June 11, 2019

4 Counterintuitive Ways to Increase Your Productivity

How stopping can help you start back stronger.

Ready. Set. Break.

Really, it’s okay to take a break. It may even help you get more done, and there’s more than plenty of research to back that claim.

Work days are increasingly packed to the brim, and if you’re a serious multi-tasker, then you know the feeling of the mid-day slow down when tasks seem to get a little overwhelming and pushed to the end of the to-do list.

It’s easy to get back on track. You probably just need a break, and there are lots of ways to organize your schedule to make sure you’re utilizing your time to the fullest.

Here are some ways to realistically incorporate breaks into your work day that help refresh, recharge and reset your productivity.

1. Take a lunch

A lunch break should be just that: a break. Long gone are the days when eating a salad at your desk means you’re getting stuff done. Lunches are an opportunity to step away from the emails, Slack channels and paperwork. It’s a time to refocus the day.

It can be hard to step away, especially because studies find that employees think they’ll be seen as less hard-working if they take regular lunch breaks. A study last year from Tork found that 13 percent of people think their co-workers will judge them and 20 percent believe their bosses will think less of them for stepping out to grab a bite to eat.

But doing so can have major positive impacts on work life and productivity. The study found that employees who take a lunch break every day score higher on things like job satisfaction and recommending their employer to others.

Even more: 90 percent of those surveyed said a lunch break helps them stay focused for the rest of the day. So, even if stepping away from your desk feels hard — especially if it’s the culture of your workplace to not leave your desk for lunch — it can be really beneficial to do anyways. If it feels a little uncomfortable taking a lunch break away from the office, try ending your lunch with a quick walk or stretch, something away from your desk.

“Reluctance to take a lunch break is often perceived as a display of dedication to the job,” according to Jennifer Deal, a senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership at the University of Southern California. “In reality, taking time away for a lunch break can help to reduce stress, increase engagement, and restore energy levels, making employees feel more effective and productive back at the office.”

2. Work in blocks

One way to make the most of your time is to give yourself a time limit on a particular task. You want to give yourself enough time to get a reasonable amount of work done, but not so much time that you find yourself starting to scroll your Instagram feed. About 30 minutes is a good place to start. Then take some time to recalibrate and move on to a new task for another 30 minutes.

Of course, there is an app for that. Find 30/30 in the App Store. It allows the user to create a to-do list, set a timer and even schedule breaks — perfect for reminding yourself to take a quick stretch, grab a fresh cup of coffee or even prepare for the next task.

Make this method work for you, but tons of people swear that the best way to do it is 30 minutes working, 30 minutes relaxing. Why does it work? Your brain is incentivized to complete a task because it knows it’s going to get to do something it enjoys when the time is up.

If a half-hour of “relaxing” seems like a lot, try opting for 30 minutes of a task that’s less intensive, like adding appointments to your calendar or filing paperwork. Relaxing is in the eye of the beholder, right?

That break in-between the work sessions can also give you time to refocus as you’re working through a tough problem or dreading a particular assignment. That time for refreshing can rev up your productivity for the next item on your to-do list.

3. Take a walk

There’s nothing better for a rut than some fresh air. Meg Selig, author of “37 Secrets to Habit Change Success” puts it even better: “Motion is lotion,” she said, making the point that a little bit of movement can have preventative qualities. Just like you’d apply lotion to keep your skin from drying out, movement can have the same effect on your body and even your mind.

That’s great news for your upcoming meeting, deadline or task. A quick walk around the office complex or a few flights of stairs gets the blood moving, which is great for brainstorming, increasing energy and improving concentration.

Not only does a 20-minute walk have major health benefits — like decreasing inflammation, and lowering the risk of diabetes — it also is great for your mental health because the two are so connected.

“When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. Or, if your body feels better, so does your mind,” according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers — and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.”

More movement equals less stress and getting more stuff done.

4. Stop checking email all the time

*Ding* it’s almost irresistible to not reach for your phone when the screen lights up with a new email notification. So what if it’s 10 p.m. and you’ve just crawled into bed after an exhausting day? The “just one more” mentality has us all.

But shutting down email for a bit can leave you rested and revived.

Think of email like this: it’s a necessity but triggers your brain to be less productive. It’s keeping you from really honing in on marking off tasks from the to-do list. Often times it’s just a distraction. We’ve all went down the deep, dark email black hole.

The easiest way to escape the constant notifications is to swear off emails after a certain time of day. For example, don’t check emails after 7 p.m. or before 9 a.m.

Daniel Levitin, director of the Laboratory for Music, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University and the author of “The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload” puts it this way, for the New York Times:

“Email, too, should be done at designated times. An email that you know is sitting there, unread, may sap attentional resources as your brain keeps thinking about it, distracting you from what you’re doing. What might be in it? Who’s it from? Is it good news or bad news? It’s better to leave your email program off than to hear that constant ping and know that you’re ignoring messages.”

A good way to start is setting your phone for “do not disturb” hours. That way the pinging won’t keep you up at night. You’ll be rested for the next day.

It’s easy to feel like you have to be “on” all the time, if you’re stuck with how much is too much screen time, ask your boss about where expectations are. That’s an easy way to figure out how much energy you should be using after work hours.

When you do check your email, use these inbox tips to help you manage your time more wisely.

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