Work. Sometimes it’s a place where you’re cranking out ideas and projects like a well-oiled machine. Other times, you’re squeaking through the day, easily distracted. And trust us, we know it’s tough to get everything done. With the workplace in a constant state of change and many companies forced to consolidate job responsibilities to keep down costs, there’s typically more work than seems possible to accomplish.
But before you let out a sigh or start screaming, “Is it Friday yet?” for the third time in an hour, there is hope for a better (and more productive) life during those eight-plus hours on the job. Ready to refresh your tactical take on the day? We’ve got a few suggestions—18 of them, in fact—to keep you ahead of the curve.
1. Carpe diem (even if you’re not a morning person). With the exception of those freakishly chipper types, most people aren’t ready to rise and shine as soon as the alarm clock goes off. But there are good reasons to get an early start. Waking up even 20 minutes earlier can make a huge difference. You’ll have time to read some Scripture and talk to God while sipping your java—a perfect way to start the pre-work day.
2. Kill the morning clutter. To start the workday off right, begin the night before. Clear off that desk before you leave the office. “If I’m in a messy environment, it’s harder to concentrate,” says Lori Isaacs, a publicist for The Media Collective in Nashville, Tenn. “So as a rule, I take a few minutes at the end of the day to straighten up my desk and organize things, so I can get a fresh start the next day.”
3. Get your head together. Begin each day with a 15-minute orientation in which you accomplish three objectives: prioritize your tasks (name those pieces of your work that are most important), set your daily agenda (schedule those tasks for your most productive work times), and review progress on the previous goals you’ve set.
4. Find the needle by organizing the haystack. Looking for that follow-up e-mail from last month’s staff meeting? Hunting for the receipts to reconcile your corporate card account? Trying to sort through that important client’s file? You’ll actually save much precious time by spending a few hours to get organized. Find a system that works for you—and stick to it. If you’re truly organizationally challenged, professionals can help for a fee (try faithfulorganizers.com), or ask for pointers from your most OCD coworker.
5. Put it in writing. For assignments and event details (such as “Lunch with vendor at Morton’s, Tuesday at 11” or “Please take care of these parts of this project”), don’t call. Instead, send an e-mail and give your fellow workers the courtesy of your request in writing, reducing miscommunication (“I thought you said, ‘Brunch with lender at Horton’s’” or “Was I supposed to write that report?”).
6. Turn off the speakerphone. “My biggest distraction at work is being forced to listen to coworkers talk on their speakerphone in their cubicles,” says Amy Bickel, a campaign associate for United Way of Central Iowa. So how do you deal with these annoying circumstances? Don’t use your speaker phone and don’t be afraid to kindly ask colleagues to keep it down (they may not even be aware of their faux pas).
7. Pare down personal calls. Your boss understands that occasionally you’ll have personal business to attend to. But excessive cell-phone chatter won’t help your productivity, so limit personal calls to five minutes or less if they’re crucial. If they’re not, let voicemail answer until lunch or after hours (when you’d also answer personal e-mails). And to keep distractions to a minimum, set your phone on silent or vibrate (not everyone is a fan of your Coldplay ringtone).
8. Take a breather. Of course it’s important to get your work done, but everyone needs a break now and then. Stand up and stretch. Step away from your computer (it’s best to take a five-to-10-minute break every two hours to give your eyes a rest). Take a walk around the office or climb the stairs in your building. Go outside for some vitamin D and fresh air. Let your brain go offline so you can return refreshed.
9. Go green. Place a plant in your cube to boost your brain power. In an eight-month study, a Texas A&M University research team explored the link between flowers and plants and workplace productivity. Participants performed problem-solving tasks in a workplace with flowers and plants, with sculpture, and with no decorative embellishments. Result: Workers demonstrated innovative thinking—generating more ideas and original solutions—in the greener environment. Male participants generated 15 percent more ideas, and females generated more creative, flexible solutions to problems when flora was present.
Editor’s Note: Click here for Part 2: Nine more ways to make the most of your workday (and probably wow your boss in the process).