The late motivational speaker and business philosopher Jim Rohn said, “Either you run the day, or the day runs you.”
We only get so much time, and we are notorious for wasting a lot of it: some experts say we lose about 40% of each day to unproductive activities.
Do you think you could use a little help with productivity and time management?
If so, consider these implementing these tips to get more out of each day.
Make your bed every morning: Believe it or not, this two-minute task will make you feel like you’ve accomplished something and can help set the tone for your day.
Don’t obsess over your work area: It’s a myth that a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind. Some experts say that a neat, organized work-space is necessary for focus and productivity, but others say that a bit of clutter helps some people become more efficient, creative, and decisive. Figure out what works for you, and go with that.
Plan properly: Sure, you are ambitious and have a lot to accomplish, but packing too much into your daily schedule will inhibit flexibility. Sometimes things don’t go as planned, and you’ll need extra time to complete a task. Try scheduling 4-5 hours of actual work each day. When planning out a week or more in advance, consider that surveys show that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the best days for productivity and motivation. By Thursday, our energy starts to drop, and we get the least done on Fridays (no surprises there).
Make lists: McGill University neuroscience professor Dr. Daniel Levitin, author of the book The Organized Mind, says most people can only hold about four things in their mind at a time. Making lists takes mental juggling out of your mind – you don’t have to worry that you will forget to handle a task, because you’ve got a written list in front of you. Lists allow you to plan your day, prioritize activities, and make the most of your time. Write the list the night before, use sections, and try to allot a certain amount of time for each task.
Do the most dreaded task on that list first: Eric Barker of Barking Up the Wrong Tree interviewed willpower expert Roy Baumeister, who said that we have the most self-control in the morning:
The longer people have been awake, the more self-control problems happen. Most things go bad in the evening. Diets are broken at the evening snack, not at breakfast or in the middle of the morning. Impulsive crimes are mostly committed after midnight.
Behavioral scientist Dan Ariely agrees, as NY Mag writer Melissa Dahl reports:
Generally speaking, Ariely said, the two hours after we become fully awake are, potentially, our most productive. But what’s the first thing you do when your brain shakes off the fogginess of sleep? I know what I do: I ease into the day by attending to my most mindless tasks first, like replying to emails or playing around on Twitter. Ariely really wishes we would knock this off.
“One of the saddest mistakes in time management is the propensity of people to spend the two most productive hours of their day on things that don’t require high cognitive capacity (like social media). If we could salvage those precious hours, most of us would be much more successful in accomplishing what we truly want,” Ariely says.
Arrest time thieves: Identifying distractions is the first step to avoiding them. According to a 2015 survey by CareerBuilder, the top five workplace attention destroyers are cell phones/texting, the Internet, gossip, social media, and e-mail. If you find yourself struggling to manage distractions, try apps and websites like Freedom, Anti-Social, or one of these online tools that can block access to sites that distract you for prescribed periods of time. Turn off Facebook notifications. Schedule times to check email in batches. Unsubscribe from email newsletters you never read.
Focus on one task at a time: You might believe that being able to juggle several things at once is a valuable skill and increases productivity, but…you’d be mistaken. Alan Henry of Lifehacker explains:
Researchers like David E. Meyer, Director of the Brain, Cognition, and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan, have been warning us for years that multitasking slows us down and makes us prone to errors. The Laboratory has a whole page dedicated to studies on the topic, if you’re not convinced.
Similarly, our interview with David Crenshaw, author of the book The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing It All” Gets Nothing Done reads just as poignantly today as it ever did. The bottom line is that multitasking—or trying to do multiple similar tasks at the same time, or even in quick succession, inevitably leads to more stress, terrible results, and more rework in the long run.
Delegate: Assign tasks to your assistant, or talk to your team about distributing the workload according to who is best at what. You can delegate at home, too: if you live with others, don’t feel that you need to handle all of the chores.
Don’t be afraid to say no: You only have so much time in each day. Don’t take on the world. If you have spare time, helping others is a nice thing to do, but don’t overload yourself. You’ll likely get burned out, and how much will you accomplish then?
Minimize meetings: Make meetings very productive or don’t have them at all. Meetings waste an enormous amount of money each year for organizations. Too many people who don’t really need to be there are asked to attend, and most of them reply to emails or focus on something other than the meeting.
Be on time: It is respectful to your coworkers, clients, and friends, and will help you stick to your schedule. Being late can lead to feeling frazzled and overwhelmed and can ruin your day – and that of people who have to wait for you.
Take breaks: Research has found that a mid-morning break is essential for your productivity. A study led by Emily Hunter, Ph.D., and Cindy Wu, Ph.D., at Baylor University, which surveyed 95 employees, found that “the more time that had passed since the beginning of the workday, the less useful a break was,” Business Insider reported. One experiment showed that taking 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work is ideal:
Employees with the highest levels of productivity worked for 52 minutes with intense purpose, then rested up, allowing their brains time to rejuvenate and prepare for the next work period.
What you DO during those breaks matters – a lot:
What was particularly surprising about the study’s results, however, was what the most productive individuals did during their breaks. Those 17 minutes were spent completely away from the computer—not checking email, not on YouTube. Taking a walk, chatting with co-workers (not about work), or relaxing reading a book were some common activities the most productive employees did while on break.
Another popular and respected time management method worth trying is called The Pomodoro Technique, which uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks.
Get enough sleep: Being productive is going to be difficult if you are exhausted. Poor sleep habits can have a negative effect on self-control, which presents risks to your personal and professional lives, according to research. A recent study found that sleep-deprived individuals are at increased risk for succumbing to impulsive desires, inattentiveness, and questionable decision-making. If you don’t feel rested upon waking, are tired during the day, are unable to focus or concentrate, or are irritable, you may be sleep deprived. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of shut-eye per night.
Get some exercise: Getting a workout in before work can boost your energy level more than getting a few extra minutes of sleep. Exercise helps alleviate stress and anxiety. You don’t have to go out and run marathons: even fitting in 10 minutes a day three to four times per week is a good start.
Get some sun: An office with a view sounds like a recipe for mind wandering, but access to sunlight actually boosts productivity. In a study by the California Energy Commission, workers who sat near a window performed better, processing calls 6% to 12% faster and performing 10% to 25% better on tests that involved mental function and memory recall.