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5 Ways To Get More Productive Today

Want to get more done in the next hour? Take 5 minutes to read this.

There might be some productivity-minded part of you that scoffs at the whole idea of reading about how to be more productive. After all, why would you read about doing when you could do?

Well, you can tell that part of you to stop being so addicted to being right and acknowledge that you can work smarter, not just harder. And when you can tap a multitude of perspectives of how to work smarter, you can get extremely productive.

Alice Boyes at Psychology Today has done that by gathering the productivity insights of a range of psychologists. Let's unpack a few here.

Walk away

"Without realizing it, I spent years trying to be productive in the most unproductive way," says Susan Newman, "sitting at a desk for hours."

Now she de-tethers by getting away from the office. She finds that moving around—be it to grab a cup of coffee, water a planet, or take a walk, makes her sharper. While it runs against what Anne Marie Slaughter calls "time macho" culture—"a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you"—more and more research shows that if you spend less time doing, you can get more done.

Close your door

L. Kevin Chapman starts his productivity quest by closing the door to his office. While he likes to welcome colleagues and students, closing the door ensures that he stays on task. The next move: scheduling the tasks he wants to avoid. If he puts the put-off tasks into his schedule (and sets reminders on all devices), he is sure to tackle what needs to get done. "Action precedes motivation," Chapman says. "These small steps facilitate more action and lead to me feeling accomplished." And apps can help, too.

Get some exercise

"Plan exercise breaks," advises Craig Malkin. "Stress leads to binary (either/or) thinking, distractability, and procrastination."

We know at least one company that's putting that into practice. Why does stress relief help you get better work done? You'll stay sharp, Malkin says, and you'll boost your capacity for creative problem solving. That's because creativity is a mammalian trait—and the protective parts of you won't let it come out unless you feel safe.

Condition yourself

We've discussed how where you work affects the work that you do, like how if you're cold, you're being physically distracted from the task at hand. Similarly, what you associate with your environment affects what happens there.

That's why you should work in a place you associate with work, says Amy Przeworski, like an office building, library, cafe, or maybe a coworking space. If you need to keep your attention on something for a long time, it's going to be hard to do so in a place you usually relax in—ever notice how you can't work as well in the family room?

"Your surroundings set the stage for your focus," Przeworski says. "If they are associated with work, you will focus on work."

The space can also make your work a pleasure—that's how Susan Cain sidesteps writer's block. The Quiet author trained herself to love writing by "always writing in a beautiful cafe while drinking a latte and eating a chocolate chip cookie"—that's one sweet way to love your work.

The biggest motivator? Passion

Kristine Anthis says that while you can't always decide what projects you take on, when you do—like your college major or if your boss lets you select from a range of assignments—go after what you're most interested in. It worked for her.

"Being passionate about what I do means that juggling the demands of teaching, writing, mentoring students, conducting research, and serving on committees is not necessarily always effortless," she says, "but certainly gratifying."

It's also how you know if you have a career—or just a job.

15 Psychology Experts Share Their Best Productivity Tips

Drake Baer covers leadership for Fast Company. You can follow him on Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user botterli]

Add New Comment


  • SunriseGuidedVisual

    And sitting quietly, eyes closed, for 10 minutes, counting your breaths really clears the mind.  Thanks!

  • Dr. Marc Tinsley

    Getting away from your desk and taking exercise breaks seem like they would decrease productivity, but these are two of the best kept secrets about productivity.

    Taking breaks allows you to recharge and refresh. When you come back, you get more done than if you had stayed at your desk.

    And exercise helps even more. We are designed to move and by moving more we increase our energy and our focus.

  • BEB

    A simple thing to do:  do not eat lunch at your desk; get out, get out and get out.  Every boss should demand this of h/h employee because it destresses you.  Multi-tasking is multi-stupid. 

  • Amber King

    Passion is the most important. If there is no passion, you do not give 100%. It is important that you are passionate of your job in order to give more than what is expected.

  • blip_25

    Awesome typo "water a planet"! That may come in useful in the future. Keep up the positive thinking!

    Landscape architect observer..........

  • Jane Bromley

    Hi Drake. I really liked your post. Thank you. 
    I particularly liked the fact that there were only 5 points. Excellent ones too. 
    I have recently learnt that that stopping every 50 minutes makes me far more effective- just as you say. The passion one is so effective too- though I find it makes it harder to do the first one!! I get carried away.....

    In the few percent of companies that are growing fast and profitably year after year (that we research with passion) the things that rocket company wide productivity are:
    1. the people are inspired about where the business is headed (which plays so well to the passion you mention and 
    2. The 3-4 key ways (strategies) that will be used to get there that provide that wonderful feeling of confidence
    3. Focus so that they see they are making progress and feel the momentum building

    In my experience this works on a personal level too. What do you think? 

    All the very best. Jane

  • Kevin Cunningham

    Good advice. Thanks Drake and Paul.  Some things I already knew but needed the reminder.  I am changing workplaces, so the need to make good choices in setting up a new work environment is critical.  Your advice was very timely.

  • Paul H. Burton

    Drake: Here's a few more (lifted from my book Focus Pocus: 24 Tips for Regaining Command of Your Day - Amazon):

    1. Turn New Message Alerts Off/Check Mail Periodically (every 15-30 minutes): The human body responds to any type of alert with the Startle Response. It's an instinctual response that we can't help. It causes us to de-focus and that directly reduces productivity. Turning off message alerts (e-mail, texts, etc.) avoids those distractions. Just check for new messages periodically - even every 15 minutes. At least it's on your schedule and not the rest of the worlds.

    2. Face Away From Traffic: Many people face the traffic moving back and forth in front of their workspace. Open door policies "frown" on closed doors. So, to eliminate the effects of peripheral vision (120 degrees in all directions - also an instinctual response), turn yourself ninety degrees away from the door so (a) you don't look up or notice people walking by and (b) when they do walk by they see you're working.

    3. Conduct Regular Core Dumps: The noisiest place on earth is between our ears. Yet, that's where we need it to be the quietest, so we can focus and be productive. To reduce some of that internal noise, regularly write down all the little things you're trying to track mentally. Once these things are written down, you only need to remember one thing - where's the list! Oh, and your mind will quiet down nicely too.

    Hope those help your readers.