10 Work Productivity Hacks to Rescue Your Energy
By Heather Callaghan, Editor
When I launched my personal work productivity journey, I had to break all the rules. I had to forget Steven Covey’s Highly Effective Habits and think about what my true end goals are and how they fit within the modern, autonomous-work-life.
Times are different now. There’s no such thing as a “clock-watching” job anymore. Bearing fruit and taking initiative are the keys to thriving in a changing career landscape.
Friends and family may call me the “ADHD-type” because they knew me when I floundered in clutter and disorganization. But when I tell them all that I do, they think I belong in a psych ward! I’ve discovered my own rhythm and tools simply by jumping full in without a parachute. I’m not bound by labels and I pursue efficiency instead. If something doesn’t make sense, I don’t do it.
I believe the modern workplace creates ADHD-like symptoms with its incredible expectations and insistence on doing things just “because that’s the way it’s always been done.” Forget that!
Whether you work in an traditional office or at home, here are 10 work productivity hacks that will revolutionize your work day and harness more energy! (Pssst – the first 3 are the most important!)
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#1 Use highly focused energy bursts – Pomodoro
Pomodoro is your new best friend. It’s a technique where you work in an intense burst of 25 minutes, take a break for five and repeat. Every four times you do this, you get a 15 minute break instead of five. It is a game changer! You will never get as much work done as when you follow this simple method. Here is the Pomodoro timer I use and online Pomodoro groups are starting to pop up. It goes without saying that everything else you’re doing is put away during this time. No cell phones, no checking email or opening up browser windows. Trust me, this focus burst will change your life if only you use it.
Big tip – do not skip the break! That’s the magic of the whole thing. Use your break however you like – use the bathroom, get a coffee/snack or stretch. Seriously – don’t skip the break. Some people do 10 jumping jacks on each break so that by the end of the day they have done at least 100 without breaking a sweat.
#2 Do Most Important Things First – Then Time Batch Everything Else
You can only get so far in the workplace by doing minutiae. I did this until I realized that it’s just procrastination and procrastination is caused by fear. It doesn’t make you look like the hardest working employee, though – the boss may see your day of minutiae as a big fat “zero.” Grab the bull by the horns on your biggest tasks and then coast along the “busy work” after. You’ll stand out and feel better. You’ll shine as the most productive team member and be surprised at how easy it is once you simply start. Remember this mantra – just begin.
Time batching is where you group similar tasks within the same time chunk. A perfect example is checking emails. Never, ever check your email all day long and don’t check it in the morning. It’s the biggest time zap there is! There’s nothing more depressing than seeing work emails on your phone before you get ready for work. Have one or two periods each day where you do a task like emailing – and then stop. Changing gears all day drains your brain power faster than an iPhone battery.
#3 Only listen to instrumental music – no vocals, no YouTube, no Netflix!
The quickest way to recover your energy is by only listening to instrumental music – no vocals! Remember that your brain is a tool for deciphering information – decoding lyrics while you work on another task is a great way to tank your brain. It has taken me four times as long to do something with videos in the background. Think about how much more brain power a person wastes if the song violates their values – then your whole body’s in on the fight!
Use music to bolster your focus instead so you can keep your energy for your home life. It could be Motzart, ethereal tunes, synthpop – anything without lyrics. I like soundtracks. When I need an incredible burst of productivity, I listen to the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack. Or, Red Sonya. I prefer energizing music so that I don’t get lulled into sleepiness. Upbeat music is another good search term. The Cowboy Bebop tributes mix is a happy one. Here’s another mix. “Merlin’s Magic” is another one of my go-tos.
Researchers muse that music can help you make better decisions because you’re not as distracted by wandering thinking. And when thoughts wander they often land on “the imperfections of life.” Music channels that energy into something better.
#4 Clear Off Your Desk Like a Boss
You don’t have to do a full clean up or clear out. But you absolutely need a clean workspace or your dropping morale will tank your brain power. It’s simply too distracting to work with piles of papers, food, bottles, rogue pens, etc. I know you’re not a messy person – you just have deadlines!
So when you don’t have time to clean up, simply clear off the entire desk and place the items away from you in a box, closed drawer or bag. Wipe the desk clean and begin your project. Get back to the clutter box later. Utilize baskets, colored bins, index card holders, folders and magazine holders as organizational tools. I don’t recommend bulletin boards or sticky notes everywhere because each time you see them it’s another time-drain as your brain automatically reads the notes.
ADHD-friendly tip – every time you take a break (Hack #1) pick up just a few items or tidy your whole desk each time.
#5 Rosemary and Peppermint Essential Oils
Rosemary has been proven in human clinical trials to enhance memory and performance. I never do any kind of interview without rosemary oil. You could also add it to your shampoo. Peppermint oil has been found to increase focus, alertness and sustained concentration – and can ward off headaches. SEE: UK Students Are Currently Driving Rosemary Essential Oil Sales Up
#6 Your workspace should be a snack shrine – Embrace Self-Care
Ignore all the crazy advice that says you shouldn’t snack or eat fruit. Make your workspace a place of abundance by loading it with your favorite snacks. Reward yourself with fruit at every opportunity – it fuels your brain with the glucose needed to make decisions all day long. It only took me 1,000 tries to realize that a 3pm cookie and coffee is a terrible idea. It sounds counterintuitive, but caffeine is the top way to derail your focus. It’s a drug that actually blitzes out your brain.
And whereas refined sugar robs you of your energy, cognition and level moods – eating fruit is like plugging yourself into the world’s biggest power source. When I incorporated fruit into my workday I went from completing 1-3 major projects each week to 1-3 per day. I will never again go a day without fresh fruit and water.
Your body is screaming for water and glucose in the workplace. A recent study showed that even slight dehydration was enough to reduce cognition. Additionally, we are wired to seek calories – and sweet, salty, fatty foods. Work with this knowledge, not against it. Don’t try to work slavishly in a state of denial – support your labor with what you need.
#7 Grab a View of Some Greenery
Not everyone can get the window office or work outside. But take every opportunity to meditate on some greenery during your day. Go outside or consider a bonsai tree. It’s a quick mood boost we all take for granted.
#8 Power nap – or simply shut your eyes for 20 min
The sweet spot for napping is 20-30 minutes. And this can include just closing your eyes for 20 minutes. If you are able to do this on your lunch break it can be quite refreshing!
#9 Free Up Brainspace! Let Technology Handle Your To-Dos, Appointments and Inbox clutter
We need to control our information and tech streams. Both technology and work demands can be overwhelming. The solution is to delegate just a few things to technology while keeping your human touch for others. This allows you to disconnect from distractions so that they don’t pull you in while you tackle a project.
Pomodoro and Gmail are just a couple of tech options to manage work volume. You can use Gmail for your calendar notifications, contact Rolodex and to tick off your emails like they are to-dos. Archive any emails you are done with so that your remaining emails become like a list of to-dos. Use the “canned response” function for when you have emails that require the same response. That way you never have to re-write the same email – a couple clicks and you have your own email template. Active Inbox is one type of software app that turns your inbox into an interactive to-do list. But you will want to research to see if there’s a specialized software for your field. For instance, Quick Books is the go-to software for accountants and versum.com is for salons to manage appointment bookings.
I still use an 8 x 11 desk calendar because paper and pencil is my preference for remembering meetings and it’s better for me not to have flashing notifications, a buzzing phone or beeps and bloops while I work. It shows the whole month with lines for each day so I can jot appointments as they come. I open it flat across my desk so I can better track the “bigger picture” and I close it while I’m on a project.
#10 Last but not least, take the last half-hour of the day to cool down with some tidying and making the next day’s to-do list.
Go over the day’s activities and ready yourself for the next day. You’ll remember undone tasks and be able to write them down instead of remembering them later at home. In fact, writing down a to-do list is a great way to get better sleep.
Never negotiate this last half-hour or let a boss bully you into launching into another project – because you’ll actually be more productive when you take this cool-down. No matter what you’re doing, stop the last task to have this half-hour to recalibrate. Now you can leave all work issues at work!
I’m positive these tools and work productivity hacks will shape a better work day for you. By the way, this article was powered by Pomodoro, water, fruit, upbeat instrumental music, time batching, rosemary and a clean desk! I completed it in record time, what fun!
Did this article offer work productivity hacks you hadn’t heard before? Which one was your favorite? Do you have a tip to share with our readers? Let me know if I can help you with a work problem!
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