It turns out that sitting in an office chair for nearly nine hours a day is relatively easy. Being productive during this time is not. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most of us average 8.8 hours clocked in at the office. However, the Average Joe is only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes of that time. The rest is spent checking social media, reading the news, grabbing a cup of coffee, you name it.
If only we could take a magic productivity pill to make all of the distractions go away and make us supercharged efficiency machines. Unfortunately, something like that doesn’t exist. We offer the next best thing: actionable ways to increase your productivity at work (or your home office!).
Harness Light Therapy
Because of human evolution, our bodies take their cues from the amount of light we are exposed to. When it’s sunny, we’re meant to be up and at it. When it’s dark, it’s sleep time. This system worked very well until we discovered artificial light. It completely throws our bodies out of whack.
Ever wondered why you can’t get to sleep if you’ve been watching TV right before bed? Or why it’s harder to get going during the winter months? Our bodies are incredibly sensitive to light. And when it comes to productivity, light therapy can have an astounding effect on our energy levels.
The solution can be as simple as using brighter lights in your workspace, and moving to a dimmed area of the home as you get to the evening. For example, using bright LED lighting in your home office will tell your body “it’s GO time!”. You can also purchase lamps, which are designed to mimic the patterns of the sun, giving your body even greater signal boosts.
Practice Deep Work
Most cubicle dwellers (or open office, perhaps more accurate for the modern age!) tend to think that looking and feeling productive is superior to, well, actually being productive. We try and multitask, we get to work early (but check the news instead of actually doing anything), take phone calls, attend meetings, and get pretty much zero work done.
Cal Newport’s book on deep work turns the idea of multitasking on its head. He goes into the actual science behind productivity and concludes that getting knee-deep into our work gets stuff done. Switching between tasks or using the famous Pomodoro technique won’t help much.
In practice, this means focusing on a single task in significant bouts of deep concentration. For most people working in an office, it’s difficult to go extreme and shut ourselves off for weeks at a time (something that Bill Gates does). The alternative? Working in 90-minute chunks and attacking a problem or to-do item without breaks. No coffee, no chats, no emails, and definitely no Facebook or Instagram.
Technology can distract, but if used properly can lead the smart worker to supercharged productivity. It’s important to leverage tools, not be distracted by them. Remember, you’re trying to streamline your efficiency here. These are some of our favorites:
- Evernote. The all-in-one note taker, meeting recorder, to-do list, document organizer, you name it. Take Evernote everywhere you go and you won’t need anything else.
- IFTTT. An absolute godsend. If This Then That is a nifty little tool that allows you to put together ‘recipes’ for a wide selection of services and apps. Think of it as Excel Macros, except for everything you do.
- Toggl. You’ve been at your desk for eight hours straight. But what have you done with it? Toggl helps you track your time, giving you an idea of how much time you’ve spent getting the important stuff done.
- Trello. For those of us who are visual, Trello is the best to-do tracker around.
- SaneBox. Tired of waking up to hundreds of emails in your inbox? SaneBox helps you achieve digital sanity. Think of it like an email decluttering machine.
Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
Considering the exceptional times we’re going through (note: in case you’re reading this post-coronavirus!), we want to leave you with this message: don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s okay to not be producing on all cylinders, and it’s perfectly understandable to struggle in the midst of a global pandemic. Even on an ‘average’ day, let yourself have a hard time without feeling guilty. .
Our advice? Baby steps. Put your work into perspective, do your best to follow our productivity guide, and take it one day at a time. It may take time, but you’ll get there before you know it.