Many long-term productivity changes require major habit changes, or long-term commitments—for example, you can change your sleep schedule to get more hours of sleep per night—making them frustratingly unsuitable for helping you get through a single day of work.
That's why I've compiled this list of 10 "instant" productivity hacks. They're designed to give you a burst of productive energy midday, when you need it most, without requiring you to change your lifestyle to achieve them.
Instant Productivity Hacks to Help You Through the Day
Here are 10 things you can do right now to improve your productivity:
- Turn off notifications. Communication notifications probably stress you out more than you realize. A single notification can break your focus on whatever you're working on, distracting you and preventing you from making real progress. If you get a stream of new instant messages or emails, it can occupy your attention for minutes at a time, and make you feel busier than you actually are. Here's a quick solution: turn notifications off altogether. Your colleagues and clients can wait an hour to hear from you. Take this time to focus on your most important, heads-down work.
- Get the right fuel. If you're feeling unproductive, or if you have low energy, it could be a fuel-related problem. Your body and mind need a healthy balance of food and water to perform optimally, so even the slight presence of hunger or thirst can impact your performance. Consider getting a drink of water if you haven't had one in a while, or get a healthy snack (like fruits, vegetables, or mixed nuts). One thing that works well for me is a dose of electrolyte powder mixed in water. It's amazing what kind of boost you can get from this.
- Go for a walk. Instead of forcing yourself to continue working, get up and talk a walk, preferably outside. This is a form of physical exercise, which will reduce stress and boost endorphins, clearing your mind and empowering you with more energy and focus when you ultimately return to work. It's also a good way to get fresh air and give your mind a break from your office environment.
- Declutter your environment – online and offline. Speaking of office environments, consider decluttering yours – both physically and digitally. Start by organizing all the items on your desk, or pick your personal items up off the floor. To declutter your digital environment, start by taking control of your email inbox using a tool like Clean Email or, if you're using Gmail, visualize your email activity with analytics for Gmail.
Whatever the case, a momentary aside to reorganize your surroundings can make you feel accomplished, while simultaneously giving you a more ordered, aesthetically pleasant workspace.
- Commit to starting a task. If you're a chronic procrastinator, your biggest challenge is likely starting a task–but once you've started, it's easy to maintain that momentum. Overcome this by committing to a limited amount of time working on a task; for example, set out to work on a project for just 10 minutes. Once 10 minutes have elapsed, you'll likely feel enough energy and momentum to keep going.
- Take a break mid-task. It's good to take breaks throughout the day, both to maintain your productivity and to keep your mental health intact. But surprisingly, taking breaks between tasks can make things harder on your mind. Instead, it's better to break in the middle of a task–that way, you can easily pick up where you left off, rather than forcing yourself to start something new with no momentum.
- Achieve flow. Flow is a psychological state of heightened focus and productivity; you can achieve it when you're interested and engaged with work that isn't too challenging but is challenging enough to demand your energy. Work more productively by prioritizing tasks that allow you to achieve flow, or take a meaningful break from work with a hobby that allows you to achieve flow; for example, you can achieve flow by working on a Sudoku puzzle, then return to work with renewed focus.
- Tackle some easy tasks. Remember how cleaning your desk and work environment gave you a short-term boost in confidence, making you feel accomplished? You can do something similar by knocking out a variety of short, easy tasks. This process will clear your task list of clutter, and give you the confidence and energy you need to start working on something bigger.
- Laugh. Laughter has the power to relieve stress and improve your mood, even if you're forcing yourself to laugh. If you're feeling overwhelmed or if you're exhausted toward the end of a long day, a single round of laughter may be enough to break you out of that funk. Look up one of your favorite YouTube videos, or talk to a friend or colleague you know is always good for a laugh. If all else fails, you can force yourself to fake laugh; apparently, it works almost as well.
- Change your environment. Many of us fail to achieve our highest level of productivity because we feel like we're in a rut. We're tired of sitting in the same spot, looking at the same screen, and the tedium of normal work tasks begins to get the better of us. You can break this spell by changing your environment, even if it's temporary. Going for a walk, which we've already covered, can accomplish this, but you can also get results by moving to a different office or even working from a cafe for a while.
Balancing Short-Term and Long-Term Changes
These short-term productivity hacks can help you tackle a hard project or muscle through a tough day at work, but if you want the best productivity benefits, you'll want to keep them in balance with long-term habit changes.
Improving your lifestyle with better sleep, better eating and health habits, meditation, and occasional vacations (with better work-life balance) will support you in achieving higher productivity long-term.