Ever wish you could get more done while you're in the office? You're not alone — the thousands of productivity apps on the market prove that today's workers are always looking for ways to be more efficient. But you don't necessarily need the latest checklist tool or scheduling assistant to keep yourself on task. Here are 10 simple, low-tech ways to jumpstart your productivity right away.
Streamline your space. Before you do anything else, take a few moments at the start of each day to organize and de-clutter your workspace. Having a clutter-free environment helps you think more clearly and produce better results, said Kristoph Matthews, CEO of on-demand storage company Boxbee. By cleaning up and organizing your space, you will greatly increase your productivity and limit the time you spend searching for items.
Add pops of color or live plants. Color can have a major effect on your mood and productivity throughout the day, said Jenny Gauld, an interior designer for office furniture and accessory retailer turnstone. Blue creates the feeling of calmness and helps you focus, while red is great for work that requires accuracy and attention to detail. Plants can also help people focus by reducing headaches and fatigue: A study from Texas A&M University found that plants increase workplace productivity and creative performance by up to 30 percent.
Decorate your workspace. In addition to color and plant life, a few personal knick-knacks in your workspace can make you feel more comfortable and relaxed, which can ultimately boost your productivity. Gauld suggested adding meaningful career memorabilia, such as diplomas and awards, and other decorative items that make you feel successful, appreciated and driven.
Get your most dreaded task out of the way. Everyone has at least one task on the to-do list that keeps getting pushed back, simply because the thought of actually doing it seems so awful. That task is actually the one you should try to complete first, Matthews told Business News Daily. Instead of waiting until the last minute to finish a task, get it off your plate as soon as possible. Your other tasks will seem less daunting by comparison, and you'll stop stressing about that one task all day, making you more productive overall.
Ignore your emails (at least for a little while). Constant email alerts popping up on your phone or desktop can really break your focus. Instead of reading every email as it lands in your inbox, try turning off your notifications and only checking messages at set intervals. When you're working on a tight deadline, Gauld advised setting up an automatic reply for a few hours or an afternoon, informing the sender that you will be unavailable to respond for a short time.
Move around. Don't limit yourself to your primary desk chair. Gauld recommended spending portions of the workday standing or working at height-adjusted work surfaces, if possible. You can also make a habit of walking meetings and conference calls.
Prioritize tasks that take less time. It's easy to procrastinate on short, easy-to-do list items and tell yourself you'll get to them after you've tackled your big project for the day. But what if that project takes longer than expected? To avoid scrambling at the end of the workday to complete a bunch of quick tasks (which can really add up, time-wise), get them done earlier. Matthews noted that his general rule of thumb for completing tasks is that if it takes less than two minutes to do, tackle it right away.
Take short breaks. Whether it's a walk around the block, a run to the nearby coffee shop, reading a magazine or visiting with a colleague, taking short breaks — about 10 to 15 minutes every two hours — helps improve circulation while reducing eyestrain and buildup of muscle tension, Gauld said. Stepping away from something you're working on can also provide you with a new perspective when you return.
Listen to music. Wearing headphones doesn't always mean you're antisocial. When working, listening to your favorite tunes can help you get into the zone and knock out your to-do list, Gauld said. It also sends a subtle signal to your co-workers that you'd prefer not to be disturbed.
Switch locations. If your employer allows it, take one day a week to work from a different environment, like a coffee shop or a co-working space, Gauld said. The change of scenery and the chance to interact with other people may give you a sense of renewed energy. If you can't work out of the office, try finding a quiet space away from other distractions where you can fully focus.
Originally published on Dec. 19, 2013. Updated Jan. 12, 2015.