How many things are competing for your attention right now? Your constantly vibrating phone in your back pocket? Clips of John Oliver's hilarious commentary on Last Week Tonight? A flood of emails regarding a project you haven't start on? A to-do list that seems never-ending? All of these distractions constantly bog us down and keep us from staying focused on what is really important for us to complete in a day. Recent academic studies have discovered that office workers get distracted roughly every 3 minutes and that on average it takes 23 minutes to get the focus back. If you do the math, it's shocking to realize that so much more work can be finished in a day's time. Here are 7 productivity hacks to keep you on track throughout the day:
1. Turn off your phone
A scary but true fact is that 61% of people cannot ignore their electronic devices and we are betting that you are in this cohort. As phones are now considered to be extensions of ourselves, the simple act of turning off our phones- for even short periods of time- makes people extremely nervous. However, the freedom gained from not being barraged with notifications will make a serious dent in your productivity levels. Instead of checking your phone every 10 minutes to see how many Instagram likes you are getting (which is essentially switching your brain on and off), you can focus your full attention on the work at hand.
2. Take Breaks
It is easy to feel like you need to stay chained to your desk for the whole day, but it is beneficial to take some time to recharge. The brain (like any other muscle) gets strained from repeated work and needs some time off to continue working and peak productivity levels. According to a study from a productivity app, the highest performing workers were those who worked for 52 minutes and then took a 17 minute break. Although not all workers can make this time commitment, we can begin to ensure that we take the breaks allotted to us. Breaks can be a great time to meditate, journal, call your grandmother, and step outside of the all encompassing realm of work for a few minutes.
3. Choose music wisely
Music is a very powerful management tool because it increases our emotional and mental states by releasing dopamine in our brains. But not all music is created equal when it comes to getting work done, so make sure the tunes are carefully chosen depending on the task at hand. If you have a lot of monotonous tasks at hand, your favorite playlist will help you get work done faster. Music without lyrics is better for tasks that involve reading comprehension such as writing long emails or reading through articles. However, when you are trying to learn something new, listening to music can decrease your cognitive ability to grasp new knowledge. So only stick to music when you're working on something you already know you are proficient in.
4. Develop mindfulness
Mindfulness is the state of active, open attention to the present. When there is a lot going on in our lives it is easy to adopt a monkey mind and allow our mind to race from thought to thought. By developing mindfulness we can learn to not get swept up by a barrage of overwhelming emotions, allowing us to be more aware on what we need to get done in the now. A first step at developing mindfulness is to take time in your day is to focus on one of the five senses and really experience what it is smelling, hearing, tasting, seeing, or touching. These exercise can be eye-opening for people who are always on the go. There are also many apps out there for people looking to be more present.
5. Ditch multitasking
Despite popular belief multi-tasking is not effective and only 2% of the population can do it effectively. Multitasking actually leads to a larger decrease in IQ than smoking marijuana! It turns out that our brains are not designed to do more than one thing at once. When we overstretch our brain's ability we are compromising our short-term memory and cognitive load. By taming the juggler inside of ourselves, we can discover that our brains are built to focus. Truly one-track focus brings more energy, clarity, engagement, and gratification to our work.
6. Know your natural rhythms
We have two types of rhythms that our bodies cycle through: the natural circadian rhythm and the ultradian rhythm. The first of which regulates how our bodies cycle energy throughout the day. This is easy to understand. When we get tired, we go to sleep. The lesser-known rhythm is the ultradian rhythm which are shorter awake/rest cycles that occur throughout the day. Most people can do focused and high-energy work for 1-2 hours and then need a short break. You know yourself better than anyone else, so when you create your to-do list for the day make sure that tasks that require more brain power are scheduled at a time where you are at your peak performance level.
7. Reinvent your work space
Neuroscientists at Princeton determined that clutter in our work environment competes for our attention, resulting in decreased levels of performance. Similar to multitasking, too much "stuff" can be too much to our senses, impairing our ability to think creatively. Take the time to declutter your work space, add personalized touches, and ensure that enough natural light is coming in. If you can, try to work outside of your designated work space every once in awhile. Coffee shops with their ambient noise and other fellow working bees can exude productivity. Putting yourself in such an environment can motivate you to get work done.
Whenever I am feeling overwhelmed by my work load and apparent lack of time, I repeat this mantra in my mind: "We have the same amount of hours in a day as Beyonce." Without taking money or status into account, we all have the same 1,440 minutes in a day and it is only up to ourselves to decide exactly what we are going to do with it. There are many ways we can break old habits to make the most of it so we can reclaim time on our own terms.