5 Easy Productivity Hacks

To create a distraction-free working environment (even from home)

Updated June 2020: Where remote working and avoiding at-home distractions can be harder than ever…

Getting the most out of every workday can be hard. Whether you work remotely from the spare room at home, or a busy corporate open-plan office, creating a space where you can just get on with things isn’t always easy to do.

Let’s explore some ways to avoid getting stuck in a quagmire or distractions and avoid the more unproductive workdays.

These are our productivity hacks for distraction-free working…

1 – Optimising your work space

“A tidy desk is a tidy mind”

– someone with too much time on their hands

You’ve probably seen on one of those annoying motivational posters with some hip cool font and this slogan. We don’t necessarily agree with this sentiment – and according to some studies, it is important that there are enough personal touches in your workspace to make you feel comfortable.

Just take a look at Mark Zuckerberg’s desk:

Mark Zuckerberg's desk
Mark may be a little too comfortable, and what is in that bag???
  • Rethink clutter: Don’t get too carried away with too many photos or Star Wars bobbleheads Definitely ease up on the “funny” themed desk calendars. These are all distractions.
  • Consider desk position: Think about where your desk is positioned in the office, and if possible, change desk spots to one that is in the most boring place possible. Don’t sit near the front door, or in parts of the office with a lot of foot traffic. Definitely be nowhere near the kitchen.

Working from home can be even worse. It’s not just an office desk that is your controllable space. Instead, you have a whole house of potential distractions. There is a reason the cliche image of working from home is of someone slouched on the couch in their pyjamas. Some strategies to set yourself up for working from home success are:

  • Have a dedicated workspace: This is vital for productivity at home. If you’re lucky to have a whole room you can dedicate to work, then it’s perfect. Turn that room into a proper office and make it not look like the rest of your home.
  • Avoid “avoidable” distractions: Turn off the TV, put the dog outside and stay out of the kitchen until your coffee or lunch break.
  • Put some pants on: Your colleagues don’t need to see that in your team zoom meeting.

2 – Motivation from Music

Some people like to listen to music to keep them motivated and this can be great for productivity. Some tips for selecting productive sounds are:

  • No singalongs: Avoid listening to tunes that you can sing along to. Save your nightclub bangers for another time and make sure that playlist of 80s #1 pop songs isn’t in the queue.
  • Ignorable melodies: This may sound weird, but try to put on music you can largely ignore. Maybe it’s time to try listening to some smooth jazz, classical music or maybe even some psytrance. A good rule of thumb is the fewer lyrics, the better.
  • Not even music: Spotify and YouTube have some great playlists that are just white noise.

It’s all about finding that audible balance of not working in total silence versus not listening to distractions. Even if you don’t listen to any music whatsoever, try wearing headphones when sitting at your desk. This will muffle outside noises, and there are fewer chances that co-workers will interrupt you.

Pro tip: If you feel like someone is about to approach you, start frowning at your screen. People will think you’re really busy and concentrated.

Avoiding distractions at your desk
“I wish I’d worn my headphones so Gary would stop telling me about his weekend”
This lady, probably.

3 – Avoiding distractions on your computer

There is a lot you can do to minimise distractions from popping up on your screen.

A new browser profile: It’s quick and easy to create a new browser profile that is purely for work. You can get set up with new log-ins, bookmarks and browser history. This makes it far easier to avoid distractions and harder to just casually open a social media channel to mindlessly scroll.

Turn off desktop notifications: (and put your phone on silent) If you’re using Slack, set yourself as “away” to avoid too many needless distractions and mute non-work-related channels you have open. Depending on what kind of laptop and phone you have, most will have a “do not disturb” mode that will not send you any notifications for a selected period of time. Here’s how to set do not disturb on your mac.

4 – Ease your workload anxiety with lists

“I have so much to do, I don’t even know where to start!”

– This person could use a list.

This may be a controversial tip, but the best organisation tool you can find to avoid distractions is a pen and a notepad. Don’t @ me.

Write a list of exactly everything you need to do that day/week/month and feel your workload become instantly more manageable. Forcing you to think about everything as you write rather than just quickly typing tasks into an app, or punching letters into a phone screen is good for your brain chemistry and memory. There are plenty of studies to back this up.

to do list. strategies for productivity
That is a sweet (and neat) looking list.

5 – Have a break, have a brand-name chocolate

Run out of motivation? Feeling cooped up and restless? This analogy may help:

If you’re a fan of video games, you’ll know what it feels like to not be able to get past that one hard level. No matter how many times you die trying. If you stop playing for a few days and come back to it, you’ll often beat that level on the first try.

The same analogy can apply to your work. As important as it is to work efficiently, it’s also important to know when to take a break.

Take a moment to reset and try these:

  • Get up and make a coffee
  • If you’ve had too many coffees, exchange that for water
  • Take 5-10 deep breaths away from your desk
  • Go walk around the block to get some fresh air and vitamin D
  • Give yourself a couple of minutes to relax with the helps of apps like calm.com or donothingfor2minutes.com
  • Phone a friend or relative for 10-15 mins

It’s important to reset your brain to give it the chance to work at 100% capacity again.

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