How to increase productivity at work

woman working in office

With all the office perks of today, it’s easier than ever to get distracted at work; having XBOXs, snacks, a drum set, TVs, nap rooms, and yoga rooms in the office will do that. Perhaps I’m old school in this but when I’m at work, I like to…you know…work with minimum distractions so I can go home. So here are some things you can do to minimize distractions and increase productivity at work.

1. Put away the phone

using phone at work

If there’s 1 thing you take away from this post, it is this; put the phone at least 10 feet away from your desk.

A recent study by University of Chicago concluded that merely having a smartphone near you reduces your cognitive capacity. So unless you’re waiting to hear a status update on your wife’s surgery, put the phone on silent and don’t use your phone during work. There are enough distractions at the office without it. You can check your phone during your 5-minute water/bathroom breaks (I’ll get into that below). You can easily save ~20 minutes a day by just doing this 1 thing.

2. Work for 45, break for 5

taking a break

This is my variation of the Pomodoro technique. I’ll do a 35/5 split if I’m doing very thought-intensive work (new designs, long debug sessions), but otherwise, 45/5 works great.

I use the Google stopwatch to loosely time myself but the key is to remove all distractions during your 45-minute work sprint to really maximize your productivity during that time. When it’s time to go for a break, get up, stretch a little, and walk around. Go fill up your water bottle, use the restroom, get a breath of fresh air, and clear your mind of whatever you were working on (ideally you’re not on your phone for the whole 5 minutes). You’ll be surprised to see how well this technique improves your focus during the work sprints. Work hard, play hard, right?

3. Don’t browse Reddit

facebook at work

Whether it’s Reddit, ESPN, or Facebook, don’t browse them during your 45-minute sprint. Browse them liberally during your lunch break but don’t eat into your 45-minute sprints for this type of distraction. Before you know it, a 10-second session turns into 10 minutes of lost productivity.

4. Breathe more air, drink more water

man drinking water

SBS (Sick Building Syndrome) is real (so they say), so get outside during your breaks and get a breath of fresh air. If you work in Shanghai, I’m sorry; but chances are, it’s always great to get a breath of fresh air and clear your mind before another work sprint.

And if you’re peeing yellow, you’re not drinking enough water which probably means you’ll die sooner. But really, most people don’t drink enough water and proper hydration literally improves both your physical and mental health. Remember how the boys in Lord of the Flies went nutzo on the island and started killing each other? Yeah, that was all because they didn’t have enough water. Same with the folks on Jersey Shore. So drink more water until you’re peeing white.

5. Put on earplugs

woman works with earphones

Unless you’re one of the lucky bastards with offices, earplugs or noise cancelling headphones are must-haves. I prefer noise cancelling headphones (a must have for every engineer’s battlestation) since they’re much easier to put on/take off since you’re bound to get distracted multiple times throughout the day by coworkers. If you are using headphones, putting on some background noise like will further help block out the office chatter.

To me, my time in the office is an investment towards my career to sharpen my skill set, similar to how a basketball player treats his/her time in the gym. That time is dedicated to honing my craft so I can become the best software engineer I could be. Hence, I think I owe it to myself to make the most out of that time and hopefully this list helps you do the same.

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