Inbox overload, chain meetings, and constant distractions can leave you feeling like you accomplished nothing. Here are some tips from productivity hackers to help you cut through the everyday noise and get stuff done. We all have our own work style. That trick that helps your colleague demolish her to-do list may not work for you. Experiment with different methods to find the most potent blend for you.
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- Get enough sleep. Unlike a machine, you need to recharge. Unless, of course, you think that health, good perception and judgment are overrated. Insufficient sleep has consequences.
- Target realistic goals. Don’t stare at your massive project list every day. Instead, write two or three must-do items on an index card or sticky note. Your focus will improve, as well as your satisfaction when you crush the list you’ve made for today.
- Rule your Email. You can probably wait to check email until later in the morning. Get something important done first. Don’t spend your highest energy time reacting to others. Take action on your own priorities. Check email when you want input on that channel. Also, turn off the alert noises and pop-ups, checking email on a schedule that you decide.
- Don’t schedule tiny tasks. Things that you can do in a minute or two become a source of stress if they stay on your list. Knock them out to keep your task-list manageable.
- Optimize meetings. Decline if you have a higher priority or don’t think you will add value by attending. Ask for an email summary if the subject is relevant to your work. Is it your meeting? Publish the agenda in advance and drive toward decisions respectfully but efficiently.
- Leverage your sense of smell. Buy an air freshener or light a candle. A lemon scent can boost concentration. Jasmin can calm and give energy. Peppermint can promote clear thinking. Can’t shower the office with your favorite scent? Use a scented lotion or hand sanitizer.
- Exercise at the right time. There is no best time to exercise, but there is a best time for you. Use your highest energy hours to create and produce. Pick a different time to exercise. You can’t do without exercise, but you don’t have to give it your prime time.
- Clear your desktop. Clutter offers distraction and impedes clear thinking. This is true for your digital desktop as well. Give your eyes room to breathe as you work. A splash of color and/or a plant can provide a boost.
- Know when music helps or hurts. Research finds that people perform high-focus tasks better in silence than when music is playing. It can relax you but can also impair focus when reading and writing. Exceptions include monotonous tasks like data entry, driving, and other boring tasks. Others suggest nature sounds or music that you are not strongly drawn to.
- Change the scenery. Looking at nature or just moving to a novel location can improve your focus.
- Protect your posture. Use an ergonomic workstation and get out of your chair more.
- Meditate. The rising awareness of mindfulness and its benefits among the productivity elite cannot be ignored. Giving yourself even a few minutes of private head space will help you feel better and be more effective.
- Take breaks. Studies show that the human brain can only focus for 90 to 120 minutes at a time. If you’re not deep in the zone on a critical task, try the 52-on, 17-off balance used by the most productive people. Refresh yourself by unplugging on the weekend. Check out the Fōkasu timer.
- Suppress temptation. Keep your snacks in the kitchen, not at your desk. Resist social media binges, checking your smart phone 221 times (that’s just average!) or general Internet surfing. Tools like Self-Control and Cold-Turkey can help.
Bonus material: 8 TED Talks to make you more productive.
Image by Jaume Escofet.