Getting the most out of every day can be hard. Whether you work 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. Then the next thing you know, it’s the day before that report you were asked about 2 weeks ago is due. You started it 4 days ago, and yet you’re still staring at a blank screen and the only thing you’ve typed is a snappy heading that took you all morning to come up with. How did you get into this mess? Let’s work back from the start and find a way that you can avoid this situation from happening with a few little productivity hacks.
Your work space
“A tidy desk is a tidy mind” is something you’ve probably seen on one of those annoying motivational posters with some hip cool font, but. I’m not entirely sure it’s something I necessarily agree with – and according to recent studies, I have science on my side too. It’s important that there’s enough personal touches to make you feel comfortable. I mean, just take a look at Mark Zuckerberg’s desk:
However, don’t get too carried away with too many photos of that time you got super wasted with your BFF on that epic weekend in Bali, and you may want to rethink whether you need to have yet another Star Wars bobble head and definitely ease up on the “funny” themed desk calendars. These are all distractions. Also consider 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, near parts of the office with a lot of foot-traffic and definitely be nowhere near the kitchen.
Working from home can be even worse, because it’s not just an office desk that is your own space, but you have a whole house of potential distractions. When you tell people you work from home, there’s nearly always a mental image of you slouching on the couch in your pj’s, Macbook on your lap while you watch The View. Working from home is super difficult and will only really work for the most dedicated of workers. Having a dedicated work space 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. If you don’t have a whole room to dedicate to work, buy yourself a cheap IKEA desk and do your best to cut yourself off from the rest of the house. Turn off the TV, put the dog outside, stay out of the kitchen, keep off the couch and please please please put some pants on.
Some people like to listen to music to keep them motivated and this can be great for productivity. Even as I type this, I have a Spotify playlist going and I’m currently listening to … actually I’m not sure what this is? The music selection is not important, but it’s also vitally important. Don’t listen to anything that you can sing along to, save those nightclub bangers for another time and make sure that playlist of 80s #1 pop songs are gone. Now those obvious options are gone, what you’re left to with may require some trial and error. This may sound weird, but I find it best to put on music you can largely ignore. Maybe it’s some smooth jazz, or classical music or maybe even some psy-trance. Try and stick with music you don’t normally listen to, and the less lyrics the better. Or maybe you don’t need music at all? Spotify and even YouTube has 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 music that’s an easy distraction. Even if you don’t listen to any music whatsoever, wear headphones when you’re sitting at your desk. Not only will is muffle the outside noises, but there’ll be less chance that co-workers will be likely to interrupt you if they know you’re harder to distract. If you feel like someone is about to approach you, start frowning at your screen. People will think you’re really busy and concentrated.
There’s a lot you can do to minimise distractions at your computer. An quick easy way is to firstly create a new browser profile that is purely for work. Set up a whole new profile with new log-ins, bookmarks and browser history. This way, it makes it easier to not be distracted by having a read of your Twitter feed or wondering if anyone has upvoted your Reddit post (they haven’t).
Turning off desktop notifications and putting your phone on silent takes care of two pretty big distraction pieces 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 phone you have, most phones these days will have a kind of “do not disturb” mode that will not send you any notifications for a selected period of time.
Lists on lists on lists
“I have so much to do, I don’t even know where to start!” I hear you say. Normally here’s where you’d expect to find a bunch of app recommendations that all sync across all kind of platforms blah blah blah. Honestly, I find these apps are nothing more than just yet another distraction. For the best organisation tool you can find, nothing beats a pen and a notepad. I find having a list of exactly everything you need to do that day/week/month suddenly makes the workload feel instantly more manageable. I think that there’s something that gets your brain ticking over when you’re literally writing a list, forcing you to think about everything you write rather than just quickly typing one out, or punching letters on the screen of your phone. In fact, it’s not just me that thinks it – there’s plenty of studies to show this is actually precisely what happens. You’ll be able to work out there and then if it’s worth doing – then just cross out the ones that you’ve done, and then at the end of the day, have a draft list for things to do for tomorrow. If you want to go a step further, I even like having a calendar that I can see the whole month worth of dates – nothing fancy, just a print out of a calendar template that I downloaded with MS Word. No fancy pictures or crazy fonts, just plain black and white. I find that I am able to manage projects better if I can clearly see how much time I have to complete it.
Have a break, have a brand-name chocolate
Remember playing videos games and not being able to get passed that one hard level, so you stop playing it for a few days, but then when you come back to it, you beat that level on the first try? The same principle applies to your work. As important as it is to work efficiently, it’s also important to know when to take a break and help restart your brain. And it’s not just me saying this. There are many studies that show this is true. You can’t force yourself to be in that massive productivity groove, and most of the time forcing it can only make it worse. You may only need enough time to get up and make another coffee, or it may be a walk around the block to get some fresh air. As a very last resort, if you can’t get up from your desk then give yourself a couple of minutes and relax with the helps of sites like calm.com or donothingfor2minutes.com to help reset your brain and get it back to 100% capacity again.