Maintaining focus and energy across the workday can be a challenge, but experts have several common-sense tips for maximizing your productivity, Carolyn O'Hara writes in the Harvard Business Review.
1. Plan your workload. "There are a few optimal windows for doing your most creative and focused work," says Christopher Barnes, an assistant professor of management at the University of Washington's Foster School of Business. Detail-oriented work and strategic thinking should occur during high-energy windows, which for most people are in the mid-morning and late afternoon. Low-focus tasks "that are like muscle memory work"—such as clearing out your inbox—can fill in the gaps, says Carson Tate, author of a book on personal productivity.
Productivity—it's just a state of mind
2. Stay active. Short bursts of physical activity throughout the day can increase focus dramatically. Tate suggests taking short bouts of stretching and holding walking meetings and to stay alert. Barnes also notes that regular exercise outside the office will boost your baseline energy level.
3. Meditate. "Mindfulness exercises are a great way to engage in restoration," Barnes says. Research suggests just a few minutes of meditation can decrease stress and enhance focus. Even if you do not have time to meditate, Barnes says a few "deep belly breaths give us a lot more oxygen, which will give you a boost."
4. Avoid caffeine. While many workers rely on coffee to keep them going throughout the day, Barnes says the drink does not provide the benefits many think it does. "All it's doing is masking the effects of your low energy," he explains. Instead, steer clear of caffeine to reduce your tolerance and only use it when strategically necessary.
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5. Pump up (or down) the volume. "Music is a great way to rev up or calm down," Tate notes. What you listen to is less important than how it makes you feel. A fast-paced song may help some people get more energized, while laid-back music might help to keep you focused.
6. Power down. Constantly looking at electronic devices—like a smartphone—can harm the quality of your sleep. The blue light inhibits the production of a sleep-inducing hormone, writes O'Hara. "The worst thing you can do is use your phone in bed," Barnes warns.
7. Sleep more. "If you want to excel at anything, go to bed," Tate says. While many people think they can get by on five or six hours of sleep, research suggests otherwise, Barnes notes. For instance, a 2009 study found people who were chronically sleep deprived experienced a dip in cognitive performance equivalent to being legally drunk (O'Hara, Harvard Business Review, 7/1).
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