Struggling to stay productive? If your first instinct is to push harder and crank up your input, read this. You might be working against yourself.
When you’re falling behind, your biggest temptation is often to crank up your output — but how many times has stress caused you to shut down completely? Rather than increasing your self-imposed pressure, learn to step back with ways that don’t kill your workflow or your creativity.
Take an actual break
Yeah, you’ve heard it before: taking a break recharges your brain and resets you for the next wave of productivity. But maybe you’re a bad break-taker — your intended 15 minutes off turned into socializing hour, checking Twitter and otherwise avoiding your desk. Or you might be the super-hardworking type who’s always been skeptical of breaks.
What exactly are the benefits of breaking up your workday?
- Shutting down the work-oriented part of your brain helps you access your daydreaming brain, which is vital for problem-solving.
- Breaks increase your alertness.
- You’ll be less likely to have unrealistic expectations about how much work you should be accomplishing.
- Following the 52 minutes of work/17 minutes of rest model puts your memory retention and proficiency on a level with world-class musicians.
- You increase your brain’s oxygen and glucose levels by taking breaks and moving around, which improves your focus later.
Your boss may not be as aware of the benefits of break time as you’d like. If you notice displeasure in your breaks, respectfully explain to your boss the benefits of the 52/17 cycle.
Invite your managers to monitor your current productivity, knowing that they’ll see an improvement. If they remain unconvinced, lengthen your work time and shorten your breaks. A 90-minute/20-minute rhythm has similar benefits to the much-lauded 52/17.
One of the most important traits you can have as an employee is creativity. Managers appreciate team members who offer diverse visions. With frequent brainstorming, you can boost creativity and productivity, in both yourself and the company.
To maximize success, the company needs to be a safe space for brainstorming. Spontaneity, wackiness, physical movement, encouragement and openness are all crucial parts of a successful idea-generating session. While there needs to be a specific reason why you’re meeting, don’t automatically rule out all rough ideas — build off of them instead.
To widen group participation, have everyone free-write ideas and pool them before the discussion, ensuring that the loudest personalities don’t immediately take over. Make it fun — have people act out their ideas or compare them to fictional situations. (“It would be like Star Wars when they hid their ship on the back of a bigger one!”)
If your office climate isn’t good for unfettered brainstorming, consider establishing your own work area as a safe space for ideas whenever you’re part of a group project.
Maybe you don’t work in an office; instead, you’re your own boss. Working from home can deprive you of the immediate benefit of other viewpoints, so make extra efforts to discuss your generated ideas with friends and record your thought process visually as you brainstorm.
Since it can be hard to get back to regular work when there’s no group to dismiss, curtail your brainstorming session at a set time — and keep a notepad nearby in case other ideas pop up later.
Stick with a routine
After all that talk about creativity, we’re going to bring up routine? How much more opposite could they be?
Routine is actually one of the hotbeds of productive creativity. Discipline helps you keep work at work, rest when you should rest and take the best care of yourself that you can. All of these habits boost your energy and keep your brain at peak performance. It may not seem like it, but if you have a job, you already have a semi-routine. The key is toning it.
Here are some of the top things you should put into (and cut out of) your routine for best results.
- Don’t force yourself to get everything done today or to stick with nonessential tasks.
- Don’t touch your emails until after lunch. Save the morning for work.
- Do the hardest project first. You’ll thank yourself for not procrastinating if unexpected tasks arise later.
- Get up early every day. You don’t need to binge-watch “The Walking Dead” and wake up feeling like a zombie the next morning. Save time-consuming fun for the weekend.
- Physically de-clutter. Having too many things to look at will distract you — and stress you out.
- Use a paper list or a to-do app to keep track of your responsibilities. Don’t assume that you’ll remember everything.
- Install Web-surfing restrictions like StayFocusd or SafariBlock to eliminate the temptation of casual browsing.
- Consult your calendar before you take on any new projects. If you can’t squeeze in a new one, and you have the option to say no, say it and don’t feel bad.
- Instead of sleeping in, schedule a 20-minute power nap right before your mid-afternoon slump typically hits.
- For occasions like Christmas or a long vacation, don’t let yourself go completely, but still let the holiday be a holiday.
Do you have any self-discipline or productivity tips that we forgot? Let us know!
Katherine Halek is the lead advertising and print strategy advisor at Signazon, a leading online printersthat provide marketing collateral for thousands of small businesses around the United States. Connect with her on Twitter and Google+.