Boost your productivity

Helpful tips to improve your concentration and focus

Working from home has become the new norm since the outbreak of the global pandemic. But it can often mean that we are surrounded by distractions, making it difficult to focus and concentrate. We spoke to the experts to get their top tips on how to improve your productivity.

Plan your day

“Prioritise urgent tasks and be realistic about how long a task or project could take and factor in breaks,” says Dr Lynda Shaw, a neuroscientist, business psychologist and change specialist (www.drlyndashaw.com). “Know your most productive time of day so you do the most important or tricky tasks when you are at your best. Don’t try to multitask. Focus on one thing at a time and give it your full attention.” Establishing clear boundaries will also help to maintain your focus. “Create clear boundaries and stick to them, such as not checking your emails once you’ve clocked off and having agreed working hours,” says Lynda. “Turn off phone notifications you don’t need and don’t accept phone calls if it isn’t a good time.”

Make some dietary changes

“A few dietary changes may result in improved focus and productivity,” says Jenny Carson, MRes, BSc (Hons), MBANT, Technical Services Manager and Senior Nutritionist at Viridian Nutrition (www.viridian-nutrition.com). “Firstly, removing sugar can help to balance neurotransmitters as sugar stimulates habitual seeking behaviours and can possibly exert inflammatory effects while disrupting blood glucose management. Highly processed foods contain altered fats, which may damage cells, and salt, which is highly dehydrating and in large amounts can increase blood pressure. Removing sugar and highly processed foods can help to regulate energy production in the brain and balance brain activity.”

Take time to recharge your batteries

“To prevent chronic stress, you need to take some time to recharge and disconnect from work completely,” says Dr Lynda Shaw. “So when you take time out, make sure you really are off, including holidays, your evenings and weekends. Block out some time for hobbies and seeing family and friends to help your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. The brain is more efficient when it has produced a cocktail of ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters, so prioritising pleasant pursuits in your spare time means you will be far more productive during your working day.” Lynda also recommends prioritising your sleep as this will help “to improve your concentration, memory and decision making and your overall physical and mental health”. She advises looking closely at your ‘sleep hygiene’ and limiting caffeine after midday, avoiding screen time in the one to two hours before bedtime and having regular bed and getting up times.

Try nootropics

“Nootropics are compounds that improve cognitive function, such as improved memory, learning, creativity and attention,” explains Jenny Carson. “They can be drugs, food supplements or food itself. In recent years, the use of nootropic compounds has become widely recognised in enhancing performance and reducing the risk of cognitive decline. Several nutrients and herbs are considered excellent nootropics. Each compound has been investigated in research to measure the cognitive enhancing effect.” Examples of nootropics include choline, lemon balm, brahmi and sage.

Switch up your workspace

Brightening up your work-from-home space with the right colours could instantly boost your energy and productivity. “Yellow is a welcoming colour,” explains Karen Haller, a Colour Psychology Expert and author of The Little Book of Colour (thelittlebookofcolour.com).

“A bright yellow desk lamp or a yellow houseplant will lift your mood as soon as you sit down to work, as well as helping to boost your self-confidence,” says Karen. Alternatively, red can give you a psychological energy boost. “Try adding small splashes of red to your workspace that can be drawn on when needed,” she adds. “This could be as simple as styling your work shelves with red books or drinking your morning coffee from a zingy red mug.” If stress is a problem, then opt for green for your workspace. “Soft greens are very calming; perfect for dealing with work deadlines or video calls,” says Karen. “This trend goes hand in hand with the rise of houseplants, which saw sales surge by a third during lockdown as people turned to plants for their positive effect on wellbeing. Try popping a few hard-to-kill houseplants such as spider plants, ivy, jade plants or kalanchoes into your home office – you’ll feel calmer and more centred.”

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