From optimizing our inboxes to streamlining meetings, we’re always looking for ways to work smarter. But being productive isn’t only about tackling every task on your to-do list or having more downtime (though those things are great!). Freeing up time and mental energy also allows you to spend more time stretching yourself on bigger projects that grow your skill set, bring value to your company—and give you a greater sense of fulfillment.
We spend an average of 90,000 hours working in our lifetimes, according to the book Happiness at Work. So we may as well make them as productive—and enjoyable—as possible. The good news is, you don't have to overhaul your entire schedule. Incorporating a handful of super-simple work habits can help you get more done and feel more engaged at work every day.
Consider these simple ways to switch up your routine, help you focus, and boost your mood while you work.
1. Start the Day With Something You Love
Your morning can set the whole tone for your day. Dedicate at least five minutes every AM to something you enjoy, like meditation, reading, or sipping a cup of coffee.
2. Cut Back on Rapid Responses
In our uber-connected world, it’s easy to feel like you need to respond immediately to every email, text, or meeting invite, says workplace expert Lynn Taylor, author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant. But it’s healthier to take time to respond in most situations, she says. That also trains other people not to expect an immediate answer from you. Taylor recommends blocking out time each day to answer non-urgent emails and calls, so they don't interfere with your to-do list.
3. Do the Dreaded Tasks First
Tackle at least one unpleasant task early in the day. That doesn’t mean you have to do all the hard stuff at once, but you’ll feel more in control when you chip away at the onerous tasks instead of leaving them all for the end of the day when you’re more fatigued.
4. Say Hi to a Coworker
A Workplace Trends study found that 60% of study respondents would stay at a company longer if they had more friends there. “Socializing at work makes you feel more invested in your job,” says Adam Smiley Poswolsky, an expert on talent retention and the author of The Quarter-Life Breakthrough.
5. Don’t Assume Anything
It’s easy to misread tone in an email or misconstrue an offhand comment as a personal attack. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions rather than assume or take things personally,” Taylor says. “Emotional intelligence will make your job a much happier place.”
6. Move More
Taking lots of mini-breaks is essential to staying focused, energetic and engaged at work, Poswolsky says. Find easy ways to step away from work and move your body throughout your day. Set an alarm to remind yourself to stand up and stretch every hour, for example, or take a short walk at lunchtime.
7. Declutter your desk
We’d all like to believe that a messy desk is a sign of a genius mind, but clutter also makes it harder for your brain to process information. Your workspace doesn't have to be spotless, but a more organized area will help you feel more in control.
8. Cut down on social media scrolling
We’ve all done it. We hop onto Facebook or Twitter only to emerge 30 minutes later from a social media daze and wonder where the time went. To avoid distraction, set aside specific times—ideally at the end of the day or on your lunch break—to check your personal social media accounts.
9. Be of Service
“If you want to be better at your job, think beyond yourself,” Poswolsky says. Ask yourself, “Is there a team or manager who could use an extra hand right now?” You’ll build goodwill, of course, but helping colleagues improves your mood, too.
10. Keep a Gratitude List
Studies show that appreciating the upsides in your life can help you better enjoy good experiences and cope with bad ones. So take a few minutes to think about the positive side of your work life. Maybe you are thankful for supportive coworkers, your company’s mission, a flexible boss, even just a steady paycheck. “Write out a few expectations and a few things you’re grateful for every day,” Taylor says.