Prepare Who wants to work outside of the hours in which they’re paid? Maybe the adult version of Tracy Flick, but we’re hard-pressed to think of anyone else. However, a little Sunday prep time, or night-before prep time, can lessen work stress immensely and pave the way for greater productivity. We suggest making detailed to-do lists before every single day of work, as well as getting a jump on any tasks that may be difficult to complete while in the office (thanks, open seating plans).
Forget The Word “Multitask” Multitasking is not a thing; in fact it’s proven to be an ineffectual strategy. You can’t actually focus your attention on more than one thing at once, and in attempting to do so you are radically decreasing your productivity. Assign yourself one task at a time, and schedule in short breaks every 30 minutes or so for mindless activities like checking Instagram or reading celebrity gossip. Do not keep multiple tabs open on your browser if you hope to get anything done in an efficient manner.
Call In Sick Any responsible, reasonable manager knows there is absolutely no point in crawling into the office from your deathbed to sit like a (contagious) zombie for eight hours. It’s far more productive to take time off to rest and recuperate so you actually make your office hours count once you’re back. Unless you’re working on a cure for cancer, nothing is so important that it requires you to infect the entire office with your plague.
Headphones Workplace friends are invaluable: They can help make difficult days bearable and give you a reason to look forward to the work week when all else fails, as it sometimes does. However, they can also be a huge distraction, especially if you work in an open office plan. Having people constantly stopping by your desk to chat is hugely distracting, so we suggest wearing headphones when you need to stay focused—whether you’re actually using them or not.
Break For Lunch Sitting in one place for 8-plus hours isn’t just miserable, it’s bad for your health. When you skip your lunch break to eat at your desk, you’re bound to end up feeling like it’s 10 pm at 3 pm. Get up and stretch your legs, give yourself some personal time and recharge for the afternoon hours. Even a 30-minute break will increase your productivity.
Minimize Your Messaging It may seem counterintuitive, but checking e-mail constantly can drastically diminish productivity. Each time you read a new e-mail, your thoughts are pulled away from whatever project you’re working on, and it takes time and energy to refocus. E-mails are rarely so timely that you have to check them every few minutes. Instead, aim to open your inbox at set times throughout the day, so that you’re actually scheduled to read and respond to messages as you would schedule time for any other project. Office-wide instant-messaging systems can also be a huge and seemingly unavoidable distraction. Try setting an example for your coworkers by messaging them only when absolutely necessary.
Don’t Procrastinate A couple of reasons you should tackle your most difficult task before you so much as check your e-mail in the morning: You’ll be most focused when you’re fresh from sleep and newly caffeinated. And once the item is completed, you’ll feel relieved to have it off your list and ready to accomplish whatever else needs to get done that day.
Compartmentalize Like it or not, our personal lives take over our thoughts a good portion of the day. Don’t let them. The ability to compartmentalize is a huge productivity booster. At the office, put 100% of your focus into work. It can be helpful to microplan projects so that you have few moments in which to indulge in personal anxieties. Compartmentalizing can be especially helpful in times of trauma (breakups, family illnesses), to make being at the office bearable. When you absolutely can’t do it, consider taking a sick day. Your time is better spent crying in bed, drinking with a girlfriend or going for a hike than sitting at your desk in misery. This strategy is also useful in the opposite: You’re likely to burn out if you take your work stress home with you on a daily basis. Leave thoughts of unfinished business where they belong—in the office.