No matter how much you love your work, it can still be difficult to direct 100% of your attention toward your to-do list. And there’s no one-tip-fits-all solution to becoming more productive. That’s why we talked to experts from new-age medicine to leadership coaches and nutritionists, to get advice on how to be more productive. Experiment with which method works best for you.
Perform microbursts of physical activity
You already know the importance of frequent fitness for a slew of personal benefits—from maintaining your weight to boosting your creativity. It probably comes as no surprise exercise can do wonders for your attention span, too. But what might rattle your brain is how even mini, short-lived bursts of energy can make an impact, according to senior performance coach and behavior scientist at Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, Raphaela O’Day. Whether you schedule a brisk walking meeting or walk up and down a flight of stairs between conference calls, she explains you’ll see an improved mood, lower levels of fatigue, and even fewer cravings for bad-for-you-food.
Getting away from back-to-back hours of screen time gives you a fresh perspective when you return to your desk, especially as your heart rate settles down and your typing increases.
Manifest a more productive attitude
If you ask visionary, energy and crystal healer Hanson Tse, most of our existence happens in our unconscious mind. Or in other words, when we feel emotionally deflated or unmotivated, the root cause is usually beyond our level of awareness and stems from something much deeper. To unravel and unwind ourselves, developing a manifestation practice can be a powerful tool toward productivity. Before you doubt the magic of the universe, Tse says it is easier than you think to improve your focus. Start by setting an intention before bed that you will be productive the next day, and then actually visualize what that looks like. “Feel what that feels like and enjoy the feeling. Make a note to have your subconscious align itself to this while you’re sleeping. Call on your creativity to rise to the occasion,” he says.
Then, when you wake up, Tse says to turn your thoughts toward your intention from the moment you rise. “See and feel yourself accomplishing. Take note of your mental clarity and see how it compares to your normal state. Perhaps this can be your new normal,” he adds.
Don’t skip meals
When you’re hopping across the country (or the Atlantic), managing a household and making it to a spin class, it is easy to forget to eat three square meals and a snack. Though you shouldn’t guilt yourself too much, director of nutrition at Virtual Health Partners Alyssa Tucci says busy professional are notorious for skipping meals–you should try to cut it out ASAP. And before you start making excuses, Tucci says taking those few moments to cook (or buy), chew, and go will make a difference in your productivity. “When we skip meals our blood sugar drops, which saps our energy and can make it hard to concentrate. Keeping your body and your brain well fueled will help you maximize your productivity,” she explains.
If you don’t exactly have time to whip up a Julia Child-style gourmet meal, Tucci says to turn your focus on protein- and fiber-rich foods that will leave you satisfied throughout the day. She suggests hard-boiled eggs, individual yogurt cups, fresh fruit, nuts, and string cheese as excellent backups when hunger threatens your focus.
Get enough sleep
Staying up to date on everything streaming on Netflix and Hulu will give you something to talk about, but your efficiency is going to take a hit. As psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente Don Mordecai explains, when we lack the Zzzs, you will not only feel moody and down, but it could cause you to make mistakes at work, too. He explains the average adult needs between seven and eight hours of shut-eye nightly, and the time you go to bed matters. Much like maintaining a routine with exercise and healthy eating, keeping to a lights-off schedule matters, too. To reap more productivity tomorrow, turn off those iPhones, laptops, and iPads a full hour before tucking yourself in to sleep more soundly.
Develop a way to prioritize
You probably already know one of the most effective ways to complete that ever-growing “I gotta finish this list” is to prioritize. But certified leadership, personal development and career coach Jane Scudder explains, not everyone can easily determine what is most urgent or important. She suggests developing a fluid rating system where you can label what is a “must” and what can put off until tomorrow and still keep you on track for success. This will inevitably shift as the day continues–and the emails pile on–so giving yourself some buffer room will work in your favor. “I write a lot of lists, but with just three to five ‘must’ tasks, I can remember each. Sometimes throughout the day I’ll check in on those items. If it’s noon and I haven’t tackled my top three to five then I know I need to recalibrate my day,” she says. “The trick here is to play around and find a system that works for you, then use it to ensure you’re focusing on what matters most to you.”
After what felt like 10 hours but was just a strenuous nose-to-the-grind two, you finally completed your expenses for the month. Now, you need to turn to the deliverables your boss asked for by end of day. Those brief minutes between one ask and another, as you transition your attention, are a super important part of productivity. according to success coach Colene Elridge. To effectively move between projects, she recommends taking a pause to acknowledge your progress. “It tells your brain to move on, it closes out one thing and opens the other thing, and it gives you a moment to acknowledge what you’ve completed,” she continues. “It doesn’t have to be long or elaborate, but if you get in the habit of taking five deep breaths before you respond to the next email, or start a new project, or have a conversation, not only will it be more productive, it will probably be more intentional as well.”
Your grandma may raise an eyebrow and shake a finger at you when you smack away at gum, but this chewing habit could increase your productivity, according to registered dietitian Keith-Thomas Ayoob. Studies have proven gum has the ability to enhance attention, and promote well-being and work performance. It’s a ritual Ayoob personally swears by: “It can keep me from thinking about the snacking, which can be a distraction to getting things done, and it seems to get me into a zone,” he adds. His go-to? Sugarless bubble gum, but says cinnamon holds flavor for long-winded, complicated tasks.
Do what is important to you in the morning
Before the day gets away from you, certified personal trainer Jill McKay says to prioritize your morning to do something that brings you joy. Whether that is working out, meditating, reading, or sneaking in a snuggle with your partner or child, do what feels right when the alarm clock goes off. For McKay, that’s sometimes exercising, and other times it is more family-oriented moments: “Simply going over my kids’ homework, eating breakfast together, or having a conversation around the table before we all start the day heading in various directions. Make time for yourself so your day is not only filled with giving back to others. Fill your tank, and you can flow into others,” she says.
Shut your alerts off
Motivational fitness expert and speaker Michele Gordon has a confession to make that you likely relate to: She’s addicted to her phone. When she doesn’t have it, she feels equal parts fear and freedom. Even so, if she wants to complete a project, she takes some much-needed space away from her gadget. “When my phone is next to me, I check it 3,000 times a minute: text messages, news alerts, Facebook updates, phone calls–all of it,” she says. “If you need to get important work done, mute your phone alerts. You can also do this on your computer. The constant alerts and social media updates crush your productivity. This will help you to accomplish important projects at work because you’ll be more focused,” she says.