10 No-Stress Ways to Do More in Less Time

by Tara Struyk on 22 April 2014 0 comments

Sometimes I work too much. There, I said it. It shames me a bit, to be honest. But what really bothers me about that scenario, when it happens, is that I don't accomplish wonderful and amazing things. At all. Instead, I get really tired, and really grouchy, and I work more and more slowly and ineffectually so that I end up having to work even more. (See also: 6 Rules of a Productive Workspace)

It's stupid, but we all do it. What I always seem to forget is that the point of working hard isn't to work more but to get more done. And, if I can do that in less time, I can bugger off and spend the rest of the day doing something significantly more awesome. What that all boils down to is being more productive with the time I have. How? I dug up some research on how to schedule your day for optimal productivity. Check it out!

1. Schedule Time for Sleep

Hit the snooze button. Science proves that more sleep leads to significantly better productivity and overall performance. A 2012 study of nearly 400 employees in Sweden found that those who slept too little (defined as less than six hours each night) were the most likely to suffer burn-out on the job, while results from the American Insomnia Survey found that insomnia and sleep deprivation carries a $63.2 billion productivity loss each year. It sounds backwards, but the more sleep you get, the more likely you are to be able to get it all done. So go ahead and indulge. You'll not only be more productive, but happier, healthier... and much nicer to be around. (See also: Sleep Better in Fewer Hours)

2. Start With a Schedule

If there's one thing that helps me get a lot more done in a day, it's making a to-do list. Of course, usually that to-do list includes wayyy more than I can tackle in eight hours. That's where scheduling comes in. According to corporate leadership expert Peter Bregman, scheduling both when and where you'll accomplish specific tasks helps ensure they get done. Just choose a few of the most important and pressing things from your master list each day and schedule specific blocks of time to ensure you accomplish them.

3. Do the Hardest Things First

Your brain is just like a muscle in that it only has a finite amount of energy. According to research conducted by physiologist and sleep researcher Nathanial Kleitman, our brains run in 90-minute cycles beginning from alertness and progressing to mental fatigue. So, if you have difficult, stressful, or mentally taxing work to do, it's best to sit down and do it first. This will ensure that you're tackling the hardest tasks when you're most focused and productive. Plus, if you start the day by completing the tasks you dread the most, you'll get to carry that lower stress level and sense of accomplishment with you all day long.

4. Take a Nap or "Caffeine Nap"

As I mentioned above, sleep is very important, but if you didn't get quite enough Z's last night, a quick catnap can help take the edge off your mental fatigue. Research at NASA found that pilots who took short naps of 40 to 45 minutes improved their performance by 34% and their alertness by 54%. If that sounds like more nap than you can afford, even a short one will do, especially if you add caffeine. Experiments performed at Loughborough University in the UK showed that just 15 minutes of shut-eye combined with a cup of coffee could leave people amazingly refreshed. Just drink it quick, then settle down for a brief rest. The caffeine will take about 15 minutes to hit your bloodstream; when you wake up, you'll get a double dose of wakefulness. (See also: Surprising Benefits of Caffeine)

5. Find Peace and Quiet

According to a poll of professionals commissioned by Ask.com in 2013, 61% of office workers said they were distracted by office noise and loud co-workers. So, when you're scheduling your day for productivity, think about when you'll get the most peace and quiet. That might mean arriving at work early, staying late, or taking lunch after everyone's already returned. The key is to find some quiet time to tackle the most mentally challenging tasks. (See also: This Thing You Use Every Day Is Ruining Your Productivity)

6. Work in Intervals

Remember how I said that the brain works in 90-minute cycles? What that means is that you'll get the most done if you work in 90-minute intervals, too. Try scheduling yourself for 90 minutes of work on a specific project at a time, and then a taking break. Taking as little as five minutes to have a snack, get up and stretch, or stare out the window can help refresh your brain for the next task at hand.

7. Ditch Multitasking

You might think you're a good multitasker, but chances are you're wrong — and there's plenty of research to prove it. In fact, research shows that multitasking can put a drag of up to 40% on performance. That's because every time we flip to something new, our brains have to readjust. That switching shackles productivity, and puts you at higher risk of mental overload. Schedule your work in blocks and (as much as possible) do one thing at a time. It might feel less productive, but you'll accomplish more overall.

8. Leave Your Desk for Lunch

According to Sad Desk Lunch, 62% of Americans eat sad, colorless lunches right where they have been sitting and will continue to sit for hours. It isn't just sad. It's unproductive, according to research from the University of Toronto, which found that taking an actual lunch break can help boost productivity. So get up and enjoy your lunch away from your desk. Better yet, take your lunch outside; research from Heriot-Watt University in the U.K. found that enjoying some green space can also significantly boost mood and productivity.

9. Watch YouTube

Your boss might not appreciate your love of baby or kitten videos, but maybe you should show him or her the results of this study. A team of researchers at Hiroshima University found that people who were shown pictures of adorable baby animals were more productive than those who were shown other appealing images. If a little dose of cuteness helps fuel your work day, schedule in five minutes to watch a YouTube video or flip through something in the animals section on Buzzfeed. The fact that we are all so stressed out these days might just be the reason this type of content has gotten so popular!

10. Plan a Getaway

When it comes to rejuvenating your brain, vacations are a lot like naps. According to a study conducted by accounting firm Ernst & Young in 2006, employee performance ratings improved by 8% for each additional 10 hours of vacation they took per year. Even if you can only manage a day or two of staycation, try to always have some sort of restful getaway from work on the horizon. It'll give you something to look forward to — and help ensure that you enjoy both career success and work-life balance. (See also: 10 Productivity Tips from Visionaries)

How are you making the most of your day? Please share in comments.

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