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10 Ways To Get More Done… NOW

Written by
June 12, 2024
Updated July 14, 2024

Research over the past 20 years has determined that the average time a person can focus on a given task is about 45 seconds. That means that by the time you’ve read to the bottom of this introduction, you’re already texting your friend back, looking out the window, and checking your Instagram. 

Busted! 

But what if you could just keep your head down until the job was done? Discipline yourself to stay focused, organized, and alert until you got all your work and daily tasks out of the way? 

Do you think you’d have a better chance of getting a promotion, launching your new business successfully, or finishing that monster project you’ve been putting off for weeks, months, or years? 

Getting your butt in gear to get more done requires a multi-pronged approach, ranging from how you slept the night before to how you set up your workstation. We’ve narrowed it down to 10 action steps that are sure to improve your productivity. 

Key Takeaways: 

1. Better sleep, nutrition, and hydration promote alertness and efficiency throughout the workday. 

2. Multi-tasking will probably cause you to do a poorer job and make more mistakes. Tackle one thing at a time. 

3. Avoid social media when you’re working. You can use an app to block you from accessing your accounts. 

4. Try Alpha BRAIN®. Onnit’s cognitive-support supplement can help you learn, remember, and focus, ultimately helping you to get more done. 

5. Get a work buddy to keep you accountable and on task. 

1. Get Better Sleep 

Tomorrow’s productivity begins tonight, so don’t snooze on this advice. According to the Sleep Foundation, almost one-third of Americans regularly get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep per night, and that impairs thinking and physical reaction time. It can negatively affect emotions as well. 

A 2023 study in Frontiers in Psychology found that employees who slept poorly performed worse on the job. Not only that, their relationships with coworkers suffered, and they were even more likely to engage in unethical behavior in the workplace (fudging those expense reports, or stealing from petty cash, perhaps?). 

The Sleep Foundation recommends using blackout curtains or a sleep mask to shield your eyes from any outside light, setting your thermostat to between 65 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit (we sleep better when we’re cool), and making a habit of getting up and going to bed at the same times daily. 

2. Eat Strategically 

Greek yogurt provides protein that can help moderate blood sugar levels.

Lack of productivity in the afternoons usually comes down to self-sabotage—specifically, the foods you choose to eat at lunchtime. Heavy meals such as hamburgers, pizza, or big, doughy sandwiches pack lots of carbs and fats, two nutrients that, when consumed in excess, can each drain your brain power. That’s why you get that three o’clock energy crash! 

As an article in the Harvard Business Review explains, carbohydrate-rich foods raise blood sugar very quickly, forcing your body to release insulin to level it out. This in turn releases serotonin and tryptophan, hormones that make you feel tired. Meanwhile, fatty foods require a lot of energy to digest, and that can rob your brain of the oxygen needed to keep you alert. 

Opt for lower-calorie, slower-digesting foods. “Start with a foundation of fiber and protein,” says Chris Mohr, PhD, RD, a nutrition and wellness consultant (follow him on Instagram, @mohrresults). “Oats and berries at breakfast with a dollop of Greek yogurt,” for example, “and maybe some protein powder mixed in. A good mid-morning snack would be a handful of nuts, some jerky, or a piece of fruit. For lunch, consider some salmon or tuna over salad greens, with one-half cup of beans. That’s a fiber, protein, and nutrient-rich meal that will offer sustained energy to fuel your afternoon.” 

What you drink, or don’t drink, counts too. As noted in an article by NutritionEd.org, an education resource for nutritionists, being dehydrated by just two percent can harm cognitive performance, impairing memory, vision, and the ability to do arithmetic. Men likely need 15.5 cups of water per day, and women 11.5. 

If your company has a cafeteria that only serves junk, complain about it. A review published in Perspectives in Public Health found that diet-related worksite interventions improved employee productivity to the point where it may have actually offset the cost of such interventions with enhanced company profitability. 

3. Stop Multi-Tasking 

It’s a common trap: you start several tasks at once and cycle between them, thinking that you’ll end up with that much more done by the end of the day. Ah, if only that were so. 

One study showed that only a paltry two-and-a-half percent of us are effective multi-taskers. Most people who alternate between projects, according to the Cleveland Clinic, merely become less efficient at each one individually and make more mistakes as a result. Ever hear the expression “divide and conquer”? That’s what happens to your attention span, and the defeat is yours. 

Your ability to learn as well as work also suffers when multi-tasking. 

The solution is as simple as taking things one task at a time. Identify your biggest priority, and give it your full attention until it’s done. You’ll do a better job on it and get it over with sooner. The Cleveland Clinic notes that surgeons are a good example of successful mono-taskers. They’re able to perform life-saving operations largely because they absolutely must focus on the patient in front of them and nothing else. 

4. Use Time Blocks 

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” – Cyril Northcote Parkinson, essayist 

If you give yourself an unlimited amount of time to get something done, it’s likely to take infinitely longer than it needs to. By contrast, if you restrict yourself to a tight but realistic time frame, you can increase your work efficiency dramatically. 

Indeed.com, the world’s top job site, recommends assigning time limits, or blocks, to your tasks: 60 minutes for one project, 90 for another, and so on. If you know that writing an email to a client should take no more than 15 minutes, set a timer and see that it does. Knowing that the clock is ticking lessens the chance that you’ll allow yourself to become distracted and stray off-task. 

5. Eliminate Interruptions 

Sometimes getting distracted isn’t your fault—it’s everyone else’s. If only people would stop interrupting you, you’d get a lot more done (or so you tell yourself). 

Make your workstation less inviting and start sending clear (but polite) messages that, when you’re focused on doing something, the rest of the world is not welcome. If you work in a private office, close the door so you can be alone. If you work in an open area, wear noise-canceling headphones to drown out the surrounding chatter (they also strongly imply that you don’t want to be bothered). 

Set up your email inbox to filter and categorize the most important messages that demand quick attention, while the others go to a folder you can check later. You may even want to experiment with checking email only once or twice a day, and let your colleagues and coworkers know what those times are and when they can expect a response. 

Finally, for the love of all that is decent, stay off social media! Or at least discipline yourself to only check it at lunchtime. We know that’s easier said than done, so we found the Freedom app for you. Endorsed by Harvard, Salesforce, and Google, it blocks you from opening social media apps and websites. (It’s available for Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, and Chrome.) After a free trial, Freedom is only $3.50 a month, and covers all your devices. 

6. Take Alpha BRAIN®‮ 

Alpha BRAIN helps support focus, memory, and reaction time.

Onnit’s flagship supplement has sold millions of bottles since its launch in 2010, and there’s only one way to explain that kind of success and longevity: it works. Alpha BRAIN is a caffeine-free cognitive-support supplement that helps with memory, focus, quick thinking, and reaction time, so it’s a natural fit for anyone looking to improve productivity in any setting. 

The goal of Alpha BRAIN is to help your brain think better by supporting two main processes. One is the production of alpha brain waves—the electrical pulses that are associated with deep concentration, and in turn support productivity. The other is levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that sends messages to and from the brain. 

Greater alpha brain wave activity is associated with “flow state,” what some in the psychology world refer to as that “in-the-zone” feeling where you can block out distractions, think clearly, and accomplish things. 

Let’s break down Alpha BRAIN’s key ingredients to see how it works. 

L-Theanine

This amino acid supports the release of dopamine and serotonin in the brain—two hormones that help induce relaxation via alpha-wave activity. A relaxed but still alert frame of mind is an important factor in helping to achieve flow state. 

Huperzia Serrata Extract

A type of Clubmoss, huperzia serrata contains Huperzine A, a compound that helps slow the breakdown of acetylcholine in the body. 

Alpha-GPC

A chemical compound found in the brain, alpha-GPC acts as a precursor to acetylcholine, aiding its production in the body. 

Vitamin B6

B vitamins are known for their role in supporting all kinds of physiological reactions, and this one specifically plays a role in neurotransmitter production. 

A serving of Alpha BRAIN is two capsules, and we recommend that you take them with a light meal for the best absorption. You can use Alpha BRAIN as needed or every day. 

Take Alpha BRAIN shortly before you begin working, or when attempting to learn new information or a skill (via reading or practice). 

Here are some more practical examples of times where Alpha BRAIN can help: 

– Taking an exam 

– Making a speech/giving a presentation 

– Handling work stress 

– Working in a distracting environment 

Says podcaster and comedian Joe Rogan: “I take Alpha BRAIN before anything I do that requires me to be thinking. It’s my absolute go-to supplement for cognitive performance.” 

7. Clean Up Your Mess 

Cleaning up your workstation can help productivity.

Nobody likes a fussy neat freak, but having a tidy workspace has been scientifically shown to make people more productive. For one thing, think about how much time you waste looking for papers, digital files, etc., that aren’t organized. Getting your house in order saves you precious minutes, if not hours. 

An article in the Harvard Business Review cites research by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute that showed constantly seeing a messy work area drained subjects’ brains of their cognitive power and reduced their ability to focus. But, when the people decluttered their areas, productivity returned. Other research shows that working amidst a mess makes one more likely to procrastinate. 

Get a filing system and stick to it, and throw out old papers, mail, and anything else you no longer need that’s taking up space. Another tip: straighten up before you leave for the day. That way you’ll start each subsequent workday on the right foot. 

8. Get Accountable 

Setting all these new habits can be daunting, so ask a friend or coworker to hold you accountable. FutureLearn, a website dedicated to helping professionals learn new skills to advance their careers, suggests keeping each other on track with regular check-ins: “Did you go to bed at 10:00 last night? Did you block out the time frames for all your tasks today?” And so on. Partnering with another person all but ensures that you’ll both be more productive, and may even lead to a powerful friendship/work alliance that pays dividends for both your careers. 

If you work at home or are an entrepreneur starting your own venture, try keeping a work diary and be accountable to that. At the end of every day, log what you accomplished and what your goals are for the next day. 

9. Take A Break

Taking frequent work breaks can help productivity.

Sometimes the best way to get more done is to stop and do nothing at all. Taking frequent breaks from your projects can help you recharge and come back to them feeling more focused and efficient. 

According to The Learning Center, an instructional service that provides academic support for students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, when you’re working or studying, the pre-frontal cortex of your brain has to resist distractions. The brain needs rest in order to continue, or it will conk out, and you’ll find that your mind wanders and your efficiency goes down. 

Taking breaks also reduces stress and can improve your recall of what you’ve just been learning or doing. The trick is to take the right kind of break. 

Scrolling through social media, responding to emails, and surfing the Web all involve the pre-frontal cortex, so they do nothing to help your brain recover. They can also promote negative emotions, which can make getting back into your work groove harder. 

Instead, try daydreaming a bit. It can help you feel creative again without adding strain to the decision-making part of the brain. Get up and move, which helps promote attention and motivation. Listening to music or socializing (on the phone or in person) are also good ideas, as they can reduce stress and help you get into a more positive mood

Aim to take a five-minute break for every 25 minutes you spend working (set timers and alarms). This is known as the Pomodoro technique. After four 25-minute breaks, give yourself a 20 or 30-minute break. 

If you’re really under the gun and can’t afford to break so long or so often, even a one-minute time-out has been shown to be useful. 

10. Stay On Your Feet 

Standing up during meetings can keep you more alert and focused than if you sit down, according to Indeed. Bonus: it may make your meetings shorter, which means you’ll be back at your desk to resume work that much sooner. 

The job networking site LinkedIn cites research indicating that, when participants stand, meetings are, on average, 34% shorter than sit-down ones. 

When you’re back at work, stay on your feet. A 2021 study showed that subjects who stood up while they worked—with the assistance of a stand-up desk—were ultimately more productive.  

REFERENCES 

“Squirrel! Why attention spans seem to be shrinking and what we can do about it.” Northeastern Global News. January 2024. 

“The Link Between Sleep and Job Performance.” Sleep Foundation. November 2023. 

Peng, Jiaxi, Jiaxi Zhang, Bingbing Wang, Yanchen He, Qiuying Lin, Peng Fang, and Shengjun Wu. “The relationship between sleep quality and occupational well-being in employees: The mediating role of occupational self-efficacy.” Frontiers in Psychology 14 (2023): 1071232. 

“What You Eat Affects Your Productivity.” Harvard Business Review. October 2014. 

“How Food Affects Your Productivity (& What You Can Do About It).” NutritionEd.org. 

Jensen, Jørgen Dejgård. “Can worksite nutritional interventions improve productivity and firm profitability? A literature review.” Perspectives in Public Health 131, no. 4 (2011): 184-192. 

Watson, Jason M., and David L. Strayer. “Supertaskers: Profiles in extraordinary multitasking ability.” Psychonomic bulletin & review 17 (2010): 479-485. 

“Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work.” Cleveland Clinic. March 2021. 

Skidmore-Roth, Linda. Mosby’s handbook of herbs & natural supplements. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2009. 

Nobre, Anna C., Anling Rao, and Gail N. Owen. “L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state.” Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition 17 (2008). 

Nathan, Pradeep J., Kristy Lu, Marcus Gray, and C. Oliver. “The neuropharmacology of L-theanine (N-ethyl-L-glutamine) a possible neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing agent.” Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy 6, no. 2 (2006): 21-30. 

SONG, Chan-Hee, Ju-Hae JUNG, Je-Sung OH, and Kyung-Soo KIM. “Effects of theanine on the release of brain alpha wave in adult males.” The Korean Journal of Nutrition (2003): 918-923. 

Yarlagadda, Atmaram, and Anita H. Clayton. “Blood brain barrier: the role of pyridoxine.” Psychiatry (Edgmont) 4, no. 8 (2007): 58. 

Lippincott-Raven. (1999). Chapter 12. Catecholamines, Chapter 13. Serotonin. In Basic neurochemistry: Molecular, cellular and medical aspects. 

Higashiyama, Akiko, Hla Hla Htay, Makoto Ozeki, Lekh R. Juneja, and Mahendra P. Kapoor. “Effects of l-theanine on attention and reaction time response.” Journal of Functional Foods 3, no. 3 (2011): 171-178. 

Brownawell, Amy M., Edward L. Carmines, and Federica Montesano. “Safety assessment of AGPC as a food ingredient.” Food and chemical toxicology 49, no. 6 (2011): 1303-1315. 

Tun, Maung Kyaw Moe, and Seth B. Herzon. “The pharmacology and therapeutic potential of (—)-huperzine A.” Journal of Experimental Pharmacology 4 (2012): 113. 

Deijen, J. B., C. J. E. Wientjes, H. F. M. Vullinghs, P. A. Cloin, and J. J. Langefeld. Brain research bulletin 48, no. 2 (1999): 203-209. 

“The Case For Finally Cleaning Your Desk.” Harvard Business Review. March 2019. 

“How To Be More productive: 10 Productivity Tips.” FutureLearn. May 2022. 

“Taking Breaks.” The Learning Center. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

“Why Do We Sit At Meetings? The Benefits of Standing Meetings.” LinkedIn.com. November 2023. 

Ma, Jiameng, Dongmei Ma, Zhi Li, and Hyunshik Kim. “Effects of a workplace sit–stand desk intervention on health and productivity.” International journal of environmental research and public health 18, no. 21 (2021): 11604. 

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