8 Cures to Regain Your Productivity at Work
HAVE YOU EVER felt that you’ve lost the capacity to focus and get your work done while in office? It might be due to a bad habit that’s damaging your productivity at work. According to Charles Duhigg, author of the bestselling book The Power of Habit, every habit starts with a psychological pattern called a “habit loop.”
Habit loops have three stages:
- Cue – a familiar event that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and act accordingly
- Routine – the habit of making something automatically because we’re used to it
- Reward – a pleasant result of the routine that makes your brain want to repeat the action in the future
As soon as a behavior becomes automatic, the decision-making part of your brain goes into a sleep mode, and your brain’s automatic mode will solve the situation.
If you’ve been unproductive at work for consecutive days, there’s a good chance that you’ve lost the habit of effective work.
The good news is that you can regain productivity at work by following a few best practices. The not-so-good news is that it takes some time and effort to get things working on full steam again.
1. Break the habit of procrastination
The first step to regaining your productivity at work is to acknowledge the problem. You need to accept there’s a problem and make up your mind to fix this.
6 signs you’re a chronic procrastinator:
- You’re missing a clear picture of what needs to be achieved
- Both your office and your mind are disorganized
- You’re always running out of time
- You’re constantly tired while at work
- You’re feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list
- You’re constantly working on irrelevant tasks
Once you realize that you’re struggling with procrastination, you can take steps to clear your mind, plan your days more efficiently, and clean up your work environment.
2. Re-organize your workspace
Your productivity at work depends largely on your attitude and mood. To break the habit of feeling tired and unfocused at work, change your surroundings.
Reorganizing your office and desk will give you a fresh start.
Start by decluttering your office, and get rid of all the things you don’t need. Look around. What haven’t you used in a while?
If you can’t throw away old documents, put these inside the drawers instead of piling them on your desk. As you go over all your stuff, establish efficient labelling systems to find documents quickly when needed.
Most importantly, clean up your desk. Remove all the unnecessary sticky notes, empty coffee cups, and business cards.
If your office looks dull, bring in some colour with colourful filing boxes, books, or plants. For inspiration, see our Pinterest board with perfect office decoration ideas.
3. Rediscover your inspiration
One of the most common reasons why people procrastinate at work is the lack of motivation.
Research from consultants Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath has shown that employees who derive meaning from their work report 1.7 times higher job satisfaction, and are 1.4 times more engaged at work.
So how can you recover from a lack of inspiration and get motivated at work?
- Think about the outcome – when confronted with a demanding task, think how good you’ll feel once it’s completed.
- Challenge yourself – the perfect task is one that challenges you to contribute your best effort while remaining achievable.
- Ask for feedback – positive feedback helps you to grasp the significance of your work, and motivates you to try even harder the next time.
Tip: At the end of each day or week, make a “Got Done” list where you outline all the tasks you’ve completed. Take a look at it each time you need some extra motivation.
Let go of negative thoughts. To focus on your current work, you need to let go of past failure. Studies show that negative thoughts affect not only our productivity but also long-term health.
One of the reasons why you’re struggling to get your work done is your negative disposition towards urgent tasks.
4. Get into the flow
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discovered that people feel a pursuit of happiness while being completely absorbed in an activity.
When lacking motivation and struggling to stop procrastination, getting into the flow is the perfect cure to your problems.
The state of flow could help you overcome the obstacle of completing your first task, and the second one will be a lot easier.
How to get into the flow:
- Get excited about small things – to enter the state of flow, think about something that truly fascinates you. Transition this excitement over to your work.
- Use promotion focus – Psychologists suggest that you look at task completion as an accomplishment – I’ll end up better off than I am now. It’s called a promotion focus.
- Get more caffeine – Caffeine causes an uptick in adrenaline, the hormone that makes you feel more alert and energized; and dopamine, which plays a role in making you happy. If you lack motivation, get a strong cup of coffee.
Don’t overconsume coffee: According to Murray Carpenter, author of Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us, people develop a tolerance to caffeine over time. Only drink coffee when you truly need it.
5. Create new personal rituals
Research has shown that rituals enhance people’s confidence in their abilities, supporting higher effort and improving performance.
What’s more, rituals appear to benefit even the people who claim not to believe that rituals work.
Having morning rituals could significantly boost your productivity at work. Here’s how to make rituals work for you:
- Coffee – drink coffee only at specific times when tackling a demanding task. Your brain will associate the drinking of coffee with challenging and demanding works, helping you to set the right mood.
- Time – Work on specific tasks during certain times of the day. Make the Monday afternoon the time for meetings and evening for replying to emails. Schedule your work in advance to prevent multitasking.
- Location – Create connections between specific locations and successful work. For example, never eat at your office table, keep this an area reserved for work and only work.
If you already have some work rituals in place, consider replacing them with new ones. The old rituals clearly aren’t working for you, so you should let go.
6. Find the perfect work playlist
Not all music makes you productive.
In one study, researchers found that listening to music increased the control group’s work output by 6.3%. Another study found that people were more productive when there was no music playing.
The key to making music work for you is to find the right work playlist, and listen to it only while working.
Your work music is nothing but another ritual that you establish for reaching higher productivity. Every time you hit the “Play” button, your brain will be hardwired to enter the work mode.
The best tunes and sounds to listen at work:
- Classical music – smoother compared to pop music and contains no lyrics, which makes it the perfect tune for focusing
- Ambient/electronic – ambient music is designed to keep your brain engaged at a lower, subconscious level
- Nature sounds – background sounds like falling rain or wind are best for people who find it difficult to concentrate with any type of music
You can read more about each of these sounds and how to get them in this article by Lifehacker.
Tip: Only listen to your work music when you’re focusing on a demanding task. If you listen to the same tunes all day round, it won’t send your brain the right signal.
7. Focus on the gain
If you think that the people getting the most results out of your work are the owners of the company, you’re wrong.
The person getting the maximum benefit out of your daily tasks should be you.
Every time you’re facing a challenging task, remind yourself of the learning potential. The more challenging a task, the more skills you can master.
Possible gains you can get from your work:
- New know-how and improved resilience
- Contentment when completing the task
- New career opportunities and praise from your team
The more you’re focused on the positive outcome, the higher your motivation.
Infographic: Are Your Business Tools Killing Your Productivity?
8. Look at willpower differently
Which one of these statements is correct?
- People’s willpower is limited and needs recharging after a difficult task
- Willpower is an unlimited resource
There is no right or wrong answer.
A study conducted by the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues found that the limitedness of willpower depended on people’s perceptions.
Test subjects who considered willpower a limited resource got tired and worn out after a challenging task. Those participants who did not see willpower as finite showed no signs of motivation depletion.
If you believe that your energy and brainpower are limited, you’ll feel tired more quickly. Try to stay in the high-productivity working zone for longer time streaks, so that you’ll extend the capacity of your willpower over time.
Willpower is a crucial element to your motivational and functional capacity. Work on keeping it high throughout the day.
If you’re still struggling to stay productive at work and regain your motivation, try these 6 thought exercises designed to boost your brainpower.