Staying productive throughout the workday can sometimes feel like an impossible feat. Indeed, numerous studies show it's highly challenging to maintain a consistently high work output throughout the day, regardless of how many cups of coffee we have in hand.
But the science of productivity also offers several practical ways (besides a caffeine addiction) to get more done. We've culled our favorite techniques for tapping into the magic of brainpower below.
Tackle Your Day with a To-Do List
Our brains crave an order of operations to sort out mental chaos. Research shows that creating a daily to-do list reduces anxiety by giving structure and visual proof of your small wins throughout the day.
Every morning, list the items you need to complete in order of importance. As you complete an item, cross it off the list. (You know the drill.) Plus, if you’re pulled away for an emergency assignment or need to attend a meeting, your list is patiently awaiting your return with a reminder of which tasks to accomplish next.
Take a “Mini” Break
Even in small doses, breaks are essential to boosting productivity. The “microbreak” technique, coined by researchers from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, recommends that workers take a series of short breaks (even just 5 minutes or less) throughout the day.
This detachment from work-based tasks allows the brain to recover from the strain of high-energy focus before diving into the next project. During a microbreak, step away from your device and desk to:
- Take a 15-minute walk around the block
- Stretch your head-shoulders-knees-and-toes
- Relax with a 5-minute mindful meditation
Remember that if this feels like wasting time, your brain is like a battery. It needs to recharge for optimal creativity and concentration. After a few minutes of R&R, your mind and body will thank you with renewed focus and a fresh perspective.
Change Your Location
Brains get bored–it’s a fact! That’s why they’re constantly searching for novelty. When we find something new or exciting, the brain releases dopamine–the chemical that motivates us to seek a reward. The reward? When we enter a new environment, it provides a blank canvas for our productivity. Therefore, if you’re not feeling the creativity flow, try shaking up your routine.
Pre-pandemic, we may have suggested relocating to a coffee shop or library. A change of scenery can give you a literal brain boost to be more efficient with your time.
Yet, never fear! Incorporating “newness” into your #WFH day can also do the trick. Try rearranging your desk setup or location within your home. Even temperature and lighting can significantly affect productivity. So, feel free to crank the heat (utility bills aside) and soak in some natural rays next to a window. Your brain will be enthusiastic about diving in with more attention and vigor for completing your tasks.
Pinpoint Your Most Productive Hours
Every person naturally has a set of most productive hours during the workday. We owe this to the body’s ultradian rhythm–initially discovered by a researcher looking to explain the stages of sleep—the body cycles through peaks and valleys of focus throughout the day during our waking hours.
- Make the most of this by focusing on a task for no more than 90 minutes.
- Then, take a 20-minute break before starting the next round of focus.
Mapping out how to chunk “work” and “rest” time to complement the body’s natural rhythm can take some effort. Journaling is a great way to identify when your focus and energy are highest. Keep track on paper when you feel motivated and when you seem to fall off track. After a few weeks of collecting this “scientific data,” you’ll have a better picture of when your most productive hours are.
Or, try the Pomodoro Technique:
- Set a timer for 25 minutes and work without interruption on accomplishing a task
- Take a five-minute break before starting another 25-minute round
- After every four 25-minute sprints, take a more extended 20-minute break
This approach allows you to hone in on a specific set of tasks in a particular timeframe, with a healthy balance of rest time for a refreshing pause. (You’re not a machine!)
Minimize the Multitasking
Multitasking often does the opposite of what we’d like to do, getting more work done. Switching back and forth between tasks depletes valuable brain energy, slowing down finishing a project. According to research, you can lose up to 40% of your productivity when multitasking.
Instead of burning yourself out over trying to do many tasks simultaneously, focus on one task and continue to the next job. In doing so, you’ll make fewer mistakes and give a project your complete attention.
With these tips, you’re ready to tackle your next bout of unproductive streaks in your workday with the focus you need to get your projects done.
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