As with every new year, we look back on the past, assess the present, and plan for the future. We all make certain changes to reach our new goals, whether it’s personal, professional, or both. One of the things that people commonly strive to achieve is “to work smarter, not longer.” Work-life balance is one of the things the Xamun Team has been advocating from the very beginning. For our first post in 2015, we’ve come up with 15 little productivity changes you can introduce to your life to make you get more things done this year.
Changing your surroundings
One of the things that you can easily tweak in order to boost productivity is your physical surroundings. It doesn’t involve forming new habits, and it can lead to instant results.
1. Make your workspace work for you
Create a space that is clutter-free. At the very least, tidy up work desk. If you have can, apply this to your entire cubicle or room. If you have the budget, the time, and the freedom: introduce bright colors to the space by painting the wall or placing some tchotchkes on your desk. Somber colors will most likely make you sleepy or sad. If you can’t change your space’s color palette, try taking a walk in the park before going to work – that just might do the trick.
2. Control the temperature
Most of us deal with “winter wonderland” at work (aka it’s too cold), especially during summer months. In winter, the office can imitate a furnace. It’s impossible to get it right in shared workspaces because everyone has a unique tolerance to the cold/the heat, but you can try setting your room temperature to somewhere between 70° F (21° C) and (75° F) 24° C according to this study. It’s much, much easier if you work from home or your room in the office has its own temperature control.
3. Set the mood with music and lighting
Music and lighting has long been known to set the right mood for work. This is all a matter of your own preference. In case you haven’t found the perfect music genre or light setting to help you focus more, start finding them. As with the temperature, you’re not much in luck in shared workspaces when it comes to choosing the right lighting. Listening to music from earphones/headphones can also help you focus in such environments when you get easily distracted by ambient noise (people talking, someone opening the door, etc).
Changing the way you deal with tasks
The whole point of being more productive is accomplishing tasks. These tasks may or may not go away on their own, so you gotta do something about them.
4. Establish a routine
Creating a routine lets you break down your limited time during the day much better. One way of doing this is setting a number of hours/minutes for each task. You can also opt to break down certain activies into small pockets of time over 8 or so hours. For example: every working hour is spent with 10 minutes of communication (whether it’s answering an email, doing some social networking), 15 minutes of simple tasks, and 30 minutes of a difficult, larger task. This is particularly helpful for the more complex tasks, because you break them down into smaller, more digestible pieces.
5. Do away with low-priority tasks
Don’t bog yourself down with a really long task list. Those low-priority tasks on the list? Get rid of them. If they are small enough that you can do in under two minutes, do them now. Otherwise, assign them to others or set a schedule to do them in the future. This way, you don’t worry about them while you’re working on more important things.
6. Start with the least pleasant tasks
Nobody said being more productive isn’t going to be painful, so heed this advice: get those tasks you dread out of the way. This holds much water of those unpleasant tasks are high-priority. If they are low-priority, refer to #5. Once you get started with them, there’s a chance that you’ll find the fortitude to finish them as quickly as possible.
Changing your interactions with others
Tasks and deliverables aren’t always done alone and you have other people in your life that may distract you from getting work done. Here are some ways to deal with others when your eyes are on the prize.
7. Turn off your mobile phone
One of the biggest causes of distraction is your mobile phone. It may not seem apparent, but you’d be alarmed when you add up the time you spend in one day answering emails, texts, and calls. Turning your phone off may be a little extreme – you can opt for airplane mode. After all, if someone urgently needs to get in touch with you, there’s the landline telephone, there are officemates (or neighbors if you’re working from home) etc. Turn your phone back on when you’re ready to be distracted again.
8. Get out of the web
Unless the task at hand requires the use of the Internet, do away with it. Or at least limit the number of opened tabs. The fact of the matter is, the Internet is chock-full of distractions even if what you’re supposed to do is wok-related. To address tasks that require full and immediate attention, disconnect from the Internet for a certain period of time. You might want to see a professional if you’re suffering from a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out), which also applies to #7.
9. Substitute email for meetings
There are truly productive meetings, and there are meetings that just waste your time (which is the case for 95% of all your meetings). The waste lies in either the topic for discussion or the travel time to reach the meeting place. As much as possible, avoid such meetings by sending an email or doing a Skype call instead. This will not only open up more time to other tasks, but also allow you to structure the discussions better.
10. Learn when to say no
This is something that might be difficult to accomplish by people from cultures that value harmony. However, if you value your sanity, you need to learn how to say no (and do it nicely while you’re at it). Because really, why worry about getting something off your plate if you can avoid accepting it in the first place? If that task or activity (like a meeting, as seen in #9) is something that has no value to you or would make you unproductive, why engage in it?
Lastly, once you’ve changed your surroundings, your approach to tasks, and you deal with others, you need to make some tweaks about your activities in and out of work.
11. Keep your clothes simple
This may sound ridiculous, but if you can, buy one color of work socks, shoes, and even clothes. Take cue from the likes of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple’s Steve Jobs, and President Barack Obama, who are all known to wear the same outfit (or slight variations of the same outfit). Choosing an outfit day in and day out takes some brain juices away from much more important things. Therefore, if you’re not paid to look like a runway model, it might be best to stick to the basics. It can even help you build your personal brand.
12. Set goals on Sunday night
We understand that weekends are meant for that much-needed R&R, but working just a little bit on Sunday night can help you throughout the week. With no emails or phone calls to answer on a Sunday night, you can have a clear mind to look at the coming week’s activities. It might also help taking away the Monday blues because when morning comes, you already know what’s in store for you.
13. Make the most out of the commute
Commuting to work may take a long time or may even be stressful, but it’s all about how you approach it. Listen to calming music or listen to an audiobook or podcast or listen to the latest business news while on the way to work. You can even record voice notes for the day ahead.
14. Take breaks
No matter how smart and physically fit you are, you need to take breaks every once in a while. Taking a break may mean doing absolutely nothing for 5 minutes, going out and walking in the park, or performing a mindless task (such as encoding something or organizing some papers). This will refresh your body and mind in an instant.
15. Stay positive
In fact, laugh a lot, according to this study. Humor may not only improve the way others perceive you and eventually lead to better chances at advancing your career, but it will help you go through your day without losing your mind. Stress can cloud the mind and affect your ability to make good decisions. Take work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. You can use all of the tip we mentioned, or use a combination of them and see how it fits you. After all, there’s no one perfect way to go about it. We hope this list can help you reclaim your personal life and excel in your professional life.