8 Tips for Boosting Productivity Through the Day

By Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

Powering through the business day requires a mix of focus, productivity techniques and products. We surveyed small business owners, entrepreneurs and others to build this hour-by-hour list of tips, office supplies and people products for improving work productivity from 9 to 5.

Hour 1: Prioritize. “Studies show that the morning hours are the most productive, so take advantage of them,” notes Illinois-based life coach Lisa Baker-King. “Block the first hour or two of every day for project work that must get done.” Revisit the list you made at the end of the previous day (see Hour 8 below) to determine where to start. Creating a priority-driven list is “a great way of measuring your own progress, avoiding becoming bogged down in low-level tasks,” notes David Magee, interim CEO at ConsignCloud in Moscow, ID.

Hour 2: Recharge. Since it’s been a while since breakfast, now’s a good time to refuel with a break. “I have snacks stored at my desk like fruits, nuts, seeds, etc., along with plenty of water,” says Ron Webb, executive director of open standards and benchmarking at the American Productivity & Quality Center in Houston. He couples the snacks with meditation breaks. “Having these snacks quickly available allows me to grab quick energy, then spend a few minutes for guided meditation or relaxation.” For Columbus, OH-area public relations consultant Michelle Messenger Garrett, this is the time for a caffeinated beverage. “My Keurig is the best purchase I ever made. I always have coffee in the morning. This also helps me stay away from soda.”

Hour 3: Reposition. After a few hours in one position, you need to change to another. Ryan Hanley recommends working standing up; he uses an adjustable standing desk that sits on top of his regular desk. “I've been using it for almost six months now — Christmas present from my wife — and all my back pain from sitting all day is gone.” Another bonus, says the Albany, NY-based vice president of marketing for TrustedChoice.com: “I have just as much energy in the afternoon as I do first thing in the morning.” No special equipment? Commandeer a tall café table in the breakroom or a vacant shelf in a nearby bookcase.

Hour 4: Eat. It’s tempting to skip lunch or to chomp away at your desk, but neither is ideal. “Research has found that taking a break makes a big difference in our productivity, and the lunch break — whether it's 30 45 or 60 minutes — is one of the most important ones because it's in the middle of the day,” says Stamford, CT-based productivity expert Jan Yager, author of Work Less, Do More. Another way to stay productive: Schedule a working lunch. A well-stocked and furnished breakroom with tables, chairs, whiteboards and video displays makes it easy to dine and discuss.

Hour 5: Move. If you worked during lunch, take a quick activity break to circumvent food coma and stimulate your body. “Research indicates that movement after a meal helps to sensitize the cells in your body to the effects of insulin, that hormone that helps keeps our blood glucose within normal limits,” counsels Jo Lichten, Orlando-based nutritionist and author of Reboot: How to Power Up Your Energy, Focus, and Productivity. This is the perfect time for a moving meeting. “Stanford actually produced a study that shows walking increases cognitive function and creativity,” says Ryan Farley, COO of LawnStarter in Austin, TX, where individual and group walks are encouraged.

Hour 6: Persevere. Midafternoon is a natural low-energy time, so schedule activities that don’t require the most from you. Recharge with some coffee or tea, then return or make calls. Todd Horton, founder of KangoGift in Cambridge, MA, uses this time to “catch up with people over the phone. Even in today’s digital workplace, a personal call really stands out.”

Hour 7: Assess. “Are you on track? If not, now is the time to reprioritize,” Baker-King says. At LawnStarter, it uses a communal board to track project progress. “High-priority tasks are placed towards the top and lower priority tasks are placed towards the bottom,” Farley explains. “It works well for our team as we are moving fast and have a lot on our plates. Being able to visualize the funnel and completed jobs is a huge asset for our team and timely feature rollouts.” Your “board” can be a centralized whiteboard or a wall of sticky notes.

Hour 8: Wrap. Your last hour is best used to tie up loose ends and plan for tomorrow. “Every afternoon before I stop working, I update my to-do list for the next day,” says Chris Brantner, owner of Mr. Cable Cutter in Houston. Baker-King likes this idea. “The reality is, not everything will get done so we need to make allowances for interruptions and the inevitable 'fire drill' when the boss says to drop everything and focus on something different,” she notes. Put the new list in your journal and on your paper and online planners. Then take a few minutes to straighten up your work area. Put dirty dishes in the breakroom dishwasher; use disinfecting wipes to wipe away germs on your keyboard, phone and work area; and reorganize your workspace. These simple tasks give you a leg up on a productive day tomorrow.

Use these tips to ensure maximum productivity throughout the day. Go get ‘em!

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