Want to be more productive at work? Who doesn’t? Whether you’re an entrepreneur or work at a Fortune 500 company, getting more done in less time is often the ticket to excelling on the job.
Being more productive doesn’t have to be difficult. Keep reading to learn nine simple ways to boost your productivity in five minutes or less. These easy-to-implement strategies will especially come in handy during seasons when it’s tougher than usual to concentrate. (We’re looking at you, summer slump.)
Constant interruptions by colleagues, emails, and text messages can sabotage your ability to focus and leave you feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. Workers who do the majority of their work on computers switch tasks every three minutes, according to one study. When it’s a minor interruption, it’s no big deal. But when it’s a larger interruption, it can take more than 23 minutes to get back on task.
Here are a few polite ways to let your colleagues know you don’t want to be interrupted.
- Wear headphones or a headset, which will make coworkers think you’re on the phone or busy.
- Turn on an out-of-office response to let others know you’re working on a project; just make sure to specify when you’ll reply.
- When people approach, don’t wait for them to start a conversation. Instead, say, “I’m swamped. Can we talk tomorrow?”
Block time-wasting websites
You probably can’t blame your colleagues for all the times you’re interrupted during the day. Half the interruptions in the study cited above were self-interruptions. Computer workers tend to switch tasks frequently on their own, often without even thinking about it. For instance, you may be composing an email and suddenly find yourself scrolling through Facebook. Sound familiar?
It’s no wonder we’re prone to distraction when we’re a click away from social media platforms designed to be addictive. Want to stop interrupting yourself? Make it harder to go to the websites you habitually visit. Turn off notifications on your devices and place your phone out of sight. If you use Firefox or Chrome, download Leechblock, a free extension that blocks up to six sites at times you specify. SelfControl, Freedom, Anti-Social, RescueTime, Cold Turkey, and StayFocusd are similar tools that block distractions.
- Make a to-do list
Even with thousands of time-management apps on the market, it’s hard to beat the humble checklist to clarify what needs to get done. Yes, it’s an ancient technology, but it works. Grab a pen and paper and use these tips to ensure you get the best results from your to-do list.
Set a timer
Are you procrastinating on an important work project? Your amygdala may be to blame. The amygdala is the ancient part of the brain that scans the environment for danger. Your project may not present the same threat as a charging mountain lion. But that doesn’t mean it’s not scary. Perhaps you’re afraid to fail, waste your time, disappoint your boss, or let down your colleagues.
When the amygdala perceives threats, it stimulates the release of stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, which makes it difficult to concentrate. To make it worse, you’re more likely to avoid the fear trigger in the future. (Yep, that explains our old friend procrastination.) Here’s a simple trick to convince your amygdala there’s no threat. Set a timer and commit to working on the project for just 20 or 30 minutes.
Take a break
It seems paradoxical, but breaks may be the secret sauce of productivity. The Draugiem Group, a collection of companies in Latvia, tracked their employees and discovered the most productive employees took the most breaks. On average, high performers took a 17-minute break for every 52 minutes they worked. The brain is designed to go through periods of focus and unfocus. When you begin to feel agitated, frustrated, or bored, take that as a cue to step away from your desk for a few minutes. You’ll come back more refreshed.
If you frequently forget to take breaks, set an online Pomodoro timer, which prompts you to take a break at designated time intervals. People commonly work for 25 or 30 minutes and take a break for five minutes. The Pomodoro Technique not only helps many people get more done; it’s good for your health to stand up and walk around frequently.
Gaze at some greenery
What do plants have to do with productivity? A lot, according to research. Nature is innately relaxing, even when you’re only looking at a picture of it for less than a minute. In one study, people were asked to do a repetitive task for five minutes. Afterward, they got a 40-second break. During the break, half the group gazed at a picture of a concrete roof while the other half gazed at a picture of a roof covered with a grassy, flowering meadow. When they returned to the task, concentration improved 6% in the people who gazed at the meadow, whereas it dropped 8% in the people who gazed at the concrete roof. Simply having indoor plants in an office has been shown to improve productivity by up to 15%.
Change your setting
Feeling unmotivated? Go somewhere else to work. In one survey, only 24% of employees said they got their best work done at the office during business hours. Half said they got their best work done at home, 12% preferred a coffee shop or library, and 14% preferred working in the office after business hours. They cited distractions, office politics, uncomfortable workspaces, and the stress of commuting as the reasons they wanted to flee their cubicles. But the explanation may be even more fundamental than that.
The human brain loves novelty. New environments stimulate the release of dopamine, which doesn’t just make you feel good. It motivates you to search harder for a reward. Novelty has been shown to increase the brain’s ability to learn new concepts and facts and improve memory. Stuck at the office? Change the lighting or find an empty conference room.
Clean your desk
A cluttered environment can make it more difficult to focus, according to research conducted at Princeton University. Clutter may even be bad for your health if it causes you to feel stressed out. Spend five minutes clearing and organizing your desk, and you’ll likely return to work more refreshed and focused.
Eat a snack
Glucose fuels the brain, and when it dips below a certain threshold, it’s tricky to stay on task. Not all food is created equally when it comes to productivity. Snacks full of sugar and carbs elevate amino acids called tryptophans in the brain that make people feel groggy. Ideally, reach for a fiber- and protein-rich snack. You’ve likely heard this before, but fruits and veggies are good for both your body and brain. In one study, eating more fruits and vegetables was associated with greater well-being, curiosity, and creativity.
People aren’t machines, and everyone has times when they’re not as productive as they’d like. But an energy slump doesn’t need to derail your day. Try these easy-to-implement tips to get back on track in five minutes or less.