Seven Ways To Be More Productive at Work

How To Ease Your Stress and Get the Most Out of Every Work Hour

Dec 04, 2018

SMITH BRAIN TRUST – December can be overwhelming. There are the family and social obligations, heaps of additional errands and pressures. Plus, there’s work. And for many of us, the final weeks of the year involve a long list of work projects that must be wrapped up before we can relax for the holidays.

Here’s a guide that will help you make the most of those work hours, and help you be more productive at the office, now and throughout the year:

Avoid the email trap. Email can easily eat up the better part of your day if you read and respond to everything as soon as it hits your inbox. To avoid letting new message divert your attention, devote a certain time period of your day to look at email, says Rachel Loock, a career and leadership coach at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. Otherwise it’s too easy to get sidetracked.

Timing is everything. Create a schedule that plays to your strengths. Work on tedious work when you are most fresh, Loock recommends. Are you a morning person? Tackle your tough projects as soon as you get into the office and aim to arrive early. Or, if you’re sluggish in the morning, schedule more difficult tasks later in the day. And don’t forget to schedule creative time for planning and brainstorming. You’ll spend less time spinning your wheels, says Loock.

Duck out of meetings. Avoid unnecessary meetings when possible  be selective. You don’t have to accept all invites, says Loock. A quick phone call or a follow-up email can be just as productive – or even more productive – than an in-person meeting. Be especially wary of invites with long guest lists and broad agendas.

Take a break. It seems counterproductive, but sometimes the best way to be more productive is to stop working for a bit, says Maryland Smith management professor Trevor Foulk, whose recent research reviews the best ways to increase your psychological, cognitive and physiological resources at work. His study provides evidence that breaks can be an effective way of managing your work stress. Breaks don’t have to be long - this can just be stepping away from your desk for a few minutes or leaving for lunch. Loock says really try to avoid eating lunch at your desk, especially while working. Admittedly, we're all guilty of this, she says, and sometimes a project just has to get done. But you’ll miss the chance for a full mental break and the chance to return to the second part of your day refreshed. You can also take a brisk walk outside to clear your head. Foulk says there is lots of evidence that spending even a short time in nature or just outdoors – just 3 to 5 minutes – has an immediate rejuvenating effect that lifts your mood and improves your ability to focus on work tasks. Or to really recharge, take a long weekend or week vacation.

Give yourself a pep talk. Think positive: You can do this! You are totally capable of knocking out your to-do list and doing it well. Foulk says self-reinforcing pep talks are a form of a positive psychology intervention, and along with other exercises like writing out your strengths or expressing gratitude, can boost your energy at work and have longer lasting effects if you do these practices daily.

Deep breaths. Or a few moments of mindful meditation – whatever calms your mind to help you refocus, says Foulk. You can be more productivity with a clear mind.

Use an app. You can always turn to technology for help. There are dozens of apps and software platforms for list-keeping, organizing your projects and ideas, collaborating with others, and organizing meetings: Trello, G Suite, Evernote, GoToMeeting, etc. For anything you need to do at work, there’s likely technology tool that can help.



About the Expert(s)

Trevor Foulk

Dr. Trevor Foulk is an Assistant Professor of Management & Organization at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. He received his Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida, and his Bachelors of Business Administration from the University of Massachusetts.

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