10 Weird Tricks that Make You More Productive

Up your work efficiency with these surprising ideasBy Samantha Toscano

Get More Done
It happens to everyone. You start the work day knowing full well what you have to finish by quitting time, but at 5 P.M., you haven't achieved nearly as much as you'd planned. "Being productive is more than just checking off boxes on to-do lists," says Heidi Hanna, PhD, author of The Sharp Solution. "It's bringing our full and best energy to the time we have to do our work well." While we can't take tasks off your plate, these energizing tips will make you more efficient-and give you extra time to do the things you love.

1. Bring your work to a coffee shop.

And not because of the caffeine-packed java on offer. According to a study published in the December 2012 Journal of Consumer Research, moderate noise, such as the mid-level buzz in bustling coffee shops, enhances performance on creative tasks more than soft or loud ambient noise. Plus, being with the other patrons pumps up oxytocin, which decreases the stress hormones that cause mental blocks, says Dr. Hanna. And if that's not enough, licensed psychotherapist and Cue Cards for Life author Christina Steinorth notes the scenery change limits distractions that are more likely to arise at home and the office.

Related: Check out 8 calming foods that fight stress.

2. Cut your workday short.

When you have all the time in the world, you take more time to do things, explains Steinorth. "Time budgeting does the same thing as money budgeting-it forces you to be efficient," says Henry Cloud, PhD, psychologist and author of Boundaries for Leaders. Ending a workday just half an hour early once a week pressures you to be productive, since limits assign a deadline for your goals. Can't leave early? Arriving later in the morning can have the same efficiency-boosting effect.

3. Stop multitasking.
There's a myth that we get more done when we do more at once, but multitasking "reduces a Harvard MBA to a lizard," says Dr. Cloud. When you turn from one task to another, you interrupt brain functions. Plus, multitasking adds stress and boosts toxic hormones such as cortisol, which clouds thinking and can destroy brain cells, Dr. Hanna reveals. "It can take up to 20 minutes to recover from a shift in attention, wasting both time and energy," she says. To combat this, Coral Arvon, PhD, director of behavioral health and wellness at the Pritikin Center, suggests clearing your desk so only one task or activity is visible at a time.

4. Read less news.
Unless you're in the business, don't stay too in the know during the day-it can be distracting and depressing, especially if a story hits close to home. Like any other muscle, brains can get tired, says Dr. Cloud, so save your cognitive strength for work. You may want to skip reading the paper with your morning coffee too. Starting the morning stressed out won't help productivity, says Steinorth. Instead, catch up on headlines when you don't need to be as productive, as in at home at night.

5. Exercise before work.
You can think better for two hours after aerobic activity, since more glucose and oxygen gets to the brain, explains Dr. Hanna. So hitting the gym before heading to the office can start the work day on a productive note. But don't stop moving once you're on the job, says Dr. Cloud. Do a few jumping jacks in a closed conference room before an important presentation or pace in your office during a phone meeting because, as he says, "the brain loves it."

Related: Try 7 tummy toning exercises that really work.

6. Race the clock.
Competition is a great motivator, so setting a timer-even for just 10 minutes-can boost productivity. Playing beat the clock also quashes procrastination, since 10-minute blocks seem less overwhelming than an entire project. "Working with a sprint mentality enables us to focus fully for short periods of time, and then recover to recharge our battery," notes Dr. Hanna. So schedule a few minutes to shift out of task mode before moving on to the next project.

7. Carry a notebook.
A mental to-do list can cause brain drain. As you write down items, ideas or chores, though, you push that idea out of your mind, freeing up memory for tasks you need to focus on in the present, says Dr. Arvon. "Although there are more high-tech means, information in a notebook will never be deleted or erased accidentally," she adds.

8. Eat some berries.

As a study in Psychology Today reveals, all kinds of berries, especially blueberries, contain antioxidants that can improve memory and motor coordination and counteract cell-damaging, function-inhibiting stress. But don't just eat berries-have snacks every couple of hours with enough protein to beat the blood sugar drop fruit alone would cause, warns Dr. Cloud.

Related: Learn which foods keep you fuller longer.

9. Play a brain game.
Like all other muscles, your brain needs exercise. "Consider playing games that build focus and creativity or maximize your return on your investment," advises Dr. Hanna. Starting your day with crosswords or Sudoku puzzles should jumpstart cognitive activity. Just don't overtax the creativity or decision-making or prioritizing abilities you need for work. "You don't want to lift heavy weights right before you play the Super Bowl," warns Dr. Cloud. "But warming up isn't a bad idea."

10. Surround yourself with yellow.

To stay alert and increase productivity, add yellow decor to your work space. "The color decreases melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy in the evening, giving us more energy to accomplish tasks," Dr. Arvon says. Employees report an elevated mood with the addition of yellow pictures, lights or flowers around the office. If you can't control the decorations or paint palette at work, at least open the shades and let some sunlight in or change your computer screen background to a warm, yellow-toned photo to promote productivity.

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