actually Funny.
Wake Up an Hour Earlier
Arguably the best time to get things done is when nobody else is awake to distract you, as investment banker (a seriously productive type) Ann Castro found out the hard way. A few years ago, she forgot to set her alarm clock back an hour for daylight savings—but instead of fixing the mistake, she continued to wake up an hour earlier and use the time to work harder and smarter. “It is probably my most productive hour of the day as the world is still asleep,” Castro told Mashable.
Use the 1-3-5 To-Do List
Instead of overwhelming yourself with an unrealistic, never-ending list of tasks, business blog The Muse suggests creating a 1-3-5 to-do list every day. On your list, write down one large task, three medium-sized tasks, and five small tasks that you hope to get done. This sensible checklist will put your priorities in place and won’t weigh you down with worries like an overloaded list would.
Abide By the Two-Minute Rule
Coined by productivity consultant David Allen, the two-minute rule is simple: If a task can be done in two minutes, then do it now instead of putting it off for later. On the surface, Allen’s rule applies to simple tasks like doing the laundry, but it can also mean starting a bigger, long-term goal, as tasks are easier to finish by nature once they’re started.
Everyone knows that hitting the gym on a regular basis gives you a mood-boosting, productivity-spiking hit of endorphins. But, realistically, time-consuming workouts regularly fall by the wayside. The easy fix: give Tabata a try—it takes less than five minutes. Here’s how it works. Work at breakneck pace for 20 seconds. Rest for 10. Repeat three to five times. It’ll give you all of the brain-boosting benefits of a normal workout—in a fraction of the time.
Delegate Smaller Tasks to Others
Asking for help at work doesn’t make you weak. On the contrary, getting someone to lend a helping hand will give you time to tackle the more daunting tasks on your plate—and being a good delegator is just part of being a good boss and employee.
Don’t Talk to Me Until I’ve Had My…
Coffee has earned itself a reputation as an addictive and expensive bad habit, but a cup of Joe in moderation actually has its benefits—one such being improved cognitive function. Whether you’re drinking it in the morning or during your afternoon slump, a cup of coffee will sharpen your attention, boost your reasoning, and even make you happier. And for more reasons to drink the stuff, don’t miss the 75 Amazing Benefits of Coffee.
Start Every Morning with a Smile
Don’t get out of bed until you feel excited about your day. Waking up in a sour mood will set the tone for everything you do, and your productivity will suffer from your negative outlook. Joyous people really are more productive at work, so be sure to bone up on the 70 Genius Tricks to Get Instantly Happy.
Keep a notepad just for doodling at your desk, even if you’re not an artist. Drawing aimlessly on a blank piece of paper can help you maintain focus, comprehend new concepts, and store information. (Plus, it’s fun!)
Plan Three Days Ahead
Planning things too far in advance can lead to unnecessary stress. Planning three days ahead, however, is just far enough in advance that you can be productive without driving yourself crazy. You can plan ahead by preparing meals, picking out outfits, or organizing your workout schedule.
Follow the Four D’s
The four D’s: delete (the unimportant items on your list); delay (the tasks that can wait); delegate (tasks to other employees that can handle them); and diminish (your workload.) Productivity expert Julie Morgenstern swears by these to put the focus on only the most important tasks and subsequently lighten the workload.
Try the (10+2)*5 Method
Don’t be intimidated: There’s no math involved here. The (10+2)*5 method was created by Merlin Mann, of 43folders.com, and it’s much simpler than it sounds. Basically, it requires that you work at maximum effort for 10 minutes, take a break for two minutes, and repeat five times to fill one hour. Eventually, Mann says, you’ll become so engrossed in your work that you won’t even want to take those two-minute breaks anymore.
Decorate Your Desk with Red and Blue Objects
Perhaps no productivity hack is easier than sprucing up your workspace with some red and blue accessories. How this helps: One study from the University of British Columbia found that red enhances our attention to detail while blue fosters creativity.
Try the Two-List System
Write down the top 25 tasks you ideally want to achieve. Great. Now circle the top five most important tasks on that list. These are the tasks you are going to focus on, and the rest of the uncircled tasks are now part of your “avoid at all costs” list. This two-list system was created by billionaire Warren Buffet—and if it works for him, then there must be some merit to it.
Pursue Your Passions
The truth of the matter is that most people don’t love what they do for a living. On the contrary, you’re lucky if you so much as like your job! But one thing that makes work just a little bit easier and more tolerable is having a hobby. When Google designed it’s 20 percent rule—wherein a fifth of every employee’s time is designated for side projects—they wound up with a more productive and inspired staff. (And the inventions of Gmail and Google Maps.) No, your company might not offer you the same exact arrangement, but you can still block off an hour after work each day to explore your passions. And if you’re still in search of what makes you happy, try these 20 Summer Hobbies That Will Change Your Life.
Show Up On Time
“Once you get behind, it is hard to catch back up again,” explains Virgin Group CEO and success guru Richard Branson. “Being punctual doesn’t mean rushing around the whole time. It simply means [organizing] your time effectively.”
Make Your Bed
Get into the habit of putting your bed back together in the morning. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg noted that making your bed is a “keystone habit” that triggers other good habits throughout the day.
Learn Your ABC’s
No, not those ABC’S. We’re talking about a simple concentration-boosting trick, courtesy of the Harvard Business Review. It goes like this: First, become aware of what’s distracting you; next, breathe deeply; and finally, choose what you want to do next. The goal is to pump the brakes and reset your mind when you get distracted. And for more mood-boosting methods, try these 20 Ways to Be More Mindful at Work.
Clear Your Computer Desktop
Look at your computer desktop and ask yourself: Can you actually see the background, or is your desktop too cluttered with files to even know what your background is? If you answered the latter, then take a second to organize your desktop. “A clean desk or desktop can be like taking a deep breath, allowing you to focus,” psychologist Pamela Rutledge told Business Insider.
Turn Off Phone Alerts
When we receive an alert on our phone, a message is sent to our brain telling us that something urgent requires our attention. In reality, that alert is probably just a reminder from FarmVille that your crops are dying—which isn’t all that urgent. Turn your notifications off, and you won’t feel compelled to constantly check your device and, subsequently, lose focus on the tasks that actually matter every time you hear a ping or a buzz.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
When something bad happens at work, you can’t help but beat yourself up. This is completely natural—and it’s fine to be upset—but don’t spend too much time dwelling on those negative emotions. They make it harder for the brain to focus on other things, like work.
One of the side effects of dehydration is mental sluggishness, which can slow you down in the workplace. To avoid this, make sure you’re drinking the doctor-recommended eight cups of water per day. And you’ll especially want to stay hydrated if you live in one of The 25 U.S. Cities with the Best Drinking Water.
Chew Some Gum
The secret to staying focused is wrapped up in a little two-square-inch piece of tinfoil. Seriously: Chewing on a piece of gum improves cognitive function by forcing us to pay attention to the task at hand.
Work From Home
If your employer allows you to work from home, then take full advantage of it. Researchers at Stanford University found a significant productivity boost in employees who telecommuted versus those who traveled to the office every day. Between the physical time it takes to get to work and the amount of distractions in the office, the work environment is a recipe for productivity disaster.
Throw a Pizza Party
If you feel like everyone in the office is starting to lose focus, throw a pizza party. Because apparently people are more motivated by food than money, a recent study found that employees were more incentivized by free pizza than a monetary bonus. Just the promise of a cheesy slice will motivate everyone to work harder.
Book a Vacation
Taking some time off won’t diminish your chances of getting ahead at work—on the contrary, they will help you become a better worker. Just take it from our international friends: Most countries in Europe require 25 or more paid annual leave days, and yet they still managed to make up nine of the 10 most productive countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2015. And if you’re looking to plan a getaway, don’t miss these 10 Best New Vacation Style Essentials.
Use a Traditional Alarm Clock
It’s convenient to use your phone as an alarm clock, but having the electronic in your bedroom creates an impulse to constantly check your notifications (and stress yourself out). Instead, opt for a traditional alarm clock, and you won’t feel compelled to reach for your phone first thing in the morning.
Schedule Every. Single. Activity.
Yes, this even includes blocking out a window to scroll through social media. Business expert Chris Ducker strictly abides by this method, noting that it makes it easier to accomplish absolutely everything he wants to get done.
Find Somewhere Quiet to Work
Sometimes the office gets so loud that you forget what you were working on in the first place. If you find this happening to you quite frequently, then try to relocate to somewhere in the office where the noise is minimal. This may not be possible for everyone, but those who can switch up their environment will benefit from the sound of silence.
It’s earned the moniker of “most important meal of the day” for a reason. Eating breakfast speeds up your metabolism, curbs your appetite, and improves cognitive function. When you eat breakfast, emphasize low-glycemic foods like whole-grain breads and oatmeal and omega-3-rich foods like flaxseeds and smoked salmon. And for more foods that help your health, don’t miss the 50 Foods That Make You Look Younger.
Find Humor at Work
Many employees are afraid to laugh in the workplace, but chuckling actually provides you with a much-welcome burst of creativity when you’re in a slump. “Humor is a key ingredient in creative thinking,” international business speaker Michael Kerr told Forbes. “It helps people play with ideas, lower their internal critic, and see things in new ways.” Need a good laugh? Read these 70 Jokes So Corny They’ll Leave You in Stitches.
Use an App to Clean Your Inbox
The fewer emails in your inbox, the less tempted you will be to check your phone. Of course, no one has time to clear through those hundreds of spam emails every day—but luckily there are apps that will do that for you. A few we like: Unroll.Me, which lets you unsubscribe from email lists you don’t want anymore, and Mailstorm, which groups spam messages so you can clear them out all at once.
Practicing mindfulness makes you more conscious of your surroundings and thusly hyperaware of your work. And luckily, just 10 minutes of meditation is enough to reap the benefits of being mindful. Need to clear your head? Try these 10 Ways to Focus Better During Meditation.
Stop and Smell the Roses
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: What you do in the morning has a profound effect on your productivity. In addition to eating a hearty breakfast and making your bed, you should also expose yourself to bright colors in the morning. They will give you an energy and mood boost, setting the tone for the rest of the day. All it takes is a nice bouquet of flowers to make yourself as efficient as possible.
Limit the Number of Decisions You Make
All women (and some men) know the struggle of choosing an outfit for work in the morning. On a good day, it wastes time; on a bad day, it makes us late to work and puts us in a sour mood. To eliminate this stress altogether, why not just stick to a simple work wardrobe? Most people aren’t paying attention to what you wear to the office, so they likely won’t notice if you’re rotating the same five or six pieces. In the long run, this will save you time and many a headache.
Get a Good Night’s Rest
We really can’t emphasize this enough. Getting a sufficient amount of sleep is crucial for your focus, decision-making, and mood—all of which contribute to how much you get done at work. And if you catch some zzz‘s, it’s not just your work that will benefit from it: You Can Lose This Much Weight by Getting More Sleep.
Take a Lunch Break
Eating your lunch at your desk is like asking for office burnout. Instead, take the designated time to enjoy your lunch break and socialize with colleagues. Getting away from the office for a little while will make you feel rejuvenated and refreshed, so you can tackle the rest of the workday with ease.
Ditch the Devices During the Day
Your smartphone is a huge distraction at work—both consciously and unconsciously. Apparently, just having the device within eyesight is enough to diminish your cognitive function, so keep your phone hidden away for maximum productivity. And while you’re at it, you might want to check out these 30 Facts That Will Change the Way You Use Social Media.
Grab a Cup of Green Tea
Use Collaborative Tools
Communicating via email on a collaborative project only makes for constant distractions every time a new message hits your inbox. Instead, use an application like Google Docs, where everyone can make live comments and communicate more effortlessly.
Carry Around a Picture of Your Younger Self
“When I face a tough decision, I look at a picture of myself as a toddler that I carry in my wallet,” Google Associate Product Marketing Manager Martin Aguinis told Forbes. “I ask myself, ‘Am I making this younger version of me proud?’ Looking back at this picture reminds me that I need to compete with myself to produce more.”
When you find yourself struggling to focus, don’t be afraid to wander off in your own head for a minute or two. Daydreaming triggers something in your brain called “creative incubation,” allowing you to make connections you couldn’t previously make when your brain was on overdrive.
Look at Pictures of Cute Baby Animals
Looking at a cute puppy or kitten (whichever you prefer; this is a no-judgement zone) activates our nurturing instincts, which in turn makes us more alert and engaged. And if you want to see a dog in the flesh every day, apply for a gig at one of The 30 Most Pet-Friendly Companies in the U.S.
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