Wanting to work smarter rather than harder? While there are certain tasks that simply take as long as they take, many of us have major issues staying productive. Research has suggested that an average 8-hour workday contains, on average, three or fewer hours of productive work time! While this is probably not true of you if you already love productivity, it can be helpful to try some of these productivity hacks if you want to be able to accomplish great things in a 4 day work week.
1. Strategic break times
Many people swear by the rhythm of the Pomodoro method, where you spend 25 minutes focused and then take a 5-minute break to regroup and prepare for the next 25-minute chunk of work. Others prefer to finish an entire chunk of work, not time-bounded, and take a break after that. Regardless of what you find works best, make sure you plan breaks into your workday. Many people who over-tax their brains or bodies by working without breaks find themselves becoming unproductive anyway, either through listlessness, distraction, or making mistakes. Planning your breaks, and experimenting with their timing, will help you find a better flow.
2. Partition your work based on brain engagement
While not all of us have specific "golden hours" - hours of the day when we work most effectively - almost everyone has different energy levels at different times of day. One way to keep all your work hours productive is to create two or more to-do lists: one for high-engagement work and one for low-engagement work. If you can, say, staple the documents for tomorrow's seminar without engaging your brain, but you really need your full attention to write the documents for the seminar, you would put those tasks on two different lists. Many people simply do high and low engagement tasks when they come up, but by partitioning them, you can run through one list when you are feeling energetic and turn to the other to maintain momentum when you are sluggish. If you can give yourself physical errands to run, phone calls to make, or other active but low-engagement tasks after a big meal, for instance, you'll still get things done without expecting your brain to be ultra-awake.
3. Name goals for the day
This one is so simple: figure out what you want to get done in the first few minutes of the day or the last few minutes of the prior day. People who name their goals have an easier time achieving them, since they can consciously strive for the fulfilling feeling of accomplishing it all. If you consistently accomplish everything, strive to add a bit more of a "stretch goal." If, on the other hand, you always give yourself too much to do, scale it back so that you will benefit from the motivating factor of the tasks being achievable.
4. Make technology cut out distractions for you
Most of us struggle with some form of tech-related distraction. Rather than expecting our willpower to do both all our work and to push out distractions, find the right browser extension or cell phone application to block your particular vice. This could be blocking particular websites, a blanket block of social media sites, or simply a lock on your phone so you don't notice distracting messages. Tailor your solution to your needs, but don't assume that your willpower needs to do all the work.
5. Declare no-email or no-messaging hours.
One positive source of distraction in the workplace are your collaborators and clients; while their conversations with you may be very fruitful, having them interrupt you during every hour of the day may not be. One healthy hack is to create a couple of "anti-office-hours" every day - these can be early in the morning or later in the afternoon, and the plan should be to turn off everything but emergency notifications (like a cell phone or business phone call) and work for either one or two hours. Few people will be offended if you don't respond in this amount of time, and when you get started on a project and can work without distraction for two hours, you often become highly efficient. You can customize no-messaging hours to your needs, but having them occasionally for high-engagement work really helps you stay focused.
6. Get healthy in the sleep, exercise, or eating departments
This isn't just a hack; it's science. It's easier to do just about everything when we are getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night, exercising regularly, and eating plenty of protein and plants in our diets. If you struggle with a particular kind of inefficiency at work, consider whether you can add something to your overall health that will have a ripple effect in helping you stay efficient during work.
7. Batch similar tasks for momentum
If you have certain tasks that must happen regularly but which can be scheduled ahead of time, it may be possible to do repetitive tasks in batches. The common example is for social media managers; writing one post every single day requires you to get into that writing head-space, write, and the post, every single day. If, instead, you get into the head-space and write ten posts that you schedule for days in the future, you ultimately save a lot of time that often gets wasted when switching tasks. Consider your own workload and whether any of the work would remain high in quality if it was batched.
8. Spend thought-driven time walking
While not every job has this kind of tasks, many of us need to do some thinking before we start a particular problem-solving strategy. Rather than just brainstorming on an empty computer screen, consider taking yourself out for a walk, maybe with a mini notebook with you. Walking can be a good way to see things that prompt more creative thinking, while also making you more alert through blood flow. You'd be surprised at the thoughts that come to you, and you'll ultimately reap the benefits of a little exercise in the rest of your day's tasks too.