Being productive at work isn't easy. We're all prone to distractions or feeling uninspired. But with so much to plough through, we often have little choice but to be get on with things.
So how can you boost your productivity and get the most out of every day, especially as you'll want to keep your evenings and weekends free to relax? There are lots of ways to stay productive. Just follow these tips to stay focused...
1. Eat breakfast
Start each day with a healthy breakfast. And by healthy, I mean porridge, oats, wholemeal toast, eggs, fruit or yogurt – whichever takes your fancy. Try to opt for some low GI choices to ensure you provide your body with slow-release energy to keep you going until lunchtime. If you have an unhealthy option, or skip breakfast altogether, it will just leave you feeling tired, agitated and distracted. Not good for productivity.
2. Sleep well
Get some decent shuteye every night. Experts recommend around seven to nine hours sleep. If you're always having late nights, you'll regret it the next day as you won't feel rested or rejuvenated and ready to handle work. Good productivity relies on being well-rested.
Can't sleep? If you've got things whirring around in your head every night, keep a notebook by your bed and write down any niggles, worries or tasks you need to remember. If that doesn't work, then figure out why you can't sleep. If you're working late into the evenings, it might be because you're not giving your brain enough time to wind down and relax.
3. Exercise daily
To keep stress levels at bay, get out and exercise every day. Even if it's just a walk during your lunch break. Exercise will help clear your mind, ensuring you stay focused. You may think that being chained to your desk will mean that you get more done, but this actually works against you. Stay active and you'll stay productive.
4. Get outside
A good dose of fresh air and daylight, away from the unnatural environment of an office, is good for the soul. Particularly if your office environment is stuffy, dark and relies on air conditioning to refresh the space. Experts suggest that being outside brings all sorts of health benefits and that a bit of daylight is a stress-buster, helping you to stay on track when you're back at your desk.
5. Make 'to do' lists
Whether you use the Task Manager in Outlook or you have something like Things for the Mac, make sure you keep a simple 'to do' list every day and give yourself a realistic set of tasks to get through. Try and tackle a difficult task first and then do lots of easy jobs to reward yourself. You feel great once you've got a big job out of the way and that only boosts your productivity.
6. Give yourself deadlines
When facing each task on your 'to do' list, try and give yourself a deadline. That way, you'll be less inclined to 'muck about' and waste time on other things. Stay focused on and you'll find that you breeze through each task.
7. Schedule email checking
Emails are a productivity killer. That's a fact. It's all too easy to keep checking for new messages every five minutes. But doing so can mean you spend all day writing emails, instead of focusing on your work. Force yourself to check emails at certain times throughout the day. I try to check my emails every morning at 8am and then I don't check again until 12pm. Limit time spent on emails to stay productive.
8. Keep phone calls short and sweet
Chatting on the phone to clients, friends or suppliers can take up a lot of time. Try and limit each phone call by explaining to the other person that you're 'on deadline' and can't talk for long. Obviously, you won't be able to do this with some clients. In which case, turn off your phone when you're especially busy and ensure your voicemail explains that you're currently unavailable but will be checking messages later that day.
9. Limit social media use
Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn... they're all so tempting to check and can be very distracting. Like emails, you should only view your social channels at certain times and limit how long you spend using them. Don't leave Twitter or any social media tools open on your desktop, they'll just keep interrupting your work flow.
10. Use anti-distraction tools
There are many tools to stop the temptation of browsing the web or checking social media. If you really can't stop looking, then download an anti-distraction tool like Freedom. It's a simple productivity app that locks you away from the internet for up to eight hours. Beautiful. Compatible with both Windows or Mac.
Or there's SelfControl, which blocks access to incoming and/or outgoing mail servers and websites for a predetermined period of time. Or you could try Think, which blanks out everything on your screen and allows you to focus.
11. Take regular breaks
If you're feeling really unproductive, take a break. Read a book for 10 minutes or go outside for some fresh air. If you're especially useless at taking timeout, download and install one of these break reminder tools, like Dejal's Time Out.
12. One thing at a time
Concentrate on one task at a time. Multi-tasking might seem more productive but it can really slow you down. This is one of my worst habits and I often find I'm trying to write emails, update Twitter and complete an article – all at the same time. It's hopeless trying to do everything at once, because you'll never be able to focus.
13. Split big tasks into bite-size chunks
Feeling unproductive can often come about if we're daunted by our workload. If you've got a particularly large project that seems overwhelming, then break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks. Then tackle each one at a time. Keep a list and feel the sense of achievement when you tick off things off.
14. Certain tasks at certain times
Figure out when you're at your most productive and tackle the most challenging stuff then. Keep the easy tasks for when you're not feeling at your best. You'll get way more done.
15. If you get stuck, move on
With a list of tasks to get through, you'll undoubtedly come across something that you can't finish. If you're stuck, simply ditch what you're working on, take a break and then start something new. You might find that inspiration strikes later that day and you're able to return to that difficult task.
16. Cut out background noise
Get your environment right and ensure you have no noise to distract you from work. If you're in an office or work from home and you find it's too noisy, try some ambient background noise to cancel it out. You could listen to Sleep Sound, which offers free relaxing sounds like the ocean or crackling fire. Or there's things like SonicMood. Alternatively, if you like to listen to music, keep it light-hearted.
17. Stop procrastination
If you find yourself dodging certain tasks and delaying things, then stop wasting time and just get stuck in! It's often the most difficult obstacle to overcome, simply starting a new project. You'll soon find you're enjoying it and getting work done.
18. Save the best for last
Save your most enjoyable task until last, so you have something to look forward to. If you get all your less enjoyable work out the way first, you'll feel energised, positive and ready to tackle anything.
19. Tidy desk, tidy mind
Make it a daily ritual to tidy your desk or workspace at the end of every day. De-clutter and get organised and you'll start each day with a clean slate. If your desk is messy, you'll struggle to stay productive. Get magazine files, drawers and helpful storage solutions.
20. Recognise the signs
Finally, if you're still feeling unproductive and not tackling your workload efficiently, keep a writing pad and note down all distractions that kill your workflow. You'll soon see patterns emerging, giving you the chance to make positive changes.