Date posted: 11/10/2019 5 min read

5 tips to be more productive

The digital age has led to a workplace of distraction. ‘Soft skills’ coach Petris Lapis shares five tips to aid productivity.

In Brief

  • If you want to complete tasks faster, focus on one thing at a time rather than trying to multitask.
  • Walk away from your desk and take a breather every 90 minutes to stay in tune with your ultradian rhythm.
  • If you need to finish a priority task, use an app to block social media and disable your email pop-up.

1. Stop multitasking

According to neuroscientist, musician and author Daniel Levitin, multitasking is one of the most damaging illusions of the internet age. With the exception of rote physical activity such as walking or eating, the brain isn't really capable of focusing on two things at once. Trying to multitask just makes us tired, stressed and clouds our thinking. Participants in a University of Michigan study who were asked to write a report and check email at the same time, took one and a half times longer to finish than individuals who did the same two tasks sequentially. If you want to be faster, make fewer mistakes and go home earlier, then focus on one thing at a time.

2. Mix things up

Your brain (and the rest of you) operates in 90-minute cycles known as ultradian rhythms. At the end of a cycle, your body sends you signals that it needs a break. This is the time to walk away from your desk for a few moments so you can recharge for the next 90-minute cycle.

3. Unplug from distractions

Our brains evolved to be on alert for changes in our environment and save us from being eaten by a predator, but today that means the constant distractions of a modern office just drive us bonkers. If you find yourself responding like one of Pavlov's dogs each time an alert pings, take a moment to pause and breathe before you respond. Or try using an app to block social media sites for an hour or two, disabling your email pop-up, cleaning your desk, moving to a quiet space, or putting your mobile phone on silent in a drawer while you finish a priority task.

4. Take a powerful pause

Pausing and coming back into the moment is your superpower in the digital world. During the pause, check in on whether you are focused (or distracted), and whether you are giving your energy to your most important tasks. Coming back into the present moment by taking a few intentional breaths helps you refocus your mind from one task to the next, to be focused on the person you are with, and to listen to what is being said.

5. Strive for silence

Researchers have now debunked the 'Mozart effect' theory. There is no evidence that listening to classical music makes you smarter or more productive, but it can make you feel happier. In fact, studies have found that listening to music (compared with silence) while reading and writing hinders retention. The louder the music, the worse the outcome. If you rely on music to counteract the background noise of an open-plan office, then music without lyrics is the least distracting for your brain.