How to Be More Productive
These surprising strategies just might help you outwit your proclivity to procrastinate—and get the job done already.
Soak Up Some Rays
If you don’t receive enough exposure to natural light, you can feel jet-lagged. This happens because your circadian rhythms—including the way your body responds to the changes in light level between day and night—are disrupted. Try to get outside in the morning, when your body craves brightness, and then stand near a window a few times a day when you sense yourself slowing down. Getting enough sunlight can stimulate your internal clock, providing you with the energy you need.
Christopher Meek is an associate professor of architecture at the University of Washington’s Integrated Design Lab. He lives in Seattle.
Give a Compliment
A tech company I worked with found that its employees became more productive after the supervisor started offering one piece of praise a day. It wasn’t that each person received a compliment. All it took was one flattering remark total to make everyone, including the manager, feel more positive. Why? Whether you smile yourself or watch someone else smile, the happy facial expression can trigger your brain to release dopamine—a chemical that helps control your body’s reward centers and, in turn, kick your productivity into high gear.
Michelle Gielan is a cofounder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research, a company that works with businesses and schools to increase productivity and happiness. She lives in Chicago.
Do Something Mindless
If you need to make a lot of progress on a project, you may be tempted to work on it nonstop. Don’t. No one can focus on one single task all the time. Ensure that you break up your day—and your thought patterns—by routinely engaging in an activity that’s repetitive and not intellectually taxing, such as vacuuming or gardening. When your mind wanders, creativity can flow, enabling you to synthesize information in a unique way. Then when you sit back down to your work, you’ll have new ideas and be able to get more done.
Jonathan Schooler is a professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at the University of California in Santa Barbara. He lives in Santa Barbara.
Challenge Yourself Physically
A lot of people don’t think they have time to fit exercise into their busy schedules. But I’ve found that engaging in endurance activities, such as a long bike ride or a triathlon, makes me more disciplined and diligent. If I go a few days without doing these things, my productivity declines. My energy decreases, my focus wavers, and I can’t make decisions as easily. So I encourage people—even those who don’t think of themselves as athletes—to commit to a physical event, such as a walkathon or a community 5K. Once it’s on your schedule, you’ll make the time to train and realize that you can accomplish more in a day than you thought.
Ted Kennedy is the founder of CEO Challenges, which organizes sports competitions for CEOs and business owners, and a cofounder of Ironman North America. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.
I tend to avoid projects that seem too big, so in order to be productive, I have to cut overwhelming tasks down to size. I do that by working in small increments. When I first started to write novels while running a magazine, I told myself that I would write for only 15 min-utes a day. I knew that working for a short amount of time was an achievable goal, and I managed to get 10 books written in just this way.
Kate White is a former editor in chief of Cosmopolitan magazine and the author of numerous books, including, mostly recently, I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This ($25, amazon.com). She lives in New York City.