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Getting it done
25 Ways to Turn a Low-Energy Slump Into the Most Productive Part of Your Day
Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash
Heather K Adams image
Heather K Adams, Storyteller

No matter what your job is, being more productive at work is everybody's goal. But some days, stress and the simple volume of things to do can be overwhelming. That's why we've created this list of simple and effective productivity hacks to get you back on track, no matter how busy you are.

What is a productivity hack?

Hacks are tips and tricks that help you navigate life just a little bit easier. Using productivity hacks at the office will help you work smarter, without necessarily having to work harder. 

How do you hack productivity?

Being productive is all about getting organized and being consistent. Using this list of productivity hacks will set you up for success, all day, every day.

1. Embrace the power of the to-do list.

The most essential productivity hack is to write down everything you need to get done. The to-do list is your friend. The very act of physically writing out your tasks automatically helps you begin to organize your day. And writing things down relieves you of the stress of trying to remember every little thing.

2. Practice prioritizing.

From responding to emails to meeting project deadlines, organize your tasks in order of what needs to be seen and done soonest. That way you don't lose sight of an upcoming due date. You can also make a separate list of items organized by how much, or how little time you'll need to complete them. 

Knocking out the quickest and easiest tasks first can keep your list from ballooning to an intimidating length; some call this the snowball effect. By accomplishing a small item on your to-do list, you have the energy and motivation to hit the next and the next. On the other hand, some experts swear tackling the hardest tast of the day, first is the way to go. It's up to you to find what works best.  And organizing your day around the most essential tasks, such as meetings, helps you schedule your time more efficiently.

3. Create a calendar.

Once you have your list prioritized, hit the calendar to schedule out longer-term deadlines that don't necessarily need to be seen to today, but do need to be on your radar. This extended to-do list helps you prioritize your tasks, and your time, in the days and weeks to come. Make a point to check your calendar every morning, as you make the day's to-do list, so you know when to start working on that presentation, or preparing for that big meeting.

4. Create a schedule for the day.

Think of this as to-do list 2.0: once you have your prioritized list of tasks for the day (and future tasks on the calendar), create an actual schedule or time table. This can be as loose ("morning: prepare for presentation") or detailed ("9:30-10 a.m. Deal with  e-mail") as you like. 

The point is that scheduling out your time like this creates an actionable plan for the day. If your day promises to be extra busy, this will keep you on track, and prevent you from feeling like you're turning in circles.

5. Start, and end, with a clean desk.

An organized work area is a prime productivity hack. After all, some say a cluttered desk is a cluttered mind. Take some time to clean out your drawers, too. Get rid of everything you don't need, and tidy up everything you do. 

You'll feel better, and you'll always be able to find your favorite pen. And setting your desk to rights at the end of the day not only gives you a clean workspace in the morning, but can be a nice ritual to transition you out of work mode before you leave.

6. Go a little zen with your workspace.

This is easiest to do if you work from home, of course, where you can light all the incense you want. Yet even in an office, you can enhance your work zone in ways that make you feel creative and calm. Try an office-friendly plant or a soothing picture to look at. Depending on your office environment, you might even be able to do a little feng shui-like rearranging (just be sure to get the okay, first).

7. Get better furniture.

Need a desk with more drawers, or another filing cabinet? Maybe your desk is wedged into a dim corner, and you like to work with a lot of light. Ask for a lamp! Most offices have storage rooms with extra furniture, and you simply can't overestimate the value of a more comfortable desk chair. Explain your needs to your boss, and ask to check out that storage area for something that works better for you. If it's in the budget, you might even end up with a brand new piece of office furniture too.

8. Hack your brain.

What does your most productive self look like? Do you hunker down at your desk for four hours straight, or jump from task to task? Whatever rhythm you prefer, factor that workstyle into your daily schedule, leaving yourself either large blocks of time to devote (with breaks scheduled in, of course), or divvied up into smaller portions. 

Working at a pace that's most comfortable to you will have you feeling both more relaxed and more productive. 

9. Routines are friends.

It's not enough to just get organized. The key to becoming truly more productive is staying organized. Keep that desk clean, keep the inbox neat. How? By dedicating the same amount of time every day, or the same day every week, to specific tasks. It's hard for your email to get out of hand if you take ten minutes at the start, or end, or every day specifically just to weed through, respond to and prioritize your communications.

10. Minimize distractions: put down the cell phone and get off of social media.

A key productivity hack is finding ways to help yourself focus. Removing the distraction of the cell phone from your immediate work area is a no-brainer, right? Right, and yet, oh so hard to remember. We're all guilty of putting Facebook on the same priority level of that email we need to respond to, aren't we? Instead, save social media scrolling as a treat to look forward to on a break. That way you've got something to look forward to once you knock out those emails, and you can really focus on the job in front of you.

11. Look up: manage screen time.

Eye strain is a risk we all run, now that we spend so much of our days staring at screens. Give your eyes a break every half hour or so by looking up from your screen for a minute or two. Productivity is all about momentum, and momentum is all about pacing yourself. Frying your eyes by forcing them to stay on-screen all morning will leave you worn out and unable to focus by afternoon.

12. Don't forget break time.

No matter how much work you have to do, there is immeasurable value in taking 10 to 15 minute breaks at regular intervals. Get up, take a lap around the office, get a drink. (Remember to change up coffee for water every once and a while!) You might think taking time away from work will break your train of thought, but when you come back to your desk, you'll find yourself refreshed and better able to focus.

13. Eat.

Breakfast is essential, obviously. And lunch is definitely important. But don't forget snack time, too. In fact, keep a desk drawer stocked with snacks that taste good and also make you feel good. Because it's not just your body that needs the energy to keep going. Your brain needs that fuel too.

14. Streamline your meetings.

Aim for shorter, more efficient meetings by applying the same productivity hacks you use at your desk: make a to-do list, prioritize tasks and create a manageable, actionable schedule. Whether it's an in-person meeting or one of the dreaded endless conference calls, don't be afraid to be the taskmaster that keeps everyone focused and on-point. After all, the sooner the meeting is over, the sooner everyone can get back to work.

15. Manage your workload.

One key to staying productive, and not getting bogged down, is recognizing when you simply can't take on any more work. In order to work at your most efficient level, sometimes you have to just say no to starting another project, or to someone who asks you to help them with theirs.

16. Manage stress levels.

Yes, you have a lot to do, but focusing on one task at a time can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed by stress. Taken as a whole, the length of that to-do list can feel intimidating. Break each task into manageable steps and you'll have more of a sense of your progress. Every small step forward will feel like a success.

17. Remember: you can only do so much in one day.

In other words, relax! Yes, the list is long and the day is short. And sure, you might not knock out the whole list on Monday. But because you've prioritized your tasks and scheduled out your time efficiently, you will be getting the most important things seen to first. And tomorrow really is another day.

18. Go outside.

Make sure at least one of your breaks, preferably your longer break for lunch, gets you out into fresh air. Keep an umbrella and a jacket at the office and brave the rain or cold. Taking a walk around the block, spending some time at a park, are good for both your body and your brain, no matter what the weather.

19. Check in with your work friends.

There really is value in the water cooler break, or having a pal to take that walk with. A bit of socializing at work gives us all a chance to complain about our workload, of course, and then move on to talk about that movie everyone's seen, or what we did over the weekend. It's a stress relief valve for you and your coworkers alike.

20. Stretch!

Chair yoga is totally a thing. A pause to take a few deep breaths, to stretch out the kinks in your back and your arms, gives you just the right amount of breathing space to recharge, right there at your desk. Shorter than an actual break, taking time to stretch still gives you a mini-mental boost. Bonus? It's also a chance to rest your eyes, so you can beat eye strain too. See? Two hacks in one. You're already being more productive.

21. Pause and review.

A great thing to add to your daily routine is a progress check. Take a minute to evaluate what you've done so far today. Physically cross things off that to-do list, and mentally give yourself a pat on the back. Some days you can feel as if you're climbing a mountain. Looking back to see how far you've come can be just the sweet little ego boost you need to keep going.

22. Stop working.

At the end of the day, clock out. Sure, you could push yourself to stay another hour, or even two. But do that all week, every week? Total zombie. Pushing yourself too hard doesn't do anyone any good. You'll burn out, and your work (and your health) will suffer. Knowing you have a definite end time every day will also help you stay focused on actually finishing things on your list, rather than procrastinating.

23. Keep work at work.

Like clocking out, remember that you also have to clock in. This means that there is time at the beginning of every day, before the commute and emails and the return of the to-dos, that belongs just to you. Maybe you use it to snooze, maybe you hit a sunrise yoga class. However you choose to spend that time, make sure it doesn't involve work. That way, when you actually do clock in, you'll be more centered and ready to go.

24. Use productivity hacks at home, too.

Feeling productive at home carries over into your work hours. Not having a pile of dishes to do, or laundry to fold, when you get home will help you focus on the tasks in front of you. Because nobody likes the idea of coming home to yet more work to do. Applying these tips to become more organized on the home front will keep you from feeling chained to a never-ending list of domestic chores.

25. Get quality sleep.

All self care is essential, but good sleep is queen supreme. And while we can't all get more sleep, we can all start practicing ways to help us get better sleep. This means putting your phone down at least thirty minutes before bed (come on, you saw that one coming), and creating a calming nighttime routine. Routines are friends, after all. Dim the lights, grab a good book and yeah, go ahead and light that incense if you love it. You work hard. your down-time game should be just as strong.

Productivity hacks for the whole office

The key to productivity is being organized and consistent, so you can work more efficiently and get more done. And while you've got these hacks in your back pocket to use while knocking out your personal to-do list, what about the rest of the office?

Getting everyone organized and on the same page can be a game-changer for any office. So why not organize an office-wide desk cleaning event? You can donate unused pens and other supplies to a local school. Or do a little research about the best apps or programs for project calendars, so everyone can use, and communicate via, the same one.  

Create a list of ideas for office-specific productivity hacks to share with your coworkers, your boss. You might end up leveling up everyone's workflow.

Final thought

We all wish the work genie would come along and wave her wand in our direction, answering our emails and organizing our folders all in one go. But being more productive isn't magic. In fact, getting organized and staying focused? It's totally hack-able.

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Heather Adams is a writer & the creator of the speckled note. Say hi at artlifestory@gmail.com.

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