5 Easy Steps to Be More Productive (And Work Smarter Instead of Harder)

Karola Karlson |  May 24, 2016 |  Last updated: August 23, 2016

be more productive


We’re all aspiring to be more productive. What’s holding us back is not the noisy office or poor management, but the wrong perception of workplace productivity.


There’s a huge difference between working hard and working smart.

We tend to favour working hard to doing what our body and brain really need to be effective. Doing 12-hour workdays or skipping lunch are counterproductive to our achievements and career improvements. We simply often fail to understand it.


If you’re also working hard instead of working productively, this article will introduce you to 5 small changes that will return better results, higher energy levels, and enhance your mood throughout the day.


1. Avoid insufficient sleep and embrace the power of daily napping


There are tons of research when it comes to tracking people’s sleep patterns. After all, we spend one-third of our lives sleeping. Research conducted by the US military indicated that “losing one hour of sleep per night for a week will cause a level of cognitive degradation equivalent to a .10 blood alcohol level.”


Another study suggested that performance begins to degrade after 16 hours awake, and 21 hours awake was equivalent to a blood alcohol content of .08 percent, which is the blood alcohol limit for drunk driving in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K.[38]


You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize the importance of getting 8 hours of sleep daily.

Instead of helping to get more work done, insufficient rest leads to health problems and a lower mood throughout the day. Being constantly tired impairs our ability to think clearly and results in the opposite of productive work.


People struggling with sleep deprivation also report memory and cognitive impairment, poorer quality of life, and decreased alertness. In a nutshell, being underslept is not a good place to be. If you’re among the 40% of people that report insufficient sleep, it’s time for a change of habits.


If you’re having trouble sleeping 8 hours straight, take naps throughout the day. Research has shown that 20-minute napping has many positive health benefits – they increase alertness, boost creativity, reduce stress, improve perception, stamina, and accuracy.

sleep inertia graph

A study published in Nature Neuroscience found that 60-90 minute nap could be as good as a full night’s sleep for learning a visual perception skill. Do not replace it with your 8-hour sleep but use this knowledge to remedy yourself from sleep deprivation and feel more productive afterward.


2. Adjust your perception of the 8-hour workday and stop working overtime


Have you ever been told the story behind the 8-hour workday?


The man behind the change was the one credited for quotes such as “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently” and “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. Sounds familiar?


On January 5, 1914, Henry Ford took the radical step of doubling pay to $5 a day and cut shifts from nine hours to eight, moves that were not popular with rival companies.


The move had nothing to do with improving employee satisfaction. Instead, Ford had recently been losing many good employees due to rapid burnout. As it turned out, it was one of the wisest decisions in the company’s history that led to doubled profits.


After seeing the increase in Ford’s productivity, and a significant increase in profit margin (from $30 million to $60 million in two years), most competitors and doubters soon followed suit.

8-hour workday

While working overtime for a shorter period of time might actually prove productive, but keeping to this routine will result in an abrupt decline in productiveness. Aim to keep your workdays under 10 hours, but make sure this time is spent in the best possible ways.
Read more: Time-tracking Best Practices

3. Know that being “too productive” works counterproductively


It’s lunch time. Your colleagues are heading out for a healthy lunch and walk around the block while you’re feasting on a bar of Snickers and a Red Bull behind your desk.


Some days, we’re so overwhelmed with work that we simply forget to eat (or have no time to eat). But by skipping one of the three main meals of the day, we’re encumbering our productivity and taking a toll on our health.


According to WHO, adequate nutrition can raise our productivity levels by 20 percent on average. Alternatively, not getting enough calories and nutrients will result in weight loss, fatigue, low productivity, and accidents. Here’s an interesting infographic about healthy nutrition in the workplace.’’


Most of what we eat will be broken down to one thing: Glucose. Glucose is our fuel, keeping our brains awake and alert. It is our duty to fuel our body and brain to help them work productively throughout the day.

healthy lunch

To keep your energy levels renewed, combine a healthy lunch with a 15-20 minute break. Taking breaks throughout the day helps to refresh your mind and reset your attention span. Mixed with a hearty lunch containing a sufficient amount of nutrients and Glucose, the lunch break will reset you for the second part of the day.


Here’s what one of Buffer’s resident meditators, COO Leo Widrich has said:


“It seems such a fitting experience to watch TV, work, read or do anything else but solely focusing on eating when we eat. Funnily enough, it almost appears to be a waste of time if we ‘just eat.’ But the latest research on multitasking reveals the exact opposite. Solely focusing on eating doesn’t just help you digest your food better, it also makes you a more efficient worker for any other tasks.”


Taking small breaks to unplug for 10-20 minutes is a must for everyone looking to expand their productivity levels over 8 hours.

4. Make time for the “Make Time” and prevent spending too much time on small tasks


If you’re not the CEO of a company, the chances are that you can’t choose do only the most interesting and perspective tasks. In fact, we all spend way too much time on repetitive tasks instead of focusing on projects that matter.


According to the Pareto Principle, 20% of what we do at work produces 80% of our results. This leaves us with 80% of less productive work we spend the best of our time doing. To reverse the situation, we need to focus on projects and activities that take us further in the long term.


In 2014, a Googler emailed their colleagues a letter explaining the importance of “Make Time”.

“We all need to be makers.The only way to make this successful is to be purposeful. Establish an implementation intention. You need to define precisely when and where you’ll reserve Make Time for your projects.”

To be able to devote the better part of our workdays to Make Time, we need to automate some of the repetitive tasks that are clogging our schedules with boring mechanical work.

make time

Begin by automating small tasks and move on to finding new ways of optimizing your work. To get you started, here’s a list of 26 tasks that can easily be automated, including guidelines to more efficient meetings, smarter email management, and improved workflows.

5. Don’t be nailed to your desk, there’s a fascinating world out there

Sitting behind our desks is where the work happens. So it seems logical that in order to be productive, we need to spend every minute of the day behind our desk, keeping the nose pointed to a computer screen.


In fact, spending the entire day sitting behind a table can damage our productivity levels a great deal. A 2015 study found that even gentle lunchtime strolls can perceptibly — and immediately — level up people’s mood and increase the ability to handle stress at work.


Staying behind our desk for the entire day is more than damaging to our productivity – research shows that people who sit a lot have an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and early death. Not exactly the situation you’d like to be in 10 years, right?


Moreover, researchers from the University of Edinburgh have said that taking a walk through green spaces can lessen our brain fatigue. Instead of being nailed to the desk for the entire day, go for a walk or run small errands to give your brain some rest and restore your productivity levels.

take a walk

Maybe you can convince your office to install some standing desks for employees to take 30-minute turns working in an upward position. This type of work environment can improve posture, lower blood sugar levels, reduce back pain, and improve mood and energy levels.


Throughout the day, find ways to leave your desk for 5-20 breaks and feel your productivity levels skyrocket. It is best to work 7-8 effectively instead of spending up to 12 hours in the office but failing to present your best self to the challenges ahead.
Share your gravest mistakes that have decreased your productivity and how you overcame them!


If you’re interested in the topic of productivity, we’ve listed 12 of our favorite business and productivity books to help you get stuff done more efficiently.

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