Burning the candle at both ends? You’re stressed, and you may feel like you’re falling behind in life and work. It just seems like the responsibilities never end. You’ve got to make sure the kids do their homework instead of sneaking off to play Fallout. Your boss emails you at 8:00 p.m., and there’s that homeowners association meeting tonight. (Well, someone had to be HOA treasurer.) And when was the last time you made it to a yoga class?
If it makes you feel better, you’re not alone. The American Psychological Association found that 77% of Americans experience physical symptoms caused by stress and 33% of Americans report they are living with extreme stress.
Is there a way to snuff out the wick earlier so your candle doesn’t turn into a puddle of exhausted wax at the end of each day? Thankfully, the answer is yes. You can be more productive, free up time in your day, and finally make that yoga class. Here are five creative examples of productivity to try.
1. Eat your veggies first.
Moms and dads across the nation who tell their children to eat their vegetables first are on to something. There really is merit in getting your least favorite items out of the way. As you start your day, take a look at all the tasks you have to accomplish and tackle the toughest one first.
Many people report being their most productive in mid- to late morning. This is the time when you still feel fresh, energized, and motivated. You also haven’t been bogged down by too many interruptions yet, and your self-control reserves are still strong. That makes this the perfect time to get those veggies off your plate. Finishing your toughest project of the day first can also give you an early victory, which can put wind in your sails to knock out the rest of your to-do list.
How to Do It
In the morning, make a list of all your major tasks of the day. It may also be helpful to include weekly and monthly goals, and to break those down into early tasks. Pick the task that requires the most focus, concentration, and discipline — known as “deep work” — and then get it done.
2. Close your door and turn off your phone.
Today’s workplaces are all about connection, communication, and open doors. This is great for building a strong, collaborative team, but there’s a significant drawback. It also attracts hordes of distractions. Distractions sneakily steal bits and pieces of your time that add up significantly.
Researchers at the University of California, Irvine found that a typical office worker was interrupted or switched tasks almost every three minutes. Keep in mind that it can take more than 20 minutes to get back into the “flow” state where you are at your most productive.
How much do interruptions cost you? Probably more than you think, which is why it’s important to close your door, set boundaries with your colleagues, and give yourself concrete chunks of time in which to perform deep work.
How to Do It
Talk to your boss, co-workers, clients, and family and let them know that you will be blocking off time for deep work each day. Schedule that time in your calendar and turn off all distractions. Don’t check your email. Power down your phone. Close your door. Get to work.
Consider using the popular Pomodoro Technique, whereby you work on a specific task for 25 minutes and then give yourself a five-minute break. Perform three to four Pomodoros a day, and your productivity is bound to skyrocket.
3. Practice the art of delegation.
You are a high achiever. You like things done right, and you aren’t afraid to roll up your sleeves and take on a project yourself to make sure it meets your standards. This is a great attitude, and it makes you a beloved employee. But too much responsibility and too little help can drive you into the ground. One of the biggest secrets of super productive individuals? They know how to say no. They also delegate or hire out the things they can’t truly excel at.
How to Do It
In the office, don’t be afraid to say no when your boss asks you to take on a new project. Explain exactly what you already have on your to-do list and why taking on another assignment can hinder overall results. If you are in a management position, give the employees below you the opportunity to learn and grow by delegating your work. Challenge them to rise to the occasion while you work on the projects that require your experience and expertise.
And don’t be afraid to outsource. That includes projects in the office and the domestic sphere. If you feel like you don’t spend enough time with your kids, hire a housecleaner or buy a meal-prep service to save trips to the grocery store. You owe it to yourself, your company, and your family to spend your time where you can have the greatest impact.
4. Sleep on the job.
This is no joke. Catching a little shut-eye during the day can seriously boost your productivity. According to the Sleep Foundation, “Naps can restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents.” In fact, a study by NASA found that pilots who enjoyed a 40-minute snooze improved their performance by 34% and their alertness by 100%. Some of the world’s top companies take this research seriously, which is why Google, Ben & Jerry’s, Cisco, and Zappos allow their employees to enjoy a nap on company time.
If you can’t quite convince your boss to allow you to take a nap under your desk after lunch, then at least make it a priority to give yourself mental and physical breaks throughout the day. Taking short breaks can:
- Prevent decision fatigue
- Restore motivation
- Increase productivity and creativity
- Help consolidate memories and improve learning
How to Do It
Sit down with your boss and ask about the possibility of taking a short power nap at work. Come prepared with research on the benefits of napping and a suggestion for a quiet, private area in the building where naps can occur. It also doesn’t hurt to let your boss know that Google does it, too.
If the naps are a no-go, commit to allowing yourself short breaks at regular intervals throughout the day. Get up and take a walk around the building or sit in your chair and do a 10-minute meditation session. Even small breaks like this can help you relax and reenergize.
5. Equip yourself with the right tools for the job.
If you’ve ever gone camping or played a sport, then you know how important it is to have the right equipment for the job. The same is true if your goal is to be more productive. Seek out tools that can save you time, eliminate distractions, and help you automate the redundant chores in your life.
Finding the right tools may be as simple as using the alarm app on your phone to wake up an hour earlier each morning. Other apps can block your social media sites to limit distractions or track your time so you can see where you waste precious minutes.
Set aside an hour to research your life. First, look at your personal life. Where does the majority of your stress come from, and are there ways to alleviate it? Then, consider your professional life and the demands there. Talk to your colleagues and look into business technology that, once implemented, will help you accomplish more.
For example, collaborative files have become a mainstay in business. With this tool, you and your team can work on a single living version of a document together using a mobile-friendly platform. This can eliminate loads of email correspondence and even cut down on your meetings to review the files together. This will give you more time for deep work on your toughest projects. You might even free up enough time for a daily nap.
When you combine these tools with other productivity tricks such as closing your door and delegating non-essential tasks, you’ll find that your candle can still burn bright at the end of the day.