If you want to be more productive at work (even when you’re tired), you’re in luck, my friend. In this post, I’ve compiled a list of the best tried-and-tested tips and tricks you can start doing every day to boost your productivity.
Whether you work from home, are self-employed, or have a traditional job at an office, you’ve probably gone through the occasional work slump.
(And believe me: even if you love what you do, the unproductive bug still manages to nip us in the butt.)
As someone who’s immersed herself in just about every work setting you can imagine –
full-time at an office, full-time at home, part-time at an office and part-time at home –
you shouldn’t be surprised that I’ve tried every trick in the book (and done the research to boot) on the most effective ways to stay productive at work even when you’re tired.
Want to see which ones I’ve found most helpful? Here are 18 everyday things you can try as early as today.
Consider this list as a menu where you can take what you need. Feel no pressure to implement every strategy and end up stressing yourself out in the long run; that’s just counterproductive!
18 Everyday Tips to Be More Productive At Work (Even When You’re Tired)
Effective performance is preceded by painstaking preparation.
1. List down three things you need to get done before the day ends
I’ve totally tossed my to-do list out the window when I swapped it for a 3 Major Things list.
One reason I ditched a to-do list: when you have to look at a laundry list of things to do, often times that list keeps growing and growing. Then it becomes easy to be complacent and just do the “easy stuff” (read: busywork) first.
I’ve curbed the temptation of putting off big projects by setting 3 priorities for my day. Then I make sure I stick to completing those priorities as best as I can.
It’s made my day simpler and more streamlined. And I never feel anxious at the thought that there’s so much left undone.
After all, if I do end up adding stuff to the to-do list, I can schedule it for another day.
The way I manage all my projects and to-dos while still sticking to my 3 Major Things a day list is simple:
- I keep a project tracker for all major projects. Each project might already have specific tasks. These are undated and are mostly just for reference. As tasks or ideas come, I add them under specific project trackers instead of a laundry to-do list.
- Each day, I look at my project trackers to see which tasks I can do that day to propel my projects forward. These go on my 3 Major Things list. These could be urgent client deliverables, any things I’m behind on, or even things I want to get a head start on.
A note about my 3 Major Things list: while I include mostly work-related things on the list, I’ve been known to put in other priorities I really want to get in for the day.
Some examples are workouts. Or I'll include fun things I just never seem to have time for, like a movie or coffee date.
The 3 Major Things list lets me commit to just three priorities for the day, and I can always do more when those priorities are ticked off early.
Commit to 3 Major Things per day, and complete them as best as you can.
2. Use a Pomodoro timer to tackle bigger tasks
If you’ve been a blog reader for a while, you’ll know I’m obsessed with the Pomodoro technique.
The gist of the technique is essentially doing a complete 25 minutes’ worth of focused work and a 5-minute break afterwards. That makes up a Pomodoro.
I love how it’s helped me break up big projects by committing to small, doable 25-minute chunks of deep focus work.
Read more about the topic:
3. Stand up and stretch every 25 minutes or so
Remember that I mentioned after doing a 25-minute focused work session, you take a 5-minute break afterwards?
If you want to stay productive even when you’re tired at work, I recommend stepping away from your desk and doing a stretching break.
Healthline’s listed a few benefits of doing a good workplace stretch, including better range of motion, improved posture, and even decreasing tension headaches.
These are all good things, yo!
4. Take a longer break after an hour or two of deep work
Nerd alert: I’ve recently been reading about this thing called the ultradian rhythm. Without boring you with the details, I believe it might support our journey to being more productive at work.
In a nutshell, science has found that our body goes through 90-minute rhythms, where we fluctuate between high and low levels of alertness.
What this means is usually we can only do about 90 minutes of focused, productive work before we have to give our minds and bodies a break.
When you notice yourself getting tired after pounding at your desk for an hour or two, lean into that feeling and go take a long break – most articles I’ve read recommend 20-30 minutes.
Walk around, grab a healthy snack, read a book. Do anything that requires lower amounts of energy and effort for some time before jumping back into work.
Also take note of your own personal tendencies. Do you feel more energetic after lunch? Maybe you can take a semi-longer break. Adjust your own work clock for what works for you!
the human brain can only do 90 minutes of deep focus work at a time. take constant long breaks!
5. Work while standing up
A study led by the University of Leicester (later on published in the British Medical Journal) found that majority of workers who traded in usual desks with a standing desk felt more engaged at work after a year.
Even without reading up on the science, I’ve found that doing a standing work session helps me be more productive even when I’m tired.
Standing is more uncomfortable, so it’s stimulating and helps us focus on a task.
It’s not working while standing up magically makes me more productive at work. It’s more like being able to spruce things up around me helps.
Speaking of sprucing things up, I previously wrote about how novelty is the reason why we’re more productive in coffee shops.
While I don’t recommend doing an entire workday standing up – I doubt anyone would recommend standing for too long – what I can recommend is alternating between 20-minute sit-and-stand sessions and seeing how you feel from there.
(This could be a fun way to shake up your Pomodoros, too, as seen in tip #2.)
HEY, CURIOUS CAT! I RECOMMEND READING:
6. Turn on Do Not Disturb on gadgets
If you find yourself constantly distracted at work, you might need to take a good look at your surroundings – starting with your phone and computer.
As a fun little exercise, go to the settings on your phone or computer where you can see all the apps that send you notifications. How many have you allowed?
When I did this, my answer was: too many.
If you really want to do quality work on a big task, you’re better off turning on Do Not Disturb mode.
This only lets a few urgent notifications, like calls, go through, and you won’t be bugged by every Facebook notification that comes your way.
And when you’ve done all you can to block out distractions like social media but still see no progress?
You might want to evaluate the real reason you’re not getting anything done that isn't social media.
READ MORE ABOUT WHY YOU MIGHT NOT BE PRODUCTIVE:
7. Do a couple jumping jacks
I believe I first heard about this tip from Gretchen Rubin in her podcast Happier. She says she had a friend who started doing 5 jumping jacks just to kick-off her day. Apparently, doing this gave her more energy.
Turns out, there are some explanations for why we feel a little more alert after engaging in some kind of physical activity.
Next time you want to be more productive even if you’re really tired or sluggish, try doing a few jumping jacks. Get some blood pumping and increase your energy!
A bit of physical activity can get the blood pumping, making you more motivated to work.
8. Ditch sugary coffee (and snacks)
Coffee and caffeine are a current productivity obsession of mine. While I’ve yet to compile everything I’ve understood in a more detailed blog post, here’s one tip I can share for fellow coffee-lovers:
Lessen the amount of sugar you put in your coffee. Coffee’s got enough caffeine to boost your energy, and adding too much sugar might just be making you more prone to a sugar crash.
There’s so much research about the effects of sugar on our mental and physical health. (Seriously, do a Google search on “effects of sugar on human behavior.”)
And the ones that seem to impact our productivity include an increase in the stress hormone, blocked memory receptors, and a range of other effects that decrease our focus and balance.
9. Use a white or ambient noise maker
I’m not a fan of noise like loud chatter and conversations. (This is the reason I can’t really get behind co-working spaces unless it’s in a private cubicle or office.)
But I do think there are productivity-boosting effects from the right kind, level, and volume of ambient noise. I found this article among many that explains the effect white noise might have on our focus.
Personally, I use Noizio for Mac. I like how much you can customize each noise, letting you create mixes of different noises together, adjusting the volume of each layer, and being able to play and pause with keyboard shortcuts.
(This isn’t a sponsored post or ad. I just really love Noizio.)
Pro-tip: my fave ambient sounds to play while writing are, unironically, typewriter sounds.
Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.
10. Take a walking meeting or phone call
If you’re expecting to speak with somebody on the phone, consider walking throughout its duration.
Invite your co-worker to walk and talk outside (you might even get better ideas if you’re around nature). Or hop on a treadmill desk if you have one.
Not only is it good for you, but – as with standing while walking – by engaging your body, you get to stimulate the brain too.
11. Work somewhere else for a change
Sometimes, you need a little productivity reset. An easy fix: pack up your laptop and work from a nearby coffee shop or library.
One good explanation for this is that novelty (or new things) stimulate the brain.
That's one of the reasons why we're so happy when we travel or why we're so motivated at the beginning of a new project or life change.
And in case you missed it, here’s one of my top posts on the blog about why we’re more productive when we work in cafés.
12. Get plenty of light in your workspace
Lighting has everything to do with ambiance, and ambiance can have a huge effect on productivity.
Just like you wouldn’t be in the mood to work in a dark, cozy theater that reminds you of bedtime, you wouldn’t want to immerse your workspace in a dark corner.
Turn on overhead lights, get desk lamps, and try to work close to a window to get the most natural light you can.
13. Munch on fruit
Imagine this: It’s 3:30pm, you’ve been working hard, you feel your energy start to wane, and then...you immediately think of grabbing a cookie for a snack.
We’ve all been there, my friend.
And instead of relying on a sugar rush for that energy boost, might I recommend fruit like an apple instead?
Fruits have natural sugars that, you have to admit, are better alternatives to sugary sweets we find ourselves craving for mid-afternoon.
It can also take the place of an afternoon coffee. This is especially helpful if you didn’t want to take caffeine so late after lunch. (Coffee’s half-life – meaning the time it takes for your body to remove half of the caffeine – is about 5 hours, so if you aren’t able to fall asleep right away, maybe check your coffee habits.)
the half-life of caffeine is 5-7 hours. keep this in mind before reaching for that mid-afternoon mug of joe.
14. Keep a water bottle in front of you to keep hydrating
Another thing you can try to be productive even if you start getting tired is staying hydrated. Hydration is good for your productivity, and sometimes it might even be hiding behind what seems like a hunger pang.
The best way to unconsciously remind yourself to drink water is by having a bottle at your desk. You’ll be taking sips throughout the day more often, even if it’s just something for your hands to do.
15. Skip a couple meetings (or spruce them up)
I’m sure we’ve all sat through a meeting that could have been an email.
Turns out, lots of meetings don’t even need to happen, as this study of 19 million meetings showed that many people find that ill-planned meetings keep them from getting real work done.
You don’t have to be the boss at work to bring up whether or not all meetings are necessary. Start the conversation about the objective of each meeting once one is called, and maybe encourage setting an agenda beforehand.
If you’re the one holding the meeting and want to keep things quick, consider making it a standing meeting. Or experiment with scheduling it after lunch or towards the end of the day to keep it short and sweet.
16. Tackle one task at a time
Science has confirmed on multiple occasions that the brain just can’t divide its focus on more than one important thing at a time. Conclusion: multi-tasking just doesn’t work, yo.
If you really want to power through your to-do list, stick with tackling one task at a time. This is where Pomodoros (tip #2) can come in handy, since you’re committing to focus on one thing instead of, I don’t know, 5 different things all at once.
This also, in my opinion, is the most productive way to get things done.
Powering through one big task at a time, especially if they’re within the same project, is like working on a flywheel. I keep adding momentum to my brain power and productivity, and that just makes me more productive and produce better work.
17. Have some aromatherapy nearby
This is a small one, but I love how aromatherapy oils helped for a little midday pick-me-up. Keeping a few aromatherapy oils might help shoot a little zing into your day, especially when you’re tired.
They're easy to carry around, inexpensive (talkin' about ones pre-formulated and not those that come as 100% pure oil) – and a little new scents never hurt anybody.
Citrusy scents like lemon or lime have been a personal favorite, but I also love the pseudo-productivity-boosting smells of coffee grounds, peppermint, and cinnamon.
18. Log out of distracting sites and apps
Jumping back to my bit about distractions, sometimes it’s just better to make it as difficult as possible to access these soul-sucking apps.
If Facebook or Instagram is a huge time-suck for you, log out of your accounts and don’t enable the “Remember Me” or Photo Log-in/Touch ID options.
By making it as inconvenient as possible to access these time-sucks, you’re less likely to want to carry on and check them out. (This works great for me, especially with Facebook. I now rarely feel the itch to check my newsfeed.)
WANT TO KICK A BAD HABIT LIKE CHECKING DISTRACTING APPS? INCONVENIENCE YOURSELF!
Bonus tip #1: don’t try to optimize your commute
I’ve seen a lot of articles out there encouraging people to use their time in commutes or traffic to answer emails or take calls. While this does get some things off the to-do list, I don’t recommend it in the long-term.
Go and do fun things like listening to audiobooks, start a meditation habit… Whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be work-related at all.
Maybe at most you can delete some emails and do a little review or plan for the day. But overall, don’t feel like you have been working every single minute of the day.
My biggest belief about productivity is that we need balance. There’s no productive work without downtime, rest, and play.
So cut yourself some slack, be okay with sleeping on the bus, and just go through a commute like a regular human being (you’re not a robot designed to be “on” all the time, after all).
we need balance. There’s no productivE WORK without downtime, rest, and play.
Bonus tip #2: get enough sleep
And if absolutely every technique to get better at focus and be more productive at work doesn’t work, if you’ve honestly tried your hardest at eliminating distractions and working in deep focus work...maybe it’s time to take a look at your out-of-office habits.
Sleep is a big one here. I’m a huge sleep zealot.
And I believe the science that tells us very, very, very few people in the world can truly function at their best running on less than 7 (or even 5) hours of sleep a night.
So if you do everything in your power at your desk to be more productive at work but just aren’t getting results, take a step back and see how you’re doing in the sleep department.
How do you plan on being more productive at work?
There you have it. My 18 top tips (plus 2 bonus tips) on how to be more productive at work – even when you’re tired!
Remember: personal productivity is like a muscle. The more you work at it, the better you get. Keep at it, don’t be discouraged in moments when you fall into a distraction pit, and take good care of your mind and body, so that your mind and body take care of you too.
Any other tips you feel should be included in this post? What are productivity techniques you’ve tried and loved? Let me know in the comments.