The real reason you can’t focus at work

July 5, 2015, 3:00 PM UTC
Centerview Capital co-founder and partner Sandhya
Photograph by Peter DaSilva

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What’s your best advice for staying productive at work? is written by Sandhya Venkatachalam, co-founder and partner of Centerview Capital.

As the co-founder of Centerview Capital, a new growth capital firm, being productive at work for me means to be productive at life, especially since my personal and professional activities feed off of each other. Following these four principles will help you optimize life productivity and maximize creative output:

Prepare your mind and body
Managing your energy and health is just as important as managing your time. Studies show that lack of sleep leads to reduced efficiency and productivity, while exercise and meditation can increase cognitive function and longevity. Take 15-minute breaks every 90 minutes to give your brain a break, and make sure you’re not just avoiding heavy lunches, but also the unhealthy snacking throughout the day. The World Health Organization shows that the right nutrition can increase productivity levels by as much as 20%.

Create the right environment
While multitasking makes us feel more productive, it actually makes us less productive and more stressed. I recommend minimizing distractions: Turn off your Wi-Fi during work hours; schedule times to answer emails versus responding as you receive them; plan meetings for just the right amount of time; signal to others when you are or are not available (I’ll often leave my door open or closed); and bring in a natural-light desk lamp to optimize your workspace.

List, plan, and do
Make a list of everything you have to do — both large and small. This not only allows you to plan ahead better, but relieves the stress that comes with forgetting. Break large projects (like customer presentations) into smaller, more actionable tasks (like creating an outline for 30 minutes, reading relevant research reports for an hour, etc.).

Plan out when to get things done by picking the most important tasks and mapping them to your calendar. If you don’t have time for something high priority, move something else off of your schedule to accommodate. Minding your time and planning your hours actually helps you do more. Get the larger, more worrisome tasks done early versus relegating them to the end of the day.

Leverage others’ productivity
People often only worry about individual productivity, but coworkers can actually affect your efficiency. Find ways to help others and ask for help from those who have successfully optimized their work time. Use new technology to make your life easier, too. I like the Kyber app for helping me schedule and plan my day more efficiently and the Evernote app for accessing my notes on the go.

Almost every habit is the result of small decisions over time. Very small improvements can lead to big success. Being more productive doesn’t have to involve a huge overhaul of your habits. Try to be just 1% more efficient in each of the areas above and you will soon see a huge difference in your life’s productivity.

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Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: What’s your best advice for staying productive at work?

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