Nobody expects work to be a barrel of laughs every day, but there's no need for your job to be miserable either. Like all things in life, it's about finding a balance and picking up good habits.
Below are just a few methods of increasing your productivity, boosting your focus, and reducing stress. All these habits, when practiced together, should help lighten the load and make your workday that bit better.
1. Stop Multi-tasking: Take Things One Step at a Time
Multitasking tricks us into thinking we're getting more work done than we really are, when what we're actually doing is making each task more difficult for ourselves while harming our mental health. According to Dr. Cynthia Kubu and Dr. Andre Machado, only 2.5% of people can actually multitask effectively.
The rest of us actually work less effectively when we multitask. Dr. Paul Hammerness says that multitasking can even result in the inability to retain information, making daily tasks far more difficult and time-consuming than they need to be. So get in the habit of taking things one task at a time. You'll be more likely to get things done on time, and your mind will stay sharper as a result.
2. Develop a Routine: Start Your Day the Right Way
How do you start your day? Do you give yourself enough time to eat a meal and think about what you need to get done? Or are you frequently rushing out the door on an empty stomach? How we start our day has a huge effect on how much we get done, and how good we feel.
Professor Michael McCullough states that routines can help reduce stress and save energy, by allowing us to cut out as many decision-making processes as possible. If you already have a plan to follow each morning, then you can focus more on the more important things.
3. Log Off: Go Offline to Boost Your Concentration
One of the biggest roadblocks when it comes to productivity and good mood is social media, and other online activity. Being connected 24/7 can have its draw-backs, and it could be worthwhile to go offline when trying to get stuff done.
According to one South Korean research paper by SungHyuk Yoon, Sang-su Lee, Jae-myung Lee, and KunPyo Lee, the frequency of mobile notifications can be a significant stress-trigger. Another study, led by psychiatrist Ethan Cross from the University of Michigan, suggests that social media use can make us miserable. With this in mind, limiting your use of the internet during the day could make a big impact on your overall happiness at work.
4. Ask For Help: Don't be Afraid to Delegate
If you're in a management role, you might frequently feel like you're swamped with work. Too much work can quickly lead to burnout, which according to Dr. Armita Golkar can actually effect your brain on a neurological level and worsen your coping strategies for stressful situations.
Therefore, it's essential that you delegate tasks to colleagues and ask for help when you need it. Delegating will allow you to focus on the most pressing tasks for the day, while safe in the knowledge that tasks of lower importance are still being taken care of.
5. Get Out: Leave the Office During Your Break
Sometimes there are days where you've got a million things to do, and working through your lunch break or eating at your desk seems like the most productive solution. Sadly, this isn't the case, and you could be doing yourself more harm than good.
According to a study from the Harvard Business Review, people who leave the office for lunch return to their desks feeling 40% more energized and productive than those who don't. Psychologist Frank J. Sileo echoes these sentiments, saying that lunch breaks outside of the office can help reduce stress and boost creativity.
6. Write it Out: Make Concise Lists of Your Tasks
It might seem a little simplistic, but the humble to-do list can go a long way towards improving your mood at work. A study by Professors E.J. Masicampo and R.F. Baumeister suggests that even just writing down the tasks that we need to do can free us from the anxiety of doing them.
Writing a to-do list every morning might even help you sleep at night, according to a study led by Dr. Michael K. Scullin. Be as detailed as possible, and break everything into small tasks. Once you have everything down on paper, it won't be circulating in your mind as much, leaving you room to relax.
7. Know the Difference: Concentrate on What's Important, Not What's Urgent
Something that trips a lot of us up during the work day is being able to recognize the difference between tasks that are important and tasks that are urgent. Learn to prioritize and know the difference. An urgent task isn't necessarily an important one, or one that works towards your overall goal.
When it comes to prioritizing, sticking with the task at hand is often better for your productivity and stress levels than being distracted by an email labeled "urgent". This advice isn't new either. President Eisenhower was inspired by Dr. J. Roscoe Miller's distinctions between urgent and important tasks when it came to developing time-management skills. Take a moment to assess the situation, and always tackle the important tasks first.
8. Work Smarter: Use Your Time Efficiently in the Morning
Understandably, our energy levels and productivity are in flux throughout the course of the day. To reduce stress and make the most of your day at work, it's important to use your most productive hours to your advantage.
According to Professor John Trougakos from the University of Toronto, our focus is at its strongest between 9 am and 11 am. On the other end of the spectrum, we're at our most sluggish between 2 pm and 3 pm. So be smart about how you schedule your day and where you focus your energy. To make the day easier for yourself, tackle your most pressing and important tasks early in the day when you have the best chance of getting them done.
9. Say No: Don't Burden Yourself With Extra Tasks
Saying no is essential, but can be hard to do. When we're approached with a request to take on another task, it can be difficult to turn it down, even if we're already struggling with our workload.
A helpful technique suggested by Professors Patrick and Henrik Hagtvedt is to stop saying "I can't" and start saying "I don't". Saying "I can't" can open up a discussion, and can result in you eventually giving in to extra work. Politely, but firmly, declining additional tasks when you're already busy is hugely important when trying to reduce stress and improve your mood at work.
10. Schedule Everything: Check Emails and Updates at Scheduled Times
We live in a highly-connected society, where many of us feel an obligation to be available at all times. However, this availability can be a distraction at best, and a major source of stress at worst.
A simple way to cut down on the stress or overwhelming feelings of keeping up with correspondence is to limit your inbox-checking to certain time slots throughout the day. According to Dr. Kostadin Kushlev, the ideal number of times to check your inbox throughout the day is three. See if you can limit your email time, and you might notice that you can work for longer without distraction and without as much stress.
11. Pause and Review: Review at the End of Each Day and Plan for Tomorrow
At the end of a long day at work, the last thing you probably want to do is to think about more work. However, taking just a few minutes at the end of your day to note what you achieved that day, and what you want to achieve tomorrow, can have a number of benefits.
Dr. Michael Woodward stresses the importance of reflection as a way of taking account of everything you experienced throughout the workday. This allows you to adequately prepare yourself for tomorrow's tasks, and also provides a clear endpoint to your workday, allowing you to transition into a relaxing, work-free evening.
12. Switch Off: Give Yourself Time to Forget About Work
Switching off from all thoughts concerning work at the end of the day is extremely important when it comes to maintaining good mental health. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done in this day and age.
A study led by Dr. Marianna Virtanen examined the connection between working overtime and the development of major depressive episodes. This doesn't just count for working overtime at the office, but for bringing work home with you too. Make sure that you have a couple of hours each evening where you're free to think about things other than work.
13. Switch It Up: Be Productive, Even When You're Procrastinating
We all procrastinate from time to time. Sadly, procrastination often becomes a vicious cycle, where we become more stressed by the tasks we have to do, and that stress hinders our ability to focus and complete those tasks.
Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest ones, and this is true for procrastination. Tell yourself that you're going to spend just 30 minutes on the task you've been putting off, and you'll find that you're more likely to get it done. This is thanks to a phenomenon known as the Zeigarnik Effect. The effect was observed by psychologist Bluma Zeugarnik, who noted that unfinished tasks occupy our minds more than those we haven't yet started.
So if you're finding it hard to start, give yourself a small and manageable time slot to work on the task you're dreading. Once you've started, you'll slip into the swing of things and it will be finished before you know it.
14. Stay Hydrated: Keep Your Mind Clear and Your Body Healthy
It's almost a cliché at this point, but keeping yourself hydrated really is essential to staying mentally and physically healthy. Especially in an office environment, where you might be tempted to drink caffeinated drinks which are likely to dehydrate you, it's super important to keep a bottle of water nearby.
Dr. Joshua Gowin explains that when we're dehydrated, it's more difficult for our brains to complete even simple tasks. This can lead to periods of brain fog, stress, and worsened productivity. To keep you ticking over while you work, make sure you make full use of your company's water cooler.
15. Believe in Your Work: If It Doesn't Matter to You, It Won't Make You Happy
Even our dream jobs can frustrate us at times, but you're unlikely to ever feel truly happy at work if you don't believe in what you're doing. In fact, actively hating your job and the work you do can even result in physical illness, according to Dr. Ichiro Kawachi. Another study, led by Dr. Nathan A. Bowling, suggests that poor job satisfaction can damage your immune system and increase your risk of depression.
If you see no value in the work you're doing, and gain no satisfaction from your tasks, you're not just less likely to be happy during the day - you're doing damage to your overall health. Reconnect with what led you to your line of work in the first place, and consider if it's the right choice for you and your health long-term.