People who manage to get a lot accomplished each day aren’t superhuman; they’ve just mastered a few simple habits. Some may be easy to guess: Keep your desk organized and aim for around eight hours of sleep a night. But others, like taking a mid-day nap or complaining, might surprise you.
Here are 6 easy ways to make every day more productive:
1. DECLUTTER YOUR DESK.
MESSY WORK SPACE:
Creativity may arise from chaos, but a litter-strewn office probably isn’t helping you get stuff done. “Attention is programmed to pick up what’s novel,” says Josh Davis, director of research at the NeuroLeadership Institute and author of Two Awesome Hours. Visible files remind you of unfinished tasks. An unread book is temptation for procrastination. Even if you don’t think you’re noticing the disorder, it hurts your ability to focus.
People with neat offices are more persistent and less frustrated and weary, according to a recent study in Harvard Business Review, which found that a clean desk helps you stick with a task more than one and a half times longer. “While it can be comforting to relax in your mess, a disorganized environment can be a real obstacle,” says Grace Chae, a professor at Fox School of Business at Temple University and coauthor of the study.
2. BE PART OF THE 20%.
No matter how crazy your days get, make sure you carve out and ruthlessly protect just 90 minutes—20% of an eight-hour day—for the most important tasks. “Even if you squander the remaining 80% of the day, you can still make great progress if you have spent 90 minutes on your goals or priorities,” says Charlotte, North Carolina–based productivity coach Kimberly Medlock.
3. WORK LESS.
Think you can get more done by tacking on extra hours? According to a 2014 study by Stanford professor John Pencavel, who examined data from laborers during World War I, output was proportionate to time worked—up to 49 hours. Beyond that, it rose at a decreasing rate, and those who put in 70 hours had the same productivity as someone who worked 56 hours.
4. STOP PHONING IT IN.
You might believe you’re ignoring your iPhone, but unless it’s fully turned off, it’s a major distraction. In a report published this year in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, researchers from Florida State University found that even if you don’t look at your phone when it buzzes, the sound makes your mind wander.
5. TRY THIS EMAIL HACK.
How Alexandra Samuel, author of Work Smarter With Social Media, avoids getting distracted when she’s waiting for an important message:
1. Find the email-to-text format for your cell-phone provider with a quick Google search. Verizon, for example, is @vtext.com, so if your mobile number is 555-123-4567, your address is email@example.com.
2. Using that address, set up your email so it forwards messages from a specific sender to your cell phone via text (in Outlook, find “Rules” in the “Tools” task bar).
3. Shut down your inbox and ignore your emails while focusing on more pressing tasks, knowing you’ll be alerted when the important message comes in.
6. GO HEAVY ON HVAS.
People are more efficient at things that come naturally, while tasks that feel like a struggle are likely to impede progress. If you can, delegate the duties that feel like an effort, and instead focus on “high value activities.” “HVAs are within your mission, leverage your strengths, and create impact or change,” says Hillary Rettig, author of The Seven Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block. “They also create clarity and open your schedule.” Delegating your non–HVA activities also helps create community. After all, they could very well be someone else’s HVAs.