We all have tough days at work when we just can’t seem to get it all done. Maybe you’re coming back from vacation and are having a hard time hopping back into your routine; maybe your boss is training you for more responsibility, and it’s overwhelming you; or perhaps you are covering for a workmate who has called in sick.
However, what if you feel like that all the time? Feeling that way adds to our stress level and reduces our productivity. It’s not just about the impact on our mental sanity, either – feeling constantly overwhelmed affects our physical, long-term health.
Streamline your space. Before you do anything else, take a few moments at the start of each day to organize and de-clutter your workspace. Having a clutter-free environment helps you think more clearly and produce better results, said Kristoph Matthews, CEO of on-demand storage company Boxbee. By cleaning up and organizing your space, you will greatly increase your productivity and limit the time you spend searching for items.
Add pops of color or live plants. Color can have a major effect on your mood and productivity throughout the day, said Jenny Gauld, an interior designer for office furniture and accessory retailer turnstone. Blue creates the feeling of calmness and helps you focus, while red is great for work that requires accuracy and attention to detail. Plants can also help people focus by reducing headaches and fatigue: A study from Texas A&M University found that plants increase workplace productivity and creative performance by up to 30 percent.
Use the time-blocking method. Productivity is the result of intelligent planning – not working extra hours every day. This is where organizing and prioritizing comes in. Prioritize your tasks by week, and then by day. Use the time-blocking method, in which you block out the time on your calendar for the projects you need to complete. Mark the time on your calendar so no one else can schedule a meeting during that time. Then, be flexible during the week. Things change, and you can’t always control your schedule. Spend a few minutes in the afternoon to prioritize your tasks for the next day. Create your to-do list, and adjust your time blocks for the following day. Your time blocking should be a weekly and daily planning task.
Create a routine, and stick to it. We are creatures of habit, and so are our brains. When we establish routines, we can carry out tasks faster since we don’t have to “think” about the task – or prepare for it – as much, and can work on autopilot. This can be helpful for less important, daily, repetitive tasks in the office. Decide on a routine that works for you in your job. For example, after you get organized in the morning, you may decide to check and respond to all your emails. Then you prepare for any appointments and meetings for the day. After that, you could start on your list of projects. When you group together smaller tasks, and your brain creates that habit, you will be able to fly through them and move on with your day.
Get your most dreaded task out of the way. Everyone has at least one task on the to-do list that keeps getting pushed back, simply because the thought of actually doing it seems so awful. That task is actually the one you should try to complete first, Matthews told Business News Daily. Instead of waiting until the last minute to finish a task, get it off your plate as soon as possible. Your other tasks will seem less daunting by comparison, and you’ll stop stressing about that one task all day, making you more productive overall.
Prioritize tasks that take less time. It’s easy to procrastinate on short, easy-to-do list items and tell yourself you’ll get to them after you’ve tackled your big project for the day. But what if that project takes longer than expected? To avoid scrambling at the end of the workday to complete a bunch of quick tasks (which can really add up, time-wise), get them done earlier. Matthews noted that his general rule of thumb for completing tasks is that if it takes less than two minutes to do, tackle it right away.
Remember, you are a professional. While it is helpful to schedule your harder tasks during a time of day that you feel more alert, like after your afternoon espresso, do not let this always be an excuse to wait to feel like you are ready to complete your tasks. Be honest with yourself., and get started on the project you need to tackle. Set yourself up for success by gathering every tool you need to complete the task. And turn off unnecessary distractions, such as your cell phone and email alerts. Try listening to music or an audiobook, if your job permits you to do so, and power through.
Stay balanced. If your office allows you to take breaks during the day, take advantage of it, even if you only take five minutes instead of 15. Get up, walk around, go outside and get some fresh air. Also, respect your day off. If you take the weekends off, don’t work unless it’s absolutely necessary. Enjoy your time with friends and family doing activities that have nothing to do with work.
Listen to music. Wearing headphones doesn’t always mean you’re antisocial. When working, listening to your favorite tunes can help you get into the zone and knock out your to-do list, Gauld said. It also sends a subtle signal to your co-workers that you’d prefer not to be disturbed.
Switch locations. If your employer allows it, take one day a week to work from a different environment, like a coffee shop or a co-working space, Gauld said. The change of scenery and the chance to interact with other people may give you a sense of renewed energy. If you can’t work out of the office, try finding a quiet space away from other distractions where you can fully focus.