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Keeping productive at work isn't easy. All of us get distracted or feel uninspired at some point during our working hours. But with so much work to plough through, we often have little choice but to be productive and get on with the tasks at hand.
So how can you boost your productivity? How do you make sure you get the most out of each day? Especially as you'll want to keep your evenings and weekends free to relax.
Well, there's lots of ways to stay productive at work and here are my top 10 tips to help you stay focused while at your desk, ensuring you get all your work done on time.
1. Eat breakfast
Start each day with a healthy breakfast. And by healthy, I mean porridge, oats, wholemeal toast, eggs, fruit and 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 breakfast - or skip on eating anything at all - it will just leave you feeling tired, agitated and distracted. Not good for productivity! So make sure you eat the most important meal of the day and keep it healthy.
2. Sleep well
Get some decent shut eye 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 any work that's thrown your way. A good night's sleep will reflect in how productive you feel the next day, so ensure you make sleep a priority.
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 to take a half an hour walk during your lunchbreak. Exercise will help clear your mind and help you to stay productive at work, ensuring you stay focused. You may think that being chained to your desk will mean that you get more things 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 daily 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. What I find helps is to tackle a difficult task first and then do lots of easy jobs to reward myself. 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. And 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. So make sure you limit time spent on checking and replying to emails.
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 look at and can be very distracting. Like emails, you should only check your profiles at certain times of the day and limit how long you spend using them. Make sure you 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 so many tools to stop the temptation of browsing the web or checking social media profiles. If you really can't stop looking at the Internet, then download an anti-distraction tool like Freedom. It's a really simple productivity application that locks you away from the Internet for up to eight hours. Beautiful. Compatible with both Windows or Mac. Or there's things like 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 on what you're actually working on.
11. Take regular breaks
If you're feeling unproductive, get up and away from your desk and take a break. Read a book for 10 minutes or go outside for some fresh air. If you're especially useless at taking breaks, download and install one of these break reminder tools, like Dejal's Time Out. This will help you to remember to take regular breaks and ensure you stay productive.
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. Tackle one job before you start anything else, otherwise you'll never get anything done. 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 or be productive.
13. Split big tasks into bite-size chunks
If you've got a particularly large project that seems overwhelming, then break it down into smaller and more manageable chunks. Then tackle each one at a time. Keep a list and feel the sense of achievement when you tick off one of those smaller tasks. Feeling unproductive can often come about if we're daunted by our work. Don't be hard on yourself, just take it one step at a time and you'll soon plough through the project.
14. Certain tasks at certain times
Figure out when you're at your most productive and tackle the more challenging stuff then. Keep the easy tasks for when you're not feeling at your best. By working out when certain tasks are best tackling, you'll keep your productivity levels at a healthy, stable level.
15. If you get stuck, move on
With a list of certain 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 your work. If you work in an office or work from home and you find it's too noisy, try some ambient background noise in some headphones 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 during your working day make sure you keep it light-hearted and not too heavy or distracting.
17. Stop procrastination
If you find yourself dodging certain tasks and delaying projects, then stop wasting your time and just get stuck in! It's often the most difficult obstacle to overcome, simply starting a new task. I say - dive straight in and just get on with it. You'll soon find you're enjoying it and getting the work done.
18. Save the best for last
Save your most enjoyable task until last, so you have something to work towards and reward yourself with at the end of every day. If you get all your less enjoyable work out the way first, you'll feel energised, positive and ready to tackle anything that's thrown your way.
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 almost certainly struggle to stay productive. Get magazine files, drawers and helpful storage solutions to keep your desk in order.
20. Recognise the signs
Finally, if you're still feeling unproductive and not tackling your work load as quickly or easily as you'd like, keep a notebook throughout the day and jot down all the things that distract you or kill your work flow. You'll soon see patterns emerging and start to understand where you need to make some positive changes.
And those are just a few of my top tips on how to stay productive at work. If you've got any tips you'd like to share, please comment below.