Ever find yourself glancing over at the clock only to see it’s already 4:30pm and you’ve completed, well, nothing? Yeah, us too. That’s why we came up with the ultimate list of productivity hacks to get you on your way to success. We’ve covered everything from ways to optimize your body and health to apps that will help you stay focused (read: block social media sites) so you can get more things done with your day and go to bed feeling satisfied.
If you’re of the couch-potato variety (like me), this probably isn’t the first thing you wanted to see on this list, but hear us out. Morning exercise has been proven (yes, proven) to increase your productivity throughout the day. Working in a bit of time each morning to go for a jog or get your yoga on gives you more energy, reduces your stress levels and helps your focus and concentration.
Many of the most productive people in the world, including Richard Branson, make a habit of working out daily. Branson has even been known to say that his morning routine gives him up to “8 extra hours per day of productive time”, and he’s probably right. Exercising increases blood flow to the brain which can help it function more efficiently, and therefore let you focus better.
Exercise also makes you healthy (I know, shocker!). Having a healthy body and mind creates the perfect environment for optimal performance. You’ll worry about your health less, have a clear mind and more energy to get through your busy work day. So next time you’re thinking about hitting the snooze button instead of going for that morning run, you may want to reconsider.
Want to know the trick to getting up with the energy for your all-important morning workout? Sleep. Getting a high quality and adequate time of sleep is essential in order to be more productive. Without sleep, none of the other things on this list will work so pay close attention to this one!
A recent study done by Cambridge University showed that people who didn’t get the recommended amount of sleep per night were noticeably less productive than those who did. (Oh, and FYI, the same went for people who didn’t exercise). The study also stated that missing only one night of sleep produces the same chemical reaction in the brain as mild brain trauma.
Getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night can have incredible benefits to our minds and our bodies. One important aspect that determines our next day’s productivity is the ability of the brain to clean out all the toxins that have been created through daily neuronal activity. And guess what, this can only be done effectively while the brain is asleep. Of course lack of sleep creates a myriad of other health concerns that can contribute to our productivity levels, so make sure to PVR your favourite shows because our new bedtime is now 9pm (and we’re totally okay with that).
3. Take Breaks
Your brain wasn’t designed to work for 8 hours, non-stop, everyday. In order to keep your productivity levels up throughout the day, you need to make sure you take your “brain breaks”. This could be anything, like taking a walk outside, sitting and listening to music or just closing your eyes for a few minutes.
One study has shown the importance of giving your brain a break. In the study, they split the subjects into two groups and gave them a 50 minute memory test to complete on a computer. One group was given brief breaks from the activity while others worked through the task all at once. The results showed that the subjects allowed to take breaks performed better while the subjects who did not take breaks actually declined in performance.
So, just because you have an important deadline or your boss is breathing down your neck, don’t be afraid to take breaks! The time you spend staring at a blank computer screen or off into space is ultimately going to take up a lot more productive time than taking a quick stroll around the block.
4. Drink Water
Seeing as our bodies are made up of about 65% water, it makes sense that we need to continuously be replenishing it. Many people don’t drink even close to the recommended amount of water our bodies need daily and your productivity could be suffering for it (and no, coffee doesn’t count as water).
Drinking water can give you increased energy, keep your whole body healthier and even give you an excuse to get away from your desk by heading over to the water cooler or inevitably, to the bathroom.
When your brain or body are dehydrated, they go into survival mode and don’t have the time or energy to concentrate on trivial things like responding to your mass of emails. Having said that, get up, get a glass of water and come back and read the rest of this list, we’ll wait!
5. Plan Your Meals
Now that you’re back and hydrated, let’s move onto another fuel for our brains and bodies, food. It’s true your car can’t run without gas and your brain can’t run without food, so taking a bit of time each week to plan out your meals can have your productivity game on point.
The best foods for brain health are those rich in fatty acids and Omegas. Think fish, nuts, seeds and leafy greens. Incorporating these into your daily diet can increase your cognitive functioning and help your concentration and focus last longer.
Planning your meals can ensure you have more of these in your diet by limiting you’re knee-jerk food decisions (yes, that means no more office birthday cake for lunch!). Having high levels of protein, complex carbs and omega fatty acids for lunch can keep your productivity levels up for much longer than your usual 2pm sugar/caffeine fix…(we know you do it too!).
6. Turn Off Alerts
Now that your body is in tip-top shape, there are a few key rules when it comes to really honing your productivity skills. First off, we all get distracted from time to time. The goal is to remove all the distractions we have control over. You probably see where I’m going with this. Yep, you’re right, put everything you own into silent mode, or better yet, turn it off completely.
Unless you have a freakish amount of willpower (which most people don’t) every time your phone dings or your computer tells you there’s new email, you’re going to look at it. Not only does this eat up time, but it stops your concentration and focus.
While this won’t stop your colleagues from telling you about their weekends or challenging you to a game (or three) of ping-pong, it will save you from checking out every “BIGGEST SALE EVER” email that comes your way.
7. Two Minute Rule
In most cases, you are never going to get a long stretch of time to just devote to your project. There’s always going to be someone or something that needs your immediate attention, but sometimes, that’s okay.
The Two Minute Rule is a simple rule to follow when something demands your attention in the middle of a very important task. All you have to do is ask yourself, “will this take only a minute or two to finish?” and if the answer is yes, go ahead and do it (unless you’re thinking “Oh good an excuse to respond to a Facebook post or quick email – no! We’re onto you.).
Say for example you boss asks you to fax something over to your other location. That’s a task that will take, 1-2 minutes at the most (unless your fax machine is somewhere ridiculously far or you don’t know how to use it) so go ahead and do it. If you let little things like this pile up all day, you may never get them done, plus it may give you a little break and some exercise to help clear your mind.
8. Harness Your Productive Time
When it comes to productivity, most of us know what time of day works the best for us. Some may be without-a-doubt night owls and get the most things accomplished well after dinner, while others may function best in the early morning hours before the sun is even up. Either way, harnessing this power is the best way to jump-start your productivity.
Say you’re someone who does their best work between 5 and 9am. You can use this knowledge to put your most creative, pressing or difficult tasks between these hours, when your brain is fresh and awake. Or maybe you’re not quite fully functioning until 3pm, then you’ll most likely plan to do these tasks at 4pm when you feel like you have the most energy and focus.
So no matter if your an early bird or a night owl, pick the time when you feel like you do your best work and harness it! Keep your mundane or boring tasks (like responding to email) for the other times of the day when you’re just not quite all there.
9. Worst Things First
Seriously. Just get it out of the way so you can stop dreading it.
10. Don’t Multitask
Multitasking (in it’s name) may seem productive, but it has the tendency to be the complete opposite. Technically, the brain can’t be two places at once. What you’re really doing when you’re multitasking is just kinda focusing on a bunch of different things and breaking up your concentration in the process.
According to Devora Zack, the author of Singletasking: Get More Done – One Thing At a Time, trying to split our focus up onto multiple things actually decreases our productivity by up to 40% and even shrinks our brains. Yeah, you read that right, doing two things at once shrinks your brain. And if that tidbit of information isn’t enough to get you to stop doing it, multitasking is also responsible for many fatal car crashes every year.
Now that we’ve sufficiently scared you into doing only one thing at a time, the good news is you’ll actually get a lot more done over the course of a day using this method. And since each task will have your undivided attention, the quality of your work will also be impeccable!
11. Plan Your Day
Planning your day is about as straightforward as it gets when it comes to increasing your productivity. Taking the time to plan out what your day looks like each morning will help you adhere to a routine, decrease your multitasking and get things done.
Keep in mind when creating your plan or schedule to keep things realistic. Can you really get that 2000 word blog post written in two hours? Probably not. And allotting an hour to organizing your desk is probably overkill (unless you have a really messy desk, which in that case, take all the time you need because that will help your productivity too!).
Giving a time frame to each task makes it feel like a deadline, which will make you work harder and focus more until the task is complete. Scheduling your day can also make you realize that you have a bit of extra time, just don’t forget to add in breaks and your daily exercise!
12. Automate Everything You Can
If you own a business, this one is essential for you. Having your entire business running smoothly from customer service to fulfillment will be easier if it’s automated. While entrepreneurs and CEO’s are going to benefit big time from this one, it’s can be pretty handy in anyone’s day to day life as well.
There are tons of free and paid tools out there to help you do things as simply and easily as humanly possible. For example, if your company has hundreds of sales per day, having an automated invoice generator is going to be a must, and if you’re in charge of any employees a time-tracking tool is going to save your butt when it comes time for payday.
And if none of these things see to apply to you, you can even automate things as simple as your phone or coffee maker. Set recurring alarms for things you do weekly and set your coffee maker to turn on before you even wake up. It may seem like it’s only saving you a few minutes but those will add up and lead to a very productive day.
13. Change Your Email Habits
Email is probably the number one productivity killer in the work place. On average, employees spend up to 13 hours per week just reading and responding to their daily emails. On top of that, people check their email accounts around 15 times per day. Learning a new strategy when it comes to dealing with your inbox won’t only save you time but it will help your day be more productive.
Instead of checking each message as it comes in (that sale on slippers can wait) designate times throughout the day to check and respond to all your emails at once. Better yet, add this into your daily schedule and stick to it.
Clicking on the notification that pops up on your screen every 3 minutes is the ultimate time-sucking and productivity-killing issue in most people’s work days. If the thought of waiting a couple of hours to respond to an email causes bouts of anxiety, simply set up your email to send an auto-response letting everyone know the time of day you will respond. If they really need to get ahold of you, they’ll just call anyway.
14. Unsubscribe to newsletters
I can hear you groaning from here. You’ve signed up for so many email promotions you don’t even know where to start when it comes to unsubscribing from them. Don’t worry, we hear you.
Luckily we recently found something that will change your email life forever! Or, at least until you sign up for another 200 email subscriptions just to get the discount codes (other people do that too right?). This genius little website is called Unroll.Me and it transformed my multiple email inboxes in just 5 minutes.
All you need to do to rid yourself of hundreds of unused email subscriptions is sign into Unroll.Me, scroll through your (extensive) list and unsubscribe from the ones you want, all in one spot. Unfortunately right now this is only available to Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook accounts but even if you can clean up on inbox it will make a world of a difference.
Remember how we said people spend an average 13 hours per week on email alone? We’re willing to bet a good 50% of that is on promotional emails from Groupon, Ebay and the like, so cleaning up your inbox won’t only make you happier, it will also boost your productivity. Win-win.
15. Get Some New Apps
We just wrote an entire post (read it here) dedicated to 14 awesome productivity apps and why they are so essential to your day-to-day life. Lately, the app market has exploded with super handy tools to keep you on task at all times.
There is everything from music programs that are scientifically proven to increase your focus to all-in-one to-do lists and calendars so everything is in one place. We even found an app that will block all the social media sites on your browser until you finish what you need to do (and if you’re really desperate, it includes a “nuclear” mode for no internet whatsoever!).
So whether you need to make a quick grocery list or plan something as big as a wedding, these apps were made for productivity and we highly recommend checking them out.