It’s 8 p.m. The light dims from the room, but not from your eyes as you watch your tenth “Funny Dog Moments” video on Facebook.
It’s 2 a.m. Dogs are still funny and you still haven’t finished that bi-annual report due in six hours. Nailed it!
In a world of distractions—from social media to your noisy coworkers—how does anyone meet a deadline? How can you rewire your brain to focus when needed? Good news: we’re hacking productivity and giving you five tips for meeting those pesky deadlines:
1. Take a break
Sounds counterproductive, right? Well, it might be the most important thing you’re not doing. Deliberate “rest” unlocks energy, focus, and sharper ideas. This doesn’t mean take an 8-hour nap and put off today’s work for tomorrow. Take a short, deliberate break away from your screen, away from your phone, and away from people (if needed). Exercise, meditate, or engage in your version of white space. Then go back to your task and focus.
We live in a society that commends overexertion and criticizes rest. It’s in your best interest for you, and everyone around you, to recognize when you need time away from your work.
2. Use the “two-minute” rule
Conveniently, there are two parts to this rule. First, if a task will take you less than two minutes to complete, do it now. Smaller tasks linger overhead, overwhelming your mind and insinuating you have more work than you really do. Knock out your smaller tasks to make room for bigger ones.
Second, take two minutes to start the most difficult or time-consuming project on your list. Often, just starting is the most difficult step in the process—the thought is worse than actually doing it. Gain momentum by dedicating two minutes to your work. Suddenly two minutes turns into an hour and you’re halfway done!
3. Know yourself
When are you the most energized and alert? When are you most willing to kickstart that report? Most importantly, when do you achieve your state of flow? As positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggests, flow is our “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.”
For some, it’s 9 a.m. with a coffee in hand. For others, it’s 4 p.m. when the workday is nearly over. Find the time that works for you and tackle the most time-consuming and complicated item on your to-do list. Keep your deadlines in mind and schedule the most intense work during your state of flow.
4. Say “no”
You might want to sit down for this one because I’m about to tell you some mind-blowing information: you can say “no.” Say it to your coworkers, friends, family, and yourself—anyone who’s wants or needs are getting in the way of your productivity.
Be honest about work overload, as it has tremendous effects on your well-being and success in the workplace. Dynamic Signal found that work overload decreases productivity by 68% in employees who feel they don’t have enough hours in the day to complete their tasks. Pass off certain tasks and don’t feel guilty about saying “no” when your plate is full.
5. Switch up your environment
Think back to your college days of staying up all night in the library during exam week. There was always that one table of kids that wouldn’t stop talking when you were just trying to study quietly. Tap into that feeling. If you’re surrounded by colleagues that tend to talk more than they work, move to a different area or room. If you can’t focus no matter how hard you try, utilize the coffee shop on the corner or a nearby park if the weather’s nice. Switch up your work space to shift your perspective, thoughts, and focus.
You’re more in control than you think when it comes to workplace stress and meeting deadlines. Deliver what you promise, but don’t overwork yourself in the process. If you’re lacking presence and engagement with your work, change your schedule or your space to jumpstart your creativity. Use the productivity hack that works best for you—even if it is a short break for a funny dog video.