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The Basics of Productivity

The Basics of Productivity

Three overarching principles apply to all productivity tips.

  • Start with small increments. You can't expect to instantly change years of working habits overnight. Start with one tip, and keep adding more as you find strategies that work for you.
  • Be accountable. Answering to someone else can often force you to get the job done, be it a co-worker or setting your own deadlines and announcing them to others.
  • Forgive yourself. Accept that you will slip up with times or become distracted. It's better to move on than to dwell on your mistakes.

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When you're trying to do many things at once, you're often getting very little done.

  • We have limited cognitive bandwidth. Your brain may trick you into thinking it has more capacity, but your ability to work efficiently depends on how well you can focus on one task at a time.
  • When you move back and forth between tasks, your brain's neural networks must backtrack to see where they left off and then reconfigure. The extra activity increase errors.
  • Real innovative thinking emerges when we allow our brains to continue in a logical path of associated thoughts and ideas. Multitasking leads to less creativity.

As best as you can, set up a work environment that encourages doing one task at a time. Even doing one task for five minutes can be beneficial:

  • Actively resist the urge to check social media while you are busy with a task. You may have to install anti-distraction apps that will block access for specific periods.
  • Work on just one screen: Put away your cellphone and turn off other screens.
  • If you start losing focus, get up and walk around to help you refocus.
  • Set a timer for five or ten minutes and commit to focusing for that amount of time. Allow a short break, and get back to your task for another five or ten minutes.

The more we work on focusing on one task at a time, the easier it becomes to focus.

Your physical workspace can either energize you or deplete your energy.

  • Twenty-five percent of a desk's messiness is related to organizational skills. The rest is part of time management.
  • If the piles on your desk are moving, you're probably doing O.K. with some clutter.
  • However, try to keep your desk clear except for the one project you are working on, along with the equipment you need to finish it.
  • To change your workspace, spend the last 10 minutes of your workday organizing your desk for the next day.

Know your computer. Understanding the capabilities of your computer will enhance your productivity.

  • Set aside specific times every day to process email.
  • Divide email into two groups: Those requiring quick responses and those needing thoughtful answers. Immediately deal with emails that require less than two minutes. Schedule a time to deal with the other emails.
  • Identify the emails you're actively avoiding. Instead of procrastinating, respond in person or on the phone.
  • Turn off notifications when you need 20 or 30 minutes to focus on something else.

The way you treat your body will affect the way your mind works.

  • Move more. Sitting for long periods is bad for you and for your ability to be productive.
  • To make desk-work more productive, sit for 20 minutes and work, stand for eight minutes and work, stop working and take a 2-minute walk. Repeat.
  • Take long breaks. Working a 12-hour day is not great for creativity. Consider intentionally taking long breaks. Sleep is the most effective long break.
  • Try a nap in the afternoon. Learn to identify the signs of mental fatigue. Take a 20-minute nap or get up and walk around, or talk to a colleague.
  • Fight stress by breathing more efficiently. Breathe horizontally. With shoulders down, expand your belly when you breathe in and move your stomach inward as you exhale.
  • Good multitaskers get more done. In reality, research shows people get more done if they focus on one task at a time.
  • Zero emails in your inbox at the end of your day is essential. Inbox zero does not work for everyone. Find a method that works best for you.
  • It's best to stand while you work. It's far better to change your position throughout the day. The variety helps your blood flow, improving your brainpower and productivity.
  • The more hours you work, the more you get done. In truth, taking breaks throughout the day, getting sufficient rest and sleep at night, can serve you better than long working hours.
  • The secret to productivity is to find the right system and stick with it. Every person and workday is different. We need to accept the curve balls that will always enter our day, forgive ourselves, and try again tomorrow.

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4-7-8 Breathing
Created by Dr. Andrew Weil this is breathing exercise to help you relax: 
  1. First, let your lips part. Exhaling completely through your mouth.
  2. Next, close your lips, inhaling silently through your nose as you count to 4.
  3. Then, for 7 seconds, hold your breath.
  4. Make another whooshing exhale from your mouth for 8 seconds.

This is one repetition. Try to do at least 4. 

1

IDEA

Nighttime snacks help you sleep

If you need a bedtime snack, try:

  • Half of a turkey sandwich
  • A small bowl of whole-grain, low-sugar cereal
  • Milk or yogurt
  • A banana

How it’s done: This one begins with a long, slow inhale, followed by a quick, powerful exhale generated from the lower belly. Once comfortable with the contraction, up the pace to one inhale-exhale (all through the nose) every 1 to 2 seconds, for a total of 10 breaths.

When it works best: When it’s time to wake up, warm up or start looking on the brighter side of things