Whether we’re overwhelmed by that never-ending to-do list or simply distracted (thanks, Facebook), sometimes it feels like we just can't get enough out of the day. Until 30-hour days are invented, follow these easy, effective tips for getting more done in the 24 we have.
Productivity Hero—Your Action Plan
1. Get enough sleep. Whoever coined the phrase “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” didn’t have all the facts straight. Not getting enough Zzz's could hinder productivity at work, so try to get those recommended seven to nine hours of snooze time The cost of poor sleep: workplace productivity loss and associated costs. Rosekind, M.R., Gregory, K.B., Mallis, M.M., et al. Alertness Solutions, Cupertino, CA. 2010 Jan;52(1):91-8.! [AD]
2. Create routines. Make a habit of, well, sticking to habits. Schedule actions like writing emails at a certain time or hitting the gym after work, and try to do them daily. Soon that routine will happen on autopilot.
3. Wake up earlier. As long as you're still able to squeeze in enough sleep, try extending the day by getting up an hour earlier—when it’s still quiet and there are fewer distractions.
4. Step away from the inbox. Incoming emails can be a nuisance. Make a habit to only check the inbox at certain times of the day to avoid getting sidetracked with requests and responses.
5. Make a daily to-do list. Stay away from huge to-do lists. Instead, create a daily list of realistic jobs to tackle, like folding laundry, scheduling a doctor’s appointment, or paying the cable bill. Break up big goals into micro-tasks, like going to a yoga class over getting six-pack abs, or writing a page over completing a thesis. Soon, the small things will add up to big accomplishments.
6. Take a midday workout break. Got writers' block? Can’t fathom cleaning the bathroom? Try hitting the pavement. Working out during the day could actually boost productivity, so the time spent exercising could actually help us get more done later Employee self-rated productivity and objective organizational production levels: effects of worksite health interventions involving reduced work hours and physical exercise. Von Thiele Schwarz, U, Hasson, H. Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2011 Aug;53(8):838-44..
7. Don’t multitask. Our brains aren’t wired to juggle too much at once, and we can work nearly twice as fast if we do only one thing at a time Cognitive control in media multitaskers. Ophir, E., Nass, C., Wanger, A.D. Symbolic Systems Program, Stanford University, Stanford, CA. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2009 Sep 15;106(37):15583-7. Epub 2009 Aug 24.. (And nope, we’re not talking LOST time-travel.) Training improves multitasking performance by increasing the speed of information processing in human prefrontal cortex. Dux, P.E., Tombu, M.N., Harrison, S., et al. Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt Vision Research Center, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. Neuron, 2009 Jul 16;63(1):127-38.. So remember those childhood manners and finish tasks one at a time.
8. Silence the phone. When it comes to getting stuff done, sometimes silence is key. Turn off email alerts and the cell phone ringer—that’s what voicemail is for!
9. Make a to-don’t list. Bad habits are just as significant as good ones. So make a list of things not to do because they make you unproductive (we’re staring at you, Netflix), and stick to it.
10. Brainstorm. Take some time to sit and get those creative juices flowing. Without distractions, brainstorming may be the way to come up with killer ideas in record time. Bonus: Creativity can make you happier.
11. Do those MITs. Nope, this isn’t college talk. MIT stands for most important tasks, and it’s a way to highlight the items that matter most on that to-do list. At the start of each day, write down a few things that must get done. Commit to tackling those tasks, and let the rest of the chips fall where they may.
12. Hit inbox zero. Sort every email once that inbox is open. Respond, file, draft, or delete. Keeping the inbox clean is key to staying organized and on point. (Just remember not to keep the inbox open when you aren't organizing it.).
13. Stay healthy. Just like… don’t get sick. (It may be easier said than done.) But health and productivity go hand in hand, so be sure to maintain good health habits, like eating well and washing up after hitting the gym Health and productivity as a business strategy: a multiemployer study. Loeppke, R., Taitel, M., Haufle, V., et al. Alere Brentwood, Tennesse, The Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, 2009 Apr;51(4):411-28.!
14. Keep a pen and pad on hand. Make like Richard Branson and carry pen and paper (or your smartphone) to catch any useful thought that may come to mind. Up the creativity ante and make your own moleskin DIY style.
15. Shut off social media. Sayonara, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Social media can be a huge time suck. Studies have found that it can take up a significant chunk of time at the office, and may even predict lower grades in school. Make it a habit to unplug whenever you need to get something done.
16. “Eat the frogs.” We swear it’s a real term. Each day, once you've figured out your Most Important Tasks, do the task you’re least looking forward to first. That way, you'll get it out of the way early and feel super productive, to boot. (No guarantees Prince Charming will emerge.)
17. Slow down. Read. This. Slowly. Getting stuff done isn’t always a matter of making it to the finish line first. Take time to reflect, brainstorm, and recharge. The added energy will make you that much more productive when you put your nose back to the grindstone.
18. Track time. Take a day to record how much time is spent writing emails, reading blogs, texting, etc. You may be surprised at how much time certain activities (ahem, browsing Pinterest) take up every day. Once you've figured out how your time is being used up, make it a point to prioritize what really matters to you (and cut out what doesn't).
19. Don’t bounce around. Box off a specific amount of time for every task on your to-do list each day. Assign a chunk of the day for one project, and stay focused on that project during its designated time. Once that time is up, move on to the next mission.
20. Tune out. Those headphones will help tune out any distractions. Plus, coworkers and friends may be less likely to interrupt if they see we’re tuned in.
21. Look back. Schedule some time toward the end of each week to reflect on what you accomplished and make any necessary schedule tweaks for the following week.
22. Set triggers. Leave reminders around your workspace and home to help you remember what needs to get done. Place bills that need to be paid or books to be read out in the open, and stick post-it reminders on the fridge!
23. Eat well. What we scarf down for lunch may do more than satisfy hunger. Certain foods, like salmon, almonds, and carrots, can give us a much-needed boost of energy. So forgo the take-out and be picky at the cafeteria!
24. De-clutter. Get rid of anything that may cause distractions. Put away the dishes, fold clothes, and get rid of excess papers on the desk so you're less likely to get sidetracked. Up the ante by implementing some Feng Shui principles in your workspace.
25. Say no. Don’t stretch yourself too thin. Learning to say no—to going out for drinks when you're tired, to extra projects when you're swamped—keeps us focused, prevents overwhelm, and may even ward off sickness.
26. Take a break. Carve out some quality "you" time each day to keep a balance between the busy world and your own inner life.
27. Download help. Still need to get sh!t done? Luckily there’s an app for that.