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How Productive People Tackle the Workday

We all know what productive people look like. There’s the woman in the cubicle next to you who’s respected by everyone and on track to a promotion, who somehow manages to head out the door by five each day while you’re still only halfway through your to-do list. Or the neighbor down the street who has a beautiful lawn, a stable job, and three kids he’s always bicycling around with, while you’re leaving for work at dawn and getting home after dark. How do these people get so much done in a twenty four hour day? Here’s a secret: They’re not doing more, they’re actually doing less. And you can too. Consider the following moves.

1. Remember the 80/20 rule. For most of us, about 20 percent of what we do each day produces 80 percent of our results. This means most of what we’re doing throughout the day is just retreading, wheel spinning, protecting ourselves from very unlikely risks, and busy work. Go back over your to-do list and set a goal: remove item after item until you’re left with only the most valuable 20 percent.

2. Stop the glorification of “busy.” Doing things for the sake of doing things is unhealthy and out of style. Don’t humblebrag to your friends about how busy you are, and don’t encourage this behavior from others. Frantic, wasted energy is undignified. Calm, control, confidence, and a sense of priorities win the day.

3. Use the morning wisely. Go to sleep by ten, then get up early and give yourself the attention and care you need to stay focused throughout the day. Stretch, and then eat a breakfast of whole grain carbs and lean protein. Spend some time in quiet reflection before the challenges of the day begin. And when they do begin, tackle your most difficult projects first. If you aren’t a morning person, that’s okay—it doesn’t take long to become one.

4. Stop overcommitting and multitasking. Doing too many things at once doesn’t increase your productivity—it only means you’re doing each thing at a lower level of performance. Learn to say no when you need to, and focus on one project at a time.

5. Take breaks. The brain isn’t designed to fixate relentlessly on external demands for hours at a time. Every 60 minutes or so, stand up, stretch, and move around. Take breaks and think about other things on a regular schedule throughout the day.

For more on how to use your energy and time as wisely and efficiently as possible during the workday, consult with the NC staffing and career development experts at PSU.