If you ask most people what superpower they wish they had, no one would say “productivity.” It’s too ordinary and too boring.
But unlike a lot of awesome superpowers — knowing how to fly, being invisible, and having x-ray vision — productivity makes us more successful, and happier human beings.
Here’s the great news: life-changing productivity is closer than you think. Academic research and professional studies make it easier than ever to discern how to maximize your time and amplify your impact. Here are eight tricks from the experts for boosting your productivity at work this week:
1. Sleep 30 Minutes More Each Night
Arianna Huffington, the media mogul who launched Huffington Post, has a simple approach to a more productive workday: get more sleep. A study conducted by Rand Europe and Cambridge University with data from 21,000 people found that lack of sleep drives inefficiency and decreased productivity. And new science from University of Rochester backs up their study — academics at U of R found that sleep removes toxic proteins from your neurons, allowing you to think straight. Without sleep, your cells can’t operate properly, leaving you irritated, confused, and more likely to make mistakes. Arianna Huffington suggests that to jumpstart a change, you get 30 more minutes of sleep every night.
2. Turn Off the News
Do you start your day riveted by the local news channel or your Twitter feed? You’ll pay the price in your productivity. Bad news takes its toll on your work by dampening a healthy sense of optimism. Research shows that, overall, our world has become a kinder, safer, less violent place, but the news doesn’t reflect that reality.
If and when you see negative or even devastating news, keep it in perspective — remember that news sources and social media sites experience strong incentives to play, and replay negative news. To get a more productive start to your projects, disconnect. As the New York Times Magazine says, “stop consuming news like a hungry teenager wolfs down a Pop-Tart — rather, seek out a bit of context and a bit of understanding as to why certain pieces of information affect you in certain ways.”
3. Create Time Locks
Emails, phone calls, and even text messages break your positive momentum at work. Basex research found that these kinds of interruptions cost the U.S. economy $588 billion a year. Instead of falling prey to continual disruptions, put a sign on your door, shut down your email, and let your boss know that you’re going to double down on an important project. Be transparent with your coworkers about trying something new — you may just start a revolution.
Experts also suggest that you create a “time lock” on your calendar for one day a week, or a couple hours a day. During this time, you can attend to the most pressing tasks on your desk before they pile up. Digital nomads: even if you work remotely, you still need to carve out that time away from digital distractions.
4. Give Yourself a Break
When was the last time you got lost in a huge project? Everything started well, but within in a few hours, you were stuck in the details rather than looking at the big picture. Don’t worry — it’s not you; it’s how you’re working. In order to keep your perspective expansive and open, you have to step away and take a break.
DeskTime, a time-tracking productivity app, conducted research on their top performers with breaks in mind. They found that their best employees worked for 52-minutes with 17-minute breaks. To make your breaks even more rejuvenating, step away from your desk and have a light conversation with a colleague or go for a quick walk.
5. Get Happy
Harvard researcher Shawn Achor says you have it all wrong. Instead of working to be happy, you need to be happy to work well. In one of his TED Talks, Achor debunks detrimental myths about productivity:
“If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage….Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise. In fact, what we found is that every single business outcome improves. Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than your brain at negative, neutral, or stressed.”
This week, start with one of Achor’s ways to rewire your brain to positivity:
- Write down three new things you’re grateful for everyday.
- Journal about one positive thing that has happened in the last 24 hours.
- Send one email expressing praise or gratitude everyday.
6. Create a “Done” List
To-do lists may be the status quo, but done lists will empower you with a sense of accomplishment. Instead of crossing off or deleting a task from your to-do list, transfer it into a separate list or column. By illuminating your hard-earned successes, you overturn the myth that you just can’t seem to get it all done.
Create a routine to accompany your done list — pour yourself a cup of tea at the end of the day and write your list, or keep track in a favorite notebook. This kind of self-reflection makes you more productive, giving the opportunity to draw on your strengths and turn your weaknesses into assets.
7. Stop at Forty Hours
Despite the appearance that more time makes you more productive, it’s far from reality. Harvard Business Review editor Sarah Green Carmichael notes that overwork makes it difficult to make important judgment calls, manage emotional reactions, and communicate with others.
Your extra work won’t make an impact in your review either. In a Boston University study, Erin Reid found that managers could not discern between employees who worked an 80-hour week and those who faked it. Instead of sticking around after hours, make your effort count, following the adage, “work smart, not hard.”
8. Say “No” to One Thing Everyday
Saying “no” is not rude or unkind; it’s necessary. Anyone who wants productivity needs to cut out the activities that take more than they give. Just as with any new technique, it takes time to get comfortable. If you’re struggling to say “no” on the spot, buy yourself more time with this response: “Let me just check my schedule.” Follow up with a gentle “no” over email, always with gratitude and your company’s best interest in mind. For more examples, check out Elizabeth Grace Saunders’ gracious ways to say “no” at work — productivity is just as easy as clicking “copy” and “paste” on her awesome list.
These simple tips shouldn’t only enhance your productivity; they will make you happier, saner, and more creative at work. Keep your eye on the side-benefits, and your productivity will continue to rise!8 Tricks For Boosting Your Productivity At Work This Week Rob Wormley