6 Ways to Increase Your Productivity
Everyone experiences periods of time where it’s difficult to focus and productivity levels drop. This lull can be brought on by many factors such as mental fatigue, stress, taking on too much, or not finding your daily activities challenging enough. The good news is there are quite a few ways to mentally re-engage with your to-do lists and get more done.
Prioritize Your Tasks
There’s nothing like sitting down at your desk and feeling like you have a million things to do with no time to do them. This pressure can cause your cortisol levels to spike, increasing your stress and anxiety, which make it difficult to focus and concentrate.
Prioritizing your tasks is more than creating a to-do list every morning. You do want to capture everything you want to get done, but then you have to go through and decide what is actually a make-or-break task. There are any number of tools you can use to help with this. The Eisenhower Matrix has you break your tasks into four categories: do, decide, delegate, delete. Everything on your to-do list goes in one of those four boxes. Complete the ‘do’ tasks first, then work on ‘decide’ and ‘delegate’. Delete might mean delete for today, or delete entirely, depending on the task.
From there, you can schedule your day according to the items you’ve kept as ‘do’, or your daily to-do list. You’ll want to keep in mind the type of task and the time of day. For most people, attention and focus is the highest in the morning. You’ll want to schedule your difficult tasks, or those that require the most focus for the morning. If you have commute time between meetings, you can fit some easier tasks in those time periods. Having a realistic task list scheduled into manageable time slots ensures you start your day feeling capable and in control, which then increases how much you get done.
Break Your Day Down
Studies show that it’s difficult to concentrate for more than ninety minutes at a time. After that, your focus, attention, concentration, and memory all suffer. Rather than sitting at your desk forcing yourself to slog through tasks, you can improve how much you get done by breaking your day down into chunks.
As you’re prioritizing your tasks, give them specific time frames to work within. The most popular method for breaking productivity down is known as the Pomodoro method, where you study or work for twenty-five minutes and then take a five minute break. You can use an app to track your time or simply use a stop watch, and you can vary your work/break times in whatever way works best for you.
There are two important things to keep in mind with using this method. First, while you’re working, minimize your distractions. Turn off your notifications, close your office door, put your email on silent. This time is for working on the specific task you’ve chosen. By giving your dedicated focus for a specific chunk of time, you’ll likely get it done faster and will be able to catch up on other tasks later in the day.
Second, take effective breaks. If you want to increase your productivity, you can’t check your email or make work phone calls in between focus sessions. You have to give your executive functioning a break. Instead, practice deep breathing, walk around the office, drink some water, or eat a brain-healthy snack.
Sitting at a desk for hours at a time signals for your body to go into rest mode. And while you may still be using your brain to complete work tasks, the truth is being stationary makes the brain sluggish. When you find your attention wandering, one quick fix is to get the body moving.
Stand up, stretch, and go for a quick walk. These physical activities wake up your body, increasing blood flow and oxygen which then stimulate your brain. The movement gives you a burst of energy, which heightens your concentration and tightens your ability to focus. Movement also helps improve your mood by releasing endorphins and other feel-good hormones. This boost then reduces the stress hormone cortisol, which can help alleviate any mental blocks you may have had while working.
Exercise throughout the day, especially if it’s outside, helps reset your circadian rhythm and leads to better sleep. Losing one hour of sleep has been shown to decrease in productivity the next day anywhere from 19–28%. Movement throughout the day not only increases oxygen and blood flow to the brain, it also helps you improve the quality of your sleep, all of which adds up to increased productivity.
Challenge The Brain
Multiple studies show that engaging in mentally challenging games such as crossword puzzles, sudoku, chess, or word searches not only exercises the brain but can give you a boost in concentration and focus. In fact, playing these games for fifteen minutes a day has shown a significant increase in processing speed, working memory, and problem-solving skills. All of which work to boost your productivity throughout the day.
When you play games that require concentration and strategy to solve, you actually grow new dendrites—the ends of neural nerve cells that support your synaptic connections. This means your processing speeds and neural communication improve, and can increase the gray matter in the hippocampus, improving memory. Playing a game can help you shift between different types of tasks, as well.
Of course, playing Wordle or sudoku aren’t the only ways to challenge your brain. A study out of the Brigham Young University found that playing forty-five minutes of video games increased daily productivity by as much as 20%.
If you’re stuck on a problem, playing a game or solving a puzzle allows your default network to take over and gives your executive functioning a break. You’ll come back refreshed, even if you were answering trivia questions or had to work through a tough level. By concentrating on different problems in a way that feels fun, you allow your brain to feel rested and will likely come back refreshed, energized, and with better focus.
Change The Scenery
In the same way sitting still puts your body and mind in rest mode, staying in the same place can do the same. Looking at the same environment hour after hour, day after day stops challenging your brain, and it can begin to tune out. Working in a new environment activates your brain again. Things such as minor changes in lighting and having a different view while you’re working, wakes your brain back up and improves your concentration.
Of course, your environment can also keep your brain in overdrive. If you’re surrounded by distractions such as too much clutter or an overstimulating room, your brain has a difficult time focusing on a single task as it never stops scanning and finding new things to pay attention to. In this case, moving to a quieter room or organizing your desk can significantly improve your ability to focus.
You may find that different areas are better for specific tasks than others. Maybe some tasks like conference calls work better if you’re standing, or complicated projects flow smoother if you have room to pace. Some rooms might have better light at different times of day. If possible, pay attention to which areas in your home or office work best for various tasks and adjust your location accordingly.
Listen To Podcasts
Another way to challenge and exercise your brain is to learn something new or build on your current skill set. When it comes to the workplace, listening to podcasts by people in your industry is a great way to do just that. These narratives are an excellent opportunity to learn something new, keep up on trends within your field, and increase your knowledge base.
When you listen to podcasts, your entire brain lights up. As you focus on the words, blood flow to your brain increases and you grow neurons in the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. They also stimulate multiple areas in the brain, creating mental images and boosting your active listening, which helps hone your focus and boost your concentration.
These benefits extend to books, as well. Listening to an audiobook or spending an hour reading has the same brain benefits as listening to a podcast. It builds memory, engages multiple sensory areas, and increases your focus and attention. Reading as little as six minutes has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety by 68%, which helps you go back to actively working feeling refreshed and energized.
There are times during the day when your energy will drop. Having a podcast that is beneficial to your work is a great way to maintain work-mode while allowing yourself time to rest. You can also enjoy listening to a podcast while walking or exercising during your brain breaks.
While it’s normal to experience a lack of focus or a decline in productivity from time to time, you don’t want to stay there. By understanding how to energize your brain, you can use daily habits to keep you active and engaged. Knowing how to harness your focus will not only increase your productivity throughout the day but will help you unlock your truly limitless potential.