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12 Ways to Improve Your Productivity in 5 Seconds Flat

Have a couple of seconds? Instantly find your focus to get more done in less time.

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Set a mini goal

Before you jump into a task, take a few seconds to set an intention about what you hope to accomplish over the next 20 to 40 minutes or so, suggests Chris Bailey, author of The Productivity Project. “When we work and when we live with this intentionality, it’s what allows us to shut off this mindless autopilot mode and choose what we want to work on,” he says. Knowing exactly what you want to get out of each little chunk of time helps you put every minute in perspective. If getting sidelined by an email or link won’t help that goal, don’t even start. Don’t miss these other almost effortless ways to be more productive.

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Turn on a timer

Now that you have a better idea of your goal for the next 20 minutes, set a timer and promise yourself you’ll stay focused until it goes off. Imposing a deadline on yourself (not to mention the promise of a stopping point) gives you more drive to stay on task. “You’ll probably get more done in 20 minutes than in the average hour,” says Bailey. He recommends starting with 20-minute chunks while you get used to that hyper-focused time, then working your way up to staying concentrated longer.

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Give yourself a checkup

Don’t just go on autopilot and expect to do your best work—boost your productivity by planning your day around how you’re feeling. “We rarely ever check in on ourselves when we work,” says Bailey. “We’re always moving on to the next thing or totally focused on what we’re doing.” Tune in to your breathing while your computer boots up in the morning. Feeling tense or exhausted? Pencil in some extra breaks. Feeling well-rested and energized? Take advantage by getting a jump on your biggest tasks instead of chipping away at emails. Bailey suggests doing more check-ins throughout the day, like when you switch tasks or head over to a meeting. Check out more ways to be more productive in your first hour of work.

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Get up and stretch

Sitting at your computer screen for hours without getting up isn’t just unhealthy—it’s also unproductive. Even if you don’t realize it, going so long without a break drains your energy. Eventually, your focus will be totally shot, says Laura Stack, productivity speaker and author of Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time. Take just a few seconds to stand up by your desk, using this stretch she recommends: “Clasp your hands, turn your palms toward the ceiling, and stretch upward from your tiptoes all the way through your fingertips. Also stretch to the left and right.” When you’re done, do a few shoulder shrugs and vigorously scratch or massage your head, she says. Try this other essential stretch after sitting all day.

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Turn off email notifications

Those little boxes that pop up when you get an email have a funny way of interrupting you when you’re on a roll. No matter how laser-focused you were before, you drop everything to read that message. “So often, we check email on autopilot mode,” says Bailey. “We’re just responding to work that comes our way instead of working with more deliberateness and intentionality.” Instead of keeping your email open at all times, he suggests only opening your messages when you know you have the time and energy.

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writingJacob Lund/Shutterstock

Take action with emails

Don’t just read an email and forget about it. “Clicking on it and reading it multiple times is a waste of time,” says Stack. If it deserves an immediate reply, do that now. For everything else, decide whether you should delete it, archive it, or unsubscribe from it. Learn more ways to handle email productively.

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Delete your email app

Getting work emails on your phone can kill your productivity even more than those computer notifications. “We don’t accomplish our most important work on our phone,” says Bailey. Delete the app so you can give those messages more thoughtful replies when you’re back at your desk. If going totally off the grid isn’t realistic for you, Bailey suggests setting your preferences to only give you notifications from “VIPs” like your boss or assistant.

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Cut off the Wi-Fi

Sure, you could blame your chatty coworkers or an overwhelming inbox for your procrastination, but the truth is that you interrupt yourself often too. Avoid temptation by staying offline when you’re working through spreadsheets, printouts, or other documents that don’t require an Internet connection. (That includes leaving your phone and tablet away too.) Instead getting sucked into endless articles and emails, you’ll stay focused on your main task. Being cut off for so long might sound scary, but consider how often you do it when you’re away from your desk. “If I could step back from work for an hour to dive into a meeting, I can definitely step back from the Internet for an hour,” says Bailey. “Pretty much any email out there can wait an hour.” Try these other productivity tips for procrastinators.

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Hit “bookmark”

You’re reading one article for your job, when you notice another intriguing-sounding one. You click it to read it, then another, then another, until pretty soon you’ve spent way more time reading than you meant to. If you’re too busy to skim through an article now, save yourself time—not to mention an overload of open tabs—by saving it for later. Set a bookmark or save it to an app like Evernote, then pull it out when you have a few minutes to kill, suggests Stack.

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Put things away as you go

“A cluttered surface is distracting and prevents you from focusing on the work in front of you,” says Stack. But de-cluttered doesn’t mean totally empty. Stash the items you use most within arm’s reach so you have easy access when you need them—no more wasting time digging for what you need, she says. Learn more ways to set up your desk for productivity.

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Take big distractions off your desk

Letting your mind wander is key to creative thinking, but the trick is to avoid getting totally sucked in. For instance, your phone requires your full attention, so you end up procrastinating without those creativity-boosting benefits. Instead, turn your attention to a family photo, plant, or desk toy when you need the mental break. “They won’t consume our complete focus, but they let the mind wander a bit,” says Bailey. Find out more about why playfulness makes you more productive.

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Sip a cup of tea

Need an excuse for a coffee break? Studies have linked caffeine with better alertness and mental performance. “Caffeine has this remarkable ability to make us more productive,” says Bailey. “It makes us more focused on what we’re doing and narrow our attention so we can zero in on one thing.” To avoided the dreaded crash, he suggests swapping out coffee for tea. With less than half as much caffeine per cup, tea will perk you up a bit without totally draining you when it leaves your system. Don’t miss these other things that happen when you switch from coffee to tea.

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.