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Build Your Career Get Ahead

Case of the Mondays? 5 Tips on How to Be More Productive

How to increase productivity
Credit: Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock

Avoiding distractions and staying on task at work is often very difficult. In fact, Udemy's 2018 Workplace Distraction Report found that 70 percent of respondents believe their office could use training on how to block out distractions, but 66 percent have never asked managers for such training. Regardless of whether your company offers such training, there are some simple things you can do.

Dan Ariely, a Duke University professor of psychology and behavioral economics revealed that people are most productive during the first two hours of becoming fully awake.

For some, these peak hours could occur before the sun rises. [Learn more about how peak productivity time works and how it could optimize your routine.]

Russ Perry, founder of graphic design firm Design Pickle, told the Wall Street Journal that 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. is "the most planned, most organized and most scheduled part of my day. It's a crapshoot from there."

If your window doesn't come at the crack of dawn, don't fret. Harley Bauer, founder of LIQStold Fast Company his most productive hours occur between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. He thinks the delegation of early risers as "wholesome" and night owls as "vampires" is a double standard.

"I'm still sleeping at noon, and they've completed a whole day's work. But to me, it never mattered, as long as I felt accomplished and productive inside," Bauer said.

"I find the early morning commute to be the best time to think about and record my most important tasks for the day," said Matt Phillips, CMO and president of AdvantaClean. "When a business thought or task crosses my mind, I immediately record it, no matter how trivial it may be."

Instead of playing Candy Crush or checking Facebook, use that time to pound out some emails, brainstorm or catch up on your reading.

You may think you're pretty good at gauging how much time you've spent on various tasks. However, research shows that humans overestimate the time that an unpleasant task requires, said Darla DeMorrow author of "SORT and Succeed" (Blue Tudor Books, 2018).

"Time flies when you are having fun," she said. "Use a physical timer to allow for focus for a relatively short time."

Documenting your accomplishments throughout your workday can help identify your productivity peaks and budget your time accordingly. Limit the amount of time you spend on each task, said Allison Sinclair, founder of Matryoshka Media Group.

"Spending hour after hour on one thing can make your eyes blurry and your brain go radio silent, which doesn't help that project get done any faster," she said.

A tool like Rescue Time can help by letting you know exactly how much time you spend on daily tasks like social media, email, word processing and apps.

David Allen coined the two-minute rule in his bestselling book "Getting Things Done" (Random House, 2002). If you see a task or action that you know can be completed in two minutes or less, do it immediately. The principle is that completing the task right away actually takes less time than having to get back to it later.

If it'll take longer than that, schedule it and get it into your productivity system so you can tackle it when you're ready.

It may sound counterintuitive, but taking scheduled breaks improves concentration. According to an infographic by project management software Podio, your brain can only focus for 90 to 120 minutes, at which point it needs a short break before you can launch into your next 90- to 120-minute period of focus. 

Set time for little breaks in between tasks. Grabbing coffee with a colleague or reading the news can be incredibly beneficial. A short break could even be used to initiate other tasks or projects that can reap future benefits later.

Lawn care service GreenPal put a music room in its office to encourage employees to take a break and refocus.

"Taking a break during the day and playing piano has also helped me get my focus back and gets my creative juices flowing again," co-founder Gene Caballero said. "It's like a mental full body workout and lets me refocus on what I need to do."

If you're looking to do more in your workplace, you can either put in longer hours or increase your productivity. Wouldn't we all prefer the latter? Take a step back and reevaluate how you can work smarter, not harder.

Carlyann Edwards

Carlyann is pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Business Journalism with minors in sustainability and music at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and will graduate in 2020. She is incredibly interested by the intersection of business development and environmental preservation. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys working for non-profit organization Carolina Thrift, running and playing the ukulele. She can be reached by email or LinkedIn.