By Ashley Stahl
How many times have you started your day with the plan of getting everything done on your to-do list, only to find yourself distracted and with an even longer list at the end of the day? No matter how great our intentions are, it can be difficult to increase our productivity if we aren’t deliberate about how we manage our time. That said, we can increase output in two ways: put in more hours, or work smarter. I know which one I’d choose.
The traditional workday is changing, and the standard 9-to-5 isn’t as common as it used to be. As a career coach, I’ve helped young executives working 12-15 hour days, and millennial entrepreneurs with the entire day at their disposal. Both parties struggle with how to effectively structure their time. No matter how you slice it, you need to be on point with how you manage those 24 hours each day.
Whether you’re a freelancer trying to set boundaries, or a corporate worker tied to a strict schedule, try incorporating these tips to increase your productivity and work smarter.
1. Tackle tougher tasks when you’re most alert
Scientific research shows that no set schedule works for everyone. Figure out what works best for your genetic makeup and work around that. Oftentimes we put aside the harder tasks because we don’t feel confident enough in achieving them. They will never get done that way, right? Right. If you’re a morning person, get after that dicey project over your first cup of coffee and be done with it. That way it won’t be looming over your head all day, distracting you from other tasks.
2. Schedule administrative time.
Block your calendar for time to respond to emails, return calls, and handle other administrative tasks, and don’t touch those areas outside of your set hours. This allows you to be proactive instead of reactive, and you’ll be less likely to get pulled off task. Research has shown it takes an average of 26 minutes to recover from trivial interruptions. If you respond to every email that hits your inbox, or every text message that comes your way, you’ll never stay ahead.
3. Take regular breaks.
To keep your energy levels high and your mind fresh, incorporate mini breaks throughout your day. Research has shown that working in 90-minute intervals may be a prescription for maximizing productivity. Try it for yourself. Work for 90 minutes straight, and then take a 15 minute break. If you’re still having a hard time focusing, shorten that interval to 60 or 75 minutes. During your break, grab a coffee, go for a walk, or make a personal call. Do something different than the task at hand to jumpstart your mind. When you approach the work again, your boost in productivity will more than make up for the 15 minutes you spent on the phone with your mom.
4. Stop multitasking.
It doesn’t work. “Multitasking is not humanly possible,” said Earl K. Miller, a neuroscience professor at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT. We are tricking ourselves when we think we can call our colleague, work on a presentation, and eat a quesadilla at the same time. Focus on one thing exclusively, and you’ll find yourself completing it much faster. Then move onto the next task at hand (like that quesadilla).
Some days will be more productive than others, so don’t beat yourself up over a bad day. Instead, refocus your energy and implement these tips. Once you find the sweet spot that works for you, you’ll be amazed at how much more you can get done both in and out of the office.
Now excuse me while I go take my 15 minute break. You should probably take one too.
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This content was originally published by Forbes Magazine. Original publishers retain all rights. It appears here for a limited time before automated archiving. By Forbes Magazine