You know the feeling — the one where your inbox seems to be swallowing you whole. Or how about the days when, for whatever reason, you just can’t concentrate? Instead, you click on things mindlessly without really accomplishing anything. Distraction: 1 point. You: 0 points.
Thankfully, while there are seemingly a million things that can hurt productivity, there are also a bunch that can help. The easiest place to start? Put some much-needed space between you and your smartphone.
“Clutter is not limited to things scattered about,” explains Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist based in New York City. “It also means information.” And that makes your smartphone a ticking time bomb of clutter ready to explode at the next notification. Clutter equals distraction and distraction lowers your productivity.
You might even find that phone breaks benefit you outside of work. “The more we touch objects, the more emotionally attached we become to these items,” says Hafeez.
Channel your inner minimalist
Once your phone is put away, assess what else you really need on your desk. Ever wonder why you have so many pens? Donate them to the supply closet. Have a lot of family photos? Pick your favorite and take the rest home. Are you saving old name tags and badges? Trash ‘em.
If your computer area is clear, your conscious can be clear — that’s your new motto. “People keep far too many tchotchkes and knick-knacks on their desks,” says Hafeez. Keep the things you need the most closest to you and try to eliminate the rest unless it’s necessary for your job.
It’s old news, but it’s true news: Sitting (or standing) incorrectly every day for hours at a time will get painful. When your low back is screaming or a shoulder ache is nagging at you, your nervous system is sending signals to your brain, giving it one more thing to process. That alone can be distracting, but now think about professional athletes when they get injured.
“Aside from the actual physical impact of the pain response is the concern over the injury and what it means,” explains Dr. Kristen Dieffenbach, an executive board member for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. “These worries can make it difficult to focus on other tasks,” she says.
While you may not be Serena Williams with eyes on a Grand Slam, a similar concept applies; take a minute and adjust your sitting position to help reduce aches and pains. Knees should be at the same height as your hips (or slightly lower). Adjust your computer height so that your chin is slightly angled down. Keep your elbows at 90 degrees. And use lumbar support, but make sure it’s not creating an exaggerated, unnatural arch in your spine.
Let there be light
Natural light has been shown to improve productivity and employee happiness . Hafeez explains that poor artificial lighting can also wreak havoc, causing a major drop of cortisol, the hormone that regulates mood and energy levels.
So, what gives lighting in an office where natural light is a limited resource? It’s called a happy light, and they range from $50 to $150. The idea is that instead of using regular lamps or fluorescents, this mimicked sunlight helps improve focus and mood. Take two minutes and add one to your Amazon cart. Easy peasy.
At the end of the day, all those project management tools only go so far if you don’t also cover the basics: less clutter — both mental and material — good posture, and lighting that’s healthy, not harmful.