How many of us leave the office each evening thinking, “It’s after 6 PM—is this really all I’ve completed?” If the frustration stopped there, it’d be one thing, but the fact is, the lack of check marks on our to-do lists haunts us at night. We wake up with anxiety, thinking about everything we’re supposed to get done the next day. We can’t stop obsessing about work even when we’re outside of the office.
What we wouldn’t give for a couple of extra productive hours to show for each day.
What if I told you that you could have them? That you could get more done every single day? These three simple exercises will help you accomplish more while maintaining your sanity.
1. Practice Meditation
I know it seems counterproductive to spend 20 minutes of your precious time quietly seated in a half-lotus position. However, meditation’s been scientifically proven to clear your mind and help you to concentrate better. According to a study by researchers at the University of California, Davis, meditation was found to have a positive effect on improving focus. The study showed that participants displayed less “mind wandering” post training.
There was a time in my career when the workload was absolutely overwhelming. With my boss on extended maternity leave and a lack of internal support, I was given responsibilities from every possible direction. My head spinning, I was willing to try anything that would help preserve my sanity; that’s when I discovered meditation, and I haven’t looked back.
The goal of it is to stop thinking, worrying, obsessing. As you bring your mind back to simply being present, you strengthen the brain. The more you practice this kind of quiet returning to the present, forcing the wandering thoughts out and away, the easier it becomes to control your thoughts each day. You’ll find you’re able to be more intentional, deliberate, and resistant to distraction, which means, of course, greater focus when the office clock’s ticking.
2. Say Goodbye to Multitasking
You know multitasking isn’t good for you. But you still do it because like most of us, you’re in the habit of trying to do more than one thing at a time for the sake of being productive. But, when you’re in the middle of a project, and are flipping back and forth to social media, while also carrying on an on-and-off conversation with the guy sitting next to you, how much attention is the work that really matters getting?
It probably doesn’t surprise you to learn that the human brain’s not meant to do multiple things at once and that this well-intentioned behavior ends up causing both anxiety and stress.
In an interview with the PBS documentary series, Frontline, Professor Clifford Nass discussed a groundbreaking study that said multitaskers fared poorly at ignoring irrelevant information and therefore were increasingly susceptible to distractions. It’s time to stop ignoring the research.
It’s tough to dedicate our attention to one thing at a time. While there are many strategies out there to do this, the one that I suggest you start with is The Pomodoro Technique. It’s a time-management program with four basic tenets: work with time and not against it, eliminate burnout, manage distractions, and encourage work-life balance.
Here’s how it works: For 25 minutes, you focus on one task. At the end of the time block, you take a break for three to five minutes. After four of these sessions, you take an extended break of 15 to 20 minutes. Forced to work hard without distraction within a reasonable amount of time before getting a break has been shown to cut multitasking tendencies and help you accomplish more.
3. Take Actual Breathing Breaks
This is another suggestion that seems counterproductive. Why take breaks if you’re looking to save time? Because breaks, used with the Pomodoro technique as well, are essential to keeping your mind fresh. Taking time to breathe slows down the race, the craze. When you’re working super hard for long periods of time, how often do you look up and say “Wow, where did time go? Time flies!” These moments help you keep an eye on the clock, as well as recharge your energy levels.
According to a recent article in Harvard Health Publications, the “fight or flight” response is often prompted by job worries possibly leading to health problems such as high blood pressure, susceptibility to illness, anxiety and depression. One way to possibly combat this trigger is to practice deep breathing; it slows blood flow, stabilizes blood pressure, calms the heart beat, and decreases stressors.
When you’re feeling stressed about a project or following a tense meeting with your team, take a moment to calm yourself down with a few deep breaths: Slowly inhale through the nose, fill the lungs with oxygen, allowing the chest and lower belly to rise. Let the abdomen fully expand. Then breathe all the way out slowly through the nose.
This is you and your breath—no phone, social media, or other internet activities—just three straight minutes of breathing in and out. At the end of it, you should feel invigorated and better able to focus on the work in front of you.
It’s easy to let your workload get the best of you. And feeling like you’re not getting enough done is defeating. While your boss and company are most likely pushing you to the limits of productivity for the success of the company, remember that you’re the one in charge of your day-to-day choices. By practicing these three exercises regularly, you’ll find it easier to set a time for arrival and departure each day—and actually be able to stick to it.
Photo of woman being productive courtesy of JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images.