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How to be more productive

a photo of Caroline Wood
Head of Behavioural Insights and Research at Bupa UK
01 March 2022
Next review due March 2025

‘How do I stay productive throughout the day?’ is a common question in Google. Staying focused and maintaining your energy levels through the day can certainly feel tricky at times. Here I outline seven habits that can help you be more productive and organised, whether at home or at work.


1. Do the small tasks first

When you write your to-do list, put the small, easy tasks at the top. Research suggests that when you complete something, no matter how big or small, you get a rush of dopamine in your brain. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘motivation molecule’. The increase can help to keep you motivated towards ticking off the next tasks on your list. Equally, unfinished business can occupy your mind and make it more difficult to concentrate on anything else until you get the job done.

2. Batch your emails into blocks

Studies have shown that it can take over 20 minutes to get your concentration back on track after receiving an email. So think about times you can turn off your emails and set a reminder to check them only at certain times. Remember, for anything urgent people can always reach you in other ways, such as by phone or instant messenger.

3. Take regular breaks

Don’t try to concentrate for hours at a time – it won’t work and it’s not good for your health. Instead, taking breaks will increase your productivity. Desktime, a productivity app that tracks computer use, found the most productive employees worked for 52 minutes then took a 17-minute break.

Neuroscientists say that 90 minutes is about the right length of time to concentrate when working on something. It’s good to stretch and move around, and to give your eyes a rest from looking at a screen if you use a computer. So make sure you take regular breaks throughout the day.

4. Do one thing at a time

It’s not possible to multitask and do things well. When you try to do more than one thing at a time, your attention is actually flicking between the different tasks. The end result is that you won’t do any of them very well and are more likely to make errors. So, prioritise one task and complete it to the best of your ability before moving on to the next.

5. Choose your environment

Match the environment to the task you’re doing. Think about the level of noise and stimulation that is around you. For example, if you’re looking at spreadsheets and analysing numbers, a busy open plan office with lots of noise might make it more difficult to concentrate.

Some people like some background noise. If you need to be creative in a task, the open plan office or café environment might be more suitable. There are pros and cons to open plan offices, working from home, or working from a café. It will depend on what you need to get done.

6. Plan your diet and exercise

Certain foods aid brain power and concentration, while exercise has been shown to have immediate positive effects on mood and alertness. Making time for exercise and a healthy diet isn’t always easy. But remember, taking just 20 minutes to go for a run or cook a healthy lunch could be time you get back in increased productivity.

7. Take a breath

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, try a simple breathing exercise to clear your mind and reduce stress. Find a quiet, comfortable place where you can sit down for a few minutes. Breathe deeply in and out, focusing on your breath. Your mind will naturally wander, but when it does, bring it back to just thinking about your breath and the sensation as it enters your body


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a photo of Caroline Wood
Caroline Wood
Head of Behavioural Insights and Research at Bupa UK

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