Are you struggling to get in the concentration zone? Do you feel like you are wasting time and simply can’t get any work done? Annique breaks down ten productivity boosters that will have your mental muscles pop like Popeye’s bicep.
There you are sitting at your desk at home, reloading your Facebook newsfeed, when you decide it’s time for a coffee break. Does it matter that you’ve already had 5 cups this morning? Nah. As the kettle boils you check the time – only 10am. With a frown on your forehead you try to retrace what you have achieved so far today. The longer you think, the more you realize that the only productive task you have completed is, in fact, switching on the kettle. It’s not a good feeling. And then it starts… “I could have…! I should have…!” This brief moment of dismay is, of course, immediately followed by the delicious taste of a self-inflicted caffeine overdose, and by the resumption of your desk position. And, reload newsfeed.
How can you prevent this from happening? How do some people manage to achieve a solid handful of tasks or productive activities in the same amount of time it takes you to merely realize that you have been as unproductive as a snail crossing a gravel road? Productivity can be trained. It takes commitment, but like any habit, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Here are ten ways you can improve your productivity:
What you eat has an impact on your concentration, whether you like it or not. If you live on coffee and table sugar, and 95% of your food intake consists of carbohydrates, then don’t expect to have optimal focus for more than a few minutes at a time (that ‘high’ is soon followed by an epic drop). Find a balanced diet and make sure you are giving your body the right nutrients it needs.
Start your day with a decent breakfast, as various scientific studies show that having breakfast boosts productivity – it restores glucose levels and boosts you with energy to start the day, optimizing concentration and memory.
When you are working or studying for a few hours at a time, prepare some snacks that are conducive to productivity mode, for example a handful of nuts and blueberries, or a few blocks of dark chocolate (hello, endorphins!). Then there is always the banana and organic nut butter snack too… bliss.
FYI: No one at EduConnect will ever tell you not to drink coffee – but, the truth is that while coffee can boost your productivity, too much of it has the opposite effect. Moderation, guys. And for each cup of coffee, have one glass of water.
Research shows that exercise has a significant affect on your ability to focus, in particular when you exercise shortly before the time during which you will be concentrating and performing cognitive tasks. Exercising can also improve your memory.
So, if you are not already exercising, start. Apart from the dopamine release and abundance of other health benefits, it will help you to be more productive with study and work tasks that require concentration.
For some inspiration, have a look at the Top 10 Student Budget-Friendly Exercises in Cape Town!
Sleep ‘n Snooze
Sleep-deprivation and productivity are bound to head for divorce. Don’t even try it. Or try it, and see what happens. You need to give yourself enough rest and enough sleep. Your brain rebuilds cells during sleep, so if you deny your brain that time to regenerate, you’re more or less letting it shrivel up into an unnecessary ball of denied productivity. The amount of hours a person needs to sleep each night can vary a lot, but on average, try to get 6-8 hours of sleep.
Power naps have also been thoroughly researched. Many studies show that a nap of 15-20 minutes can serve as a kind of ‘instant recharge’ and boost problem-solving skills, as well as your attention levels. It doesn’t work for everyone, but many people swear by it!
Here’s an extremely individual situation. Some people find that they are most productive early in the morning, as soon as they get up, and others find that they are best able to power in the evening (and then you have those that can just work at any time… strange beings, those).
You need to find the time of the day that allows you to be most productive, and once you find it, rinse it dry! If you are someone who wakes up randomly at 3am every day, feeling like you could marathon your way through that chapter on taxes, you know what you gotta do.
This is a classic. Having a routine is one of the easiest ways to boost productivity. Let’s take the study break example. You have two weeks before exams kick off, and it’s entirely up to you how you structure your study time. You are far more likely to be productive each day if you designate a certain timeframe for studying, rather than spontaneously deciding if you will study or not – in fact, this will probably result in a two week holiday and major cram session the night before the exam.
In this case, you could tell yourself that you will study every day from 8am – 3pm, and then the rest of the day is yours to enjoy guilt-free. You’ll be spacing out the information you are asking your brain to absorb over two weeks, which will not only make you study more productively, but you are far more likely to remember the information on a long-term basis.
Abandon Social Media
No, it’s not about deleting Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp. But yes, it’s about choosing to switch them off, pack them away, and relentlessly ignoring them during the time you wish to be productive and concentrate on the task at hand. If you sit down to write that essay, or draw up that floor plan, there is no reason for you to be focusing on the latest Tweets, clicking through old albums, nor to have distracting group chats.
Be mindful when you are carrying out your tasks. This means that you dedicate your attention entirely to the task at hand. It will be tricky at first, but learning to concentrate on one task at a time without being distracted by other things (like activities on your social media) is something that can be trained. Try it, and you’ll realise how much you can actually get done in the time that you used to waste scrolling, poking, tweeting, etc.
Break it Up
It’s a scientific fact that regular breaks improve productivity and creativity. Whether you are studying or working, you need to give yourself regular breaks. Most of us know that feeling of being in the productivity zone, when the genius in you just seems to keep flowing – but eventually this starts to wear off. When you feel that your focus is waving its white flag of surrender, be kind to it. Take a break, refresh your brain. This will allow you to return to your work with new cognitive ammunition to power on.
Find your Space
Where you work or study can have a huge influence on productivity. For many people, entering a space which is designated solely for work will allow for higher productivity than a space that is associated with non-work related activites. For example, many students choose to study for exams in the university library, as this space forces them to focus on that specific task without distractions like social media, the view outside the bedroom, or (needless to say) the ever-luring fridge.
It’s an individual choice. Some people are very productive at home, and even write their essays in bed. The important thing is that you figure out what this space is for you, and go there with the intention to be productive.
Get in the Zone
It’s the cooler way of saying “be productive.” Getting in the zone means entering a world where your concentration builds up a barrier between you and your surroundings – it’s when you are focusing so hard, people need to say your name three times before you react.
Some people get in the zone by listening to music, or by working in dead silence, or by working in nature. As EduConnect CEO Jason Basel says, it’s about somehow ‘isolating yourself’ into that zone. How you do that is up to you.
Remember when you were small and you had to clean up your room? What worked better…. your mother simply telling you to clean up your room, or your mother promising you a pack of sweets if you cleaned up your room? Exactly. Though the previous example is basically just an excusable form of bribery, setting a reward for yourself can shoot your levels of productivity through the roof.
Tell yourself, “If I get through these two chapters this afternoon, I get to join my friends at the bar tonight.” Or, “If I manage to mark all these essays before 8pm, I can watch that movie.” The feeling of getting rewarded for an achievement is awesome – so why not just do yourself the favour and set it up? Motivation will come knocking.
No one expects you to be productive all the time. We all know that sometimes it’s impossible to have optimal performance, like when you are sick, stressed or have emotional burdens in your life. But for those of you who simply struggle to get in the zone, or not to waste so much time with unimportant things, following those ten productivity boosters is sure to make a positive difference.