If you have ever found yourself getting sidetracked during your workday, you are not alone. No matter how committed you are to your vision and your entrepreneurial goals, and no matter how carefully you draw up schedules and to-do lists for the day, you may find yourself drifting if you don’t create a healthy physical and mental foundation for staying on task. Here we describe four steps you can take to support the drive and focus you bring to your work.
1. Make the most of your sleep.
Some top business figures like Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer can get as little as 4 hours of sleep a night, but for most of us, that figure is unrealistic. According to a Harvard Medical School study, sleep deprivation not only affects our health in negative ways, it also is responsible for reducing cognitive functioning throughout the day, resulting in workplace accidents, medical errors and decreased productivity.
Fortunately, the tide of opinion on sleep deprivation is turning, with healthy sleep being one of the key metrics tracked by apps and wearable devices. Some steps you can take on your own to enhance your sleep include:
- Setting a regular sleep schedule. Wind down with a familiar pattern of activities to get yourself ready for bed.
- Keep your room dark and quiet. Blackout blinds, a sleep mask and a white noise app can all help with this. Use the Do Not Disturb function on your phone to either prevent all interruptions or to allow calls only from certain family and friends.
- Relax your body. You don’t want to exercise too close to bedtime, but progressively tensing and relaxing your muscles in succession will help you shift gears.
- Avoid the blue light of your devices. This light emitted by your phone or laptop sends a signal to your body that the sun is up, and this interferes with sleep. Change the setting on your devices to block the blue spectrum past a certain hour or wear blue light filter lenses before bed (which can also be helpful if you work a night shift).
2. Start your day with a morning routine.
Depriving yourself of sleep may be falling out of fashion, but starting your day early has been a top productivity tip since the time of Benjamin Franklin, and it remains highly favored to this day. However, simply waking up and jumping into the first activity that demands your attention is not as likely to help you be productive as having a plan and sticking to it.
The most basic routine can involve the daily self-care of getting washed and dressed and having a quiet cup of tea. Depending on your personal goals, you might also add in time to work out, meditate or read.
Some authors and consultants suggest a more structured ritual. Hal Elrod has a “Miracle Morning” plan that incorporates exercise and visualization into an hour-long routine geared toward productivity. Marla Cilley, aka The FlyLady, recommends a similar set of “baby steps” worked into an automatic routine to help manage household responsibilities. Any regular system that helps orient you toward your goals will be helpful.
3. Plan your time in blocks.
Multitasking is sometimes a necessity, but in truth, we are not as good at it as we think we are. For some complex tasks, trying to do more than one thing at a time will take up to 40% longer than focusing on a single activity. Instead, assign tasks to certain blocks of time. The Pomodoro technique recommends a 25-minute block, but you may have to experiment to see if your own personal limit is shorter or longer. During this time, keep all distractions at bay. If new thoughts or concerns arise while you are trying to focus, write them down and make an agreement with yourself that you will get to them later.
In between your blocks of time, schedule a 5 to 15-minute break. If this isn’t possible, try to alternate your activities so you get to use different physical and mental abilities throughout the day.
4. Keep moving.
If your work keeps you in front of a screen all day, use a timer or app to remind yourself to stand up and stretch. Sitting for too long is not only bad for your eyesight, circulation and mood, it will also decrease your productivity. Even just standing up and stretching, looking away from the screen, or getting a glass of water will help you stay focused throughout the day.
One consistent theme running through these tips is that adding in time to rest or change gears can ultimately boost productivity more than driving yourself all day without a break.