How many times have you told yourself that you’re going to have a productive day, only to spend half of it procrastinating with literally anything but your most important tasks? While we know nothing about that (lies), it can be hard to be productive even under perfect circumstances. We all like to think we can just sit down and check off every item on our to-do list. But sometimes we need a little help.
If you’re having one of those days when you just can’t get it done, you’re in luck…although it may not feel like it yet. There are plenty of items out there that can help you have a productive day ahead. Some of them are even backed up by research. Here are eleven of our favorites.
11 Items That Can Help You Have a Productive Day
If you really need to kick yourself into gear, some of the below items can help you do that. We’re affiliated with Panda Planner, but we have no connection to the other products we mention. Other than the fact that they can help us have a productive day when we need it most. Bonus? Many of the below items are easy ways to practice proven productivity techniques. Try one or a few and see if they get you moving on your goals.
1. A timer
You may think that you’re most productive when you power through tasks, but research shows that taking regular breaks can actually help you get more done. Stepping away from your work for short periods of time can help you feel more relaxed, refreshed, and ready to work.
One popular way to make sure you focus on both work and rest is the Pomodoro Technique. With this technique, you set a timer for 25 minutes (also known as one Pomodoro), work without interruptions until it goes off, then take a short break. Lather, rinse, repeat. You can take a longer break every four Pomodoro cycles. Because you need to know when you’ve hit your designated time limit, you need a timer.
You can use a classic kitchen timer, the timer on your phone, an app, or this simple Pomodoro timer online. Just hit start and get going.
While we admit that the research on using music for productivity gains is mixed, it can be helpful for many people. Not only can listening to music while working make you more productive, but it can even lead to people judging your work as higher quality. So if you’re looking for a boost, turn up the music of your choice and get to it. Headphones, of course, are best for those of us who work in an office with other people.
Another way to use headphones to have a productive day? Invest in noise-canceling headphones. Even if you put them on with no music, it’s a great strategy for shutting out distractions, especially in noisy or open offices.
3. A meditation app
It’s hard to be productive if your mind is running all over the place. If you feel us on this one, meditation can be a great tool to help increase your attention span, lower stress, and improve performance.
If you don’t already have a meditation practice, using a guided meditation app is a great way to get started. Headspace is one of the most well-known and popular meditation apps, but there are a lot of great options out there.
Explore our list of the best meditation apps to find the one that works best for you.
4. A filing cabinet…or a filing system
Ever sit down to work and immediately get distracted by all the stuff on your desk? Us too. In fact, research suggests that visual clutter can disrupt your attention and keep you from being your most productive self.
While a filing cabinet may not be the only answer, our point remains the same. Get some tools to keep yourself organized, whether it’s a filing system, drawer dividers, or simply using the trash to get rid of things you don’t need. This applies to your digital space too.
5. Web blockers
Looking to waste less time on the internet? Try using the power of the internet to help. (It’s a strange world, isn’t it?) There are lots of browser extensions and apps out there that can shut down your internet access in general or to specific sites when you reach a certain time limit–or just shut it all down before you even start.
6. A cup of coffee
Too much caffeine can make you jittery and anxious, but the right amount can help improve your mental and physical functioning, as well as your mood and alertness. How much is the right amount? That’s for you to decide.
But no matter how much you drink, we recommend stopping your caffeine intake at least six hours before bedtime.
7. Natural light (or a lamp that mimics it)
In an ideal world, we’d all have offices with large windows that give us access to lots of natural light. In the real world, many of us work in cubicles cut off from any natural light sources at all. That’s unfortunate because research shows that natural light can significantly improve health and well-being in the office, which ultimately leads to productivity gains.
If you can’t get that corner office yet, a lamp with lightbulbs that mimic natural light might be the next best thing. They can have the same well-being and productivity effects as the sun itself.
Try a Verilux HappyLight, which comes recommended by psychiatrist Dr. Tracy Latz, who’s seen benefits for her patients with anxiety and depression.
8. A great pillow
Of course, going to sleep earlier is the best way to get the recommended sleep, but if you’re too overloaded, make your sleep space the best it can be to get a good night’s rest. A comfortable pillow, the right temperature, and a dark room will all help you make the most of whatever sleep you can get.
An instant way to use that pillow for productivity? Take a nap. Science says there are big benefits to grabbing a little mid-day shuteye. And who doesn’t need an excuse to nap?
9. A water bottle
Need a simple way to increase cognitive functioning and decrease your likelihood of making mistakes in your tasks? Try drinking water. Research suggests that dehydration has a small, but significant effect on executive functioning, attention, and coordination. Even mild dehydration can also increase the number of errors you make, especially in monotonous tasks.
You’ve probably heard you should drink eight glasses of water a day. The truth is that there’s no “right” amount of water to drink. Your needs depend on how active you are, your overall health, your size, and many other factors. But making sure you always have water nearby can help stop dehydration before it starts. And help you have a productive day every day.
10. A good pair of sneakers
Exercise has a ton of benefits that can all help you have a productive day. It can give you more energy, improve your memory and cognitive performance, and even help you get a better night’s sleep. We might not all be able to leave work to get a workout in whenever we get stuck on a task. But fitting in exercise when you can will improve your productivity throughout the day.
And you don’t even need that much time to do it. Even quick bursts of exercise can have an impact on your energy levels. Take a brisk walk for fifteen minutes, run the stairs, or do some squats and pushups at your desk. Yeah, maybe you’ll get some strange looks for that last one, but it’s better than letting procrastination get the best of you. Promise.
11. Panda Planner
Full disclosure: We’re affiliated with the team at Panda Planner. But that’s how we know it’s such a great product for making your day more productive. Panda Planner is a physical planner based on research in positive psychology and neuroscience. It helps you prioritize your tasks, celebrate your accomplishments, and stay focused on your to-dos, so your productivity and happiness become automatic.
Your turn: What helps you have a productive day when you’re struggling to get going? Tell us your in-the-moment productivity strategies in the comments.
Still procrastinating? Here are some ways to make your procrastination more productive.
Author: Erica Hersh
Erica Hersh is a health writer, editor, and communications strategist based in Boston, MA. In 2014, she fulfilled her lifelong dream of being on Jeopardy. She did not, however, fulfill her dream of winning on Jeopardy.