Americans work a lot. The vast majority of us go above and beyond the typical 9-5, Monday-Friday routine, working between 45-55 hours per week. So when energy starts to lag and the day gets that much longer, most of us turn to chemicals and quick fixes to get the boost we need.
But in the long term, the second (or third) cup of coffee, the after-lunch 5-hour energy shot, or the bag of peanut M&Ms you down at three are doing more harm than good. You’re cheating yourself with sugar and caffeine.
Fortunately, there are other hacks you can implement that will work as well if not better than the elevator-snickers at 3:15. Here are nine such hacks and how to implement them into your schedule this week:
Screen Detox Before Bed
We are hard wired to sync up with the light cycles around us. So when our brains are fully stimulated for hours up to the minute we lay down to sleep, it’s that much harder to get a good night’s sleep and in turn stay focused the next day. Even if you fall asleep immediately, the quality of sleep is low.
To avoid this and ensure you get the full night of quality sleep you need to jump out of bed refreshed, avoid screens for 1-2 hours before bed every night. Better yet, when you wake up, avoid looking at your phone for 30 minutes to an hour. You’ll feel more relaxed and more energized, reducing those mid-day crashes.
What a Good Breakfast Looks Like
For years you’ve heard that you need breakfast to start the day properly, but most of us do it wrong. We either cram something down real quick so that we feel like we’ve covered our bases or we wait too long.
Your body doesn’t need 1,000 calories first thing in the morning. A banana and a large glass of water will get you moving much faster than a sugar-laden donut. Small snacks after this until lunch will keep you moving at a steady pace until your next meal.
Visualize Your Day with Clear End Goals
Visualization is a powerful technique used by many of the world’s most successful people. The human mind processes images thousands of times faster than any other form of stimuli, to the point that if you visualize yourself completing a task, your body will respond as if you did.
Michael Phelps has famously visualized tens of thousands of races he never swam. So effective was his habit that when his goggles filled with water during an Olympic final, he not only finished the race, he won in record time.
Listen to (the right) Music While Working
Music can motivate and push us through spells of low energy, but you could be listening to the wrong kind of music. Music with human voices can keep you from 100% focusing on what you are doing – it’s how we’re wired.
Classical music, instrumentals and even techno or EDM are better suited for work. For a service that takes this to the next level, check out Focus@Will, an app and web service that plays continuous productivity focused music in these styles.
A Twenty Minute Focus Hack
One of the most famous hacks in productivity circles is the Pomodoro technique. Put simply, this requires that you focus intently for 20 minutes on a given task and then take a five minute break. There are software tools that will help you do this, tapping into the natural timeframe your mind is willing to sit still and focus on one action.
Not only does the Pomodoro technique engage you in much greater stretches of focus – it forces you to break up your tasks and goals into bite sized chunks, which itself has been shown to have many positive benefits.
Build a To Do List You Can Trust
A good to do list is the cornerstone of productivity. One of the most famous “to do list gurus” is David Allen, author of Getting Things Done. The basic idea behind this philosophy is that when something comes up, you write it down and place it in your “inbox”. At set intervals during the day, you review your inbox and categorize tasks accordingly – either doing them, delegating them, or scheduling them for later.
When you do this consistently, you reach a point at which you can fully trust your to do list – putting the stress of remembering what’s next out of your brain entirely.
Go for a (short) Jog
Physical exercise does a LOT of things for the mind – too many to list here. It releases endorphins, reduces cortisol levels, stimulates muscles and nerves, and keeps your brain active. In short, even if it makes you physically tired, good exercise will jump start the brain. A good mid-day jog will keep you going through the toughest schedule.
Patch Together a Standing Desk
Sitting is bad for productivity. Your body actually changes both chemically and physically when you sit down, and the result for many people is a less focused, lower energy level, even if they follow every other tip in this article.
Hence the recent popularity in standing desks. But standing desks can be very expensive. So if you want to give it a go without investing in a custom built desk, build one yourself. You can either follow the instructions here or grab a spare filing cabinet on top of which you can place your monitor and keyboard.
Give Your Mind a Jumpstart Mid-Day
At a certain point, your mind is going to get distracted. Whether it’s a repetitive task or a midday crash, you’re going to find it hard to get back into the swing of things at a certain point.
Changing venues, going for a walk, talking to a coworker, or running up and down the stairs can break you out of whatever loop you’re currently stuck in and jump start your mind enough to get back into the swing of things.
Not every tip above will work as quickly or as effectively as a quick shot of caffeine for everyone. But if you start making small changes to your lifestyle to match this list, you’ll almost certainly see results that will allow you to get more done with your day.