Be More Productive by Saying Yes to Less

overwhelmed at work

Our culture applauds those who work too hard, but what happens when you’re so overwhelmed that the net effect is hardly working?

Yes, we survived this month and met our the deadlines, but is our current overly stressed pace worth it?

Doesn’t sound like it. In fact, researchers have found that those who take more breaks, and take on less, may actually have the upper hand in the productivity department. Want to know how to scale back — and actually get more done? Read on for seven ways to do more with less and get ahead.

Get Over Overcommitment

When you’re juggling too much and about to kick yourself for not being able to do it all as well as you’d like (or at all!), Dr. Susan Biali, physician, life coach and author of “Live a Life You Love”  says take a step back and examine your (over)commitments. Her advice: When you say yes to one thing, turn right around and say no to something else on your to-do list. We only have a certain number of hours in the day to accomplish things. 

No one can truly do it all, so don’t be too hard on yourself. And don’t cram your to-do list with tasks. You’ll discover that the room you give yourself allows you to turn out even better results for the duties you keep in your calendar.

Step Away from Your Desk

Go on, turn off your phone and go for a walk outside — or make your way to a yoga class. You now have a scientifically backed excuse for abandoning your desk for the sake of better (yes, better) job performance. According to a University of Granada study published in the journal PLoS ONE, researchers have found that consistent physical activity improves our attention span and cognitive performance. Those who made fitness a priority had markedly better results than those who lead more sedentary lives. Remain tied to your desk and your work suffers, found the authors. Get out for some “you” time and yes, your job performance actually improves.

Get Realistic About Time

Ask me if the glass is half empty, and I’ll say it looks more like half full. And ask me to do you a favor, and I’ll figure out a way to fit it into my day. So, what’s the problem? My optimism may just be my own worst enemy. When I’m always racing against the clock to get things done, it may not be the number of items on my to-do list that’s the problem. Instead, blame my too optimistic approach to time management. In other words, I carry an unrealistic sense of just how long it will take me to do my tasks. “Realistic time management and organization plans can improve productivity and the quality of life,” found researchers studying the key elements to improve. Getting a more clear-headed handle of just how long any single task will take can give me the breathing room I need to finish what I started without the stress.

Clean Up Your Physical Workspace

When the work has piled up and you can’t even fathom where to start, begin with the wastebasket. Research from the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute published in The Journal of Neuroscience suggests that your visual environment can impact how efficiently your brain processes work. It appears that clutter in the office hurts our ability to focus, sabotaging our brain’s potential to process information. So add straightening out your workspace to the top of your to-do list. You just may find this task makes your others go by more smoothly.

Take time to Doodle or Daydream

Unless you’re getting paid for your art, it may seem counterintuitive to take a break from spreadsheets and start drawing pictures on paper. Yet research shows that when you switch tasks briefly and let your mind wander, it may help improve your productivity. “The doodling group performed better on the monitoring task and recalled 29 percent more information on a surprise memory test,” says study author Jackie Andrade. 

Limit Socializing With Colleagues

Don’t get me wrong. It’s nice when you can get along well with your colleagues. But fraternize too much and they’ll get in the way of your productivity. While the downside of long work lunches may seem obvious to most of us, sometimes the influence is subtler than you think. Take the open-office floor plan that is so popular these days. Research is showing that “architectural privacy [is] associated with psychological privacy” to produce better job performance and satisfaction. 

So when that colleague swings by your desk while you’re in the throes of work, her visit just may make it harder for you to quickly shift gears and return to your duties. The best way to cut down on the drop bys? Embrace an instant messaging program instead. Your work pal will get the impression that you’re still available at any given time, but her interaction will be remote. Just what you need to get your work done.

Take a Vacation

Have vacation days piling up? If you’re reading this in the United States, chances are, you’re not using your allotted time. In fact, 54 percent of Americans left vacation days on the table last year.

While you may think taking a hard-earned holiday would be bad for business, experts say otherwise. An oft-cited Ernst & Young study of their employees found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation they took, their performance ratings improved by 8 percent. So, what are you waiting for?