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Productivity hack: 8 ways to get more done by doing very little

Here's how to get out of your productivity rut. (Photo: Getty)
Here's how to get out of your productivity rut. (Photo: Getty)

Let’s stamp out the myth once and for all that you have to be working around the clock to deliver maximal output.

In fact, doing just that is a one-way ticket to burning out, according to recruitment firm Robert Half.

Citing research from Wharton School, an Ivy League business school based in the University of Pennsylvania, reducing work hours and promoting rest periods sees employees using their attention more effectively, said Robert Half Australia director Nicole Gorton.

“They end up producing just as much, often with higher quality and creativity. They’re also more loyal to the organisations that are willing to give them flexibility to care about life outside of work,” she said.


And when professionals work in a high-alert, creative work environment, productivity is enhanced, she added.

Here are her top productivity tips that require you to do ...well, nothing:

1. Rest

A tired brain is a useless brain: you simply won’t get anything done, so what’s called for is a boost to the energy levels – not with more caffeine – by resting.

“Some people love daytime naps (which may be restricted to weekends, depending on how progressive your workplace is), and others practice guided meditation on a daily basis,” Gorton said.

There are a lot of different methods out there, so take five (or twenty), go to a corner of the office and relax, so you can come back all guns blazing.

2. Switch off

Information consumption has never been easier – and switching off has never been harder. “This can mess with our brains,” said Gorton.

“Set some time aside at night to deliberately wind down and switch off, perhaps starting with a technology-free hour before bed.

“This has been proven to increase the quality of sleep and reduce insomnia, which in turn will do wonders for your productivity during the workday.”

3. Manage your emails

Are you constantly distracted from your email notifications popping up on your screen every minute? Just as you’re about to get into a work flow, you become distracted from the task and reflexively you want to hit reply at every email that gets sent your way.

The first step is managing your notifications.

“Research has shown that establishing boundaries between emails, concentrating on other work and work-free time is a lesson in how to be productive,” said the recruitment firm director.

The next step is blocking out time between emails and your actual work.

“Then you can set designated time to respond to emails when you’re in the right frame of mind, making better use of your time and creating more considered replies.”

4. Don’t make rush decisions

At any given time, there might be a number of things that need your attention, whether it’s responding to a colleague about a situation, replying to an email, or finishing off a task.

But Gorton advises taking a moment to think about the solution and the next step rather than making a decision for the sake of it which can result in lengthier back-and-forths.

“Assess the urgency of a situation and then decide appropriately,” she said.

5. Detach from the tech tangles...

There’s nothing worse than tech issues – it slows down productivity and can make you – or an entire team – frustrated, which does nothing for morale.

The solution to dealing with this can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths. If it’s time for a break anyway, go outside and walk around the block before coming back and tackling it with a clearer head.

6. ...Yet make the most of technology

Just as tech can be a gateway to unwanted clutter and noise in your life, it can also help boost productivity – it’s all about how you use it.

There are some fantastic apps available that can help you organise your tasks and your time – Wunderlist is an easy-to-use to-do list app that can be downloaded across all your devices, while Pomodoro technique – named after a tomato-shaped timer – helps you focus on one task at a time.

Other great task organisation apps are Asana and Trello, and a great way to start with meditation is Headspace, which takes you through guided meditations that are as short as just a few minutes if you’re tight on time.

7. Don’t let your emotions get to you

Not only will you encounter a range of personalities at work, but you’ll likely have to work with them, too, and it won’t always be smooth sailing.

“It’s easy to act defensively when you receive an inquisitive email or when a colleague seems to be coming across offensively,” Gorton acknowledged.

“Instead of reacting immediately, it's wiser to step back and cool off. You’ll come back to it with a clearer and calmer head, which will only have a positive effect on your productivity levels.”

8. Use breaks to get outside

If there are too many things piling up on your plate, there’s a point where you just need to tap out.

So while it’s tempting to push through the brain fog and keep working, it’s actually counterproductive, Gorton argued.

“Even half an hour of exercise a day, which can be done before or after work or during your lunch break, is great for your mind and motivation,” she said.

“Getting outside is the best option if you can: fresh air boosts your mood and energy levels, which can be a great productivity boost during your workday.”

So the next time you’re under the pump, you might find you can recuperate more quickly by hitting pause and taking a moment before jumping back into things.

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