Want to leave work by 5? Follow these tips.
Back in the late '90s they had these commercials depicting what office life would be like for "Generation D", aka Generation Digital. It was pretty awesome: dudes were cruising the hallways on motorized skateboards, and everybody seemed totally jazzed to be at work, because work was super-fun when you did it digitally. Unfortunately, that sweet utopia never happened: the office is still a place you want to leave, to get to happy hour, or your kid's soccer game, or your kid's All-Valley Karate Tournament. So, with the help of science, and studies, and scientific studies, we came up with 11 tips to help you efficiently take care of business and confidently stroll out work by 5p.
Time that coffee run
The quick breakdown: the hormone cortisol gives you energy to tackle stress. According to DC-based neuroscientist Steven Miller, your body's pumping out tons of cortisol at 9am -- meaning you're already flying like an eagle, and there's no reason to boost your energy with caffeine. However, cortisol levels dip naturally at specific times throughout the day (most notably at 10:30am and 2:30pm). So plan your coffee breaks at those times if you want to make them count.
Do email better
McKinsey Global Institute Analysts strung together some hard research that concluded a not-all-that-shocking 28% of the workday is spent slinging emails around the office. Cut down on that percentage by filing emails into themed folders, prioritizing what should be answered when. More importantly, adjust your settings to HTML, which ensures meme photos and .gif chains will show up as quickly loading, boring old file names you won't want to waste your time looking at.
While the invention of the emoji will eventually obliterate the need for typing or language skills of any kind, for now the ol’ key dance is a business necessity. The good news: most studies (there's a great one by the Medical Research Council in Cambridge) prove that the quickest way to get faster is with short, spread-out sessions, not long, grinding ones. Spend just a few minutes every week running through tutorials (free all over the Internet) and you'll save a ton of time in the long run.
Work through lunch
This is an obvious -- albeit awful-sounding -- way to get things done quicker. But what if we told you that skipping going out to lunch will make you happier in the long run? A University of Toronto study found that workers who took lunch breaks actually felt more fatigued at the end of the day than those who chose to work through the midday meal. It’s totally true, mainly because “lunch breaks” are usually spent talking about work anyway. That said, don’t forget to also…
Take a walk every once in a while
A 2011 University of Illinois study posited that taking frequent breaks helps productivity because it breaks up the brain’s tendency to grow too accustomed to repetitive tasks. Compare it to rocking sunglasses -- you physically notice wearing them at first, but after a while the brain becomes acclimated and you don’t even register them on your face. Well, it’s the same with work tasks -- eventually you just stop noticing what the heck it is you're doing, leading to mistakes. Take a walk, and come back with fresh eyes (ideally sans sunglasses).
Bump some tunes
One thing is clear from most data: when completing repetitive tasks, music aids in productivity. Perhaps more interesting though, is the fact that listening to your favorite genre can help your productivity in more immersive tasks by the sheer fact that your mood is improved. However, if you're actually trying to learn something new, any distraction -- including music -- will hinder your progress, at least according to researchers at Cardiff Metropolitan University, who conducted their study while listening to no Tom Jones whatsoever.
Make meetings matter
Experts at Stanford and Universidade Federal Fluminense in Brazil have proposed this seemingly complicated formula for highly effective meetings. It boils down to a four step process:
- vote on primary talking points ahead of time;
- follow the democratically elected agenda;
- individually ask everyone present if democracy derailed anything they desperately need to talk about;
- discuss those points if necessary
The study found that this plan made meetings significantly shorter, but even if it only saves 10 minutes a meeting, that’s almost a full hour of extra time on the week, even more if you're at a company that has meetings on meetings on meetings.
Be more active
Sitting all day leads to cardio-muscular damage, diabetes, and the ultimate health issue, premature mortality(!). Being healthier means less sick days, less piled up work, and more summer Fridays no matter what time of year it is. How do you stop slowly killing your personal life and your, you know, life-life? Have that next meeting on your feet. That head-clearing walk definitely helps too. Recent studies by institutions like Stanford suggest that just a few 5-minute strolls a day can undue the damage of hours of sitting. At least get one of those laughable under-desk workout pedal contraptions, because you’ll be the one laughing when you leave at 5pm on the dot. And when you don't die.
Get yourself equipped
One of the easiest things to overlook at work is the basic tool set you already use. Take this study by Xerox: they pitted the standard keyboard against a Dvorak keyboard and their own invented, unnamed “optimal” keyboard. They determined that the latter keyboard actually saves you 8% of your day (or at least it will once you relearn to type on its weirdly aligned keys).
According to a 2006 study by the Helsinki University of Technology, the ideal temperature for productivity is right around 72 degrees Fahrenheit. And if there’s anything old Helsi Tech (go fighting Lampreys!) knows, it’s temperature. Hound that thermostat or bring a sweatshirt for brisker ACs, and you’ll be getting work done faster than Devon in communications can say “Why is it always so COLD in here?!?!”
Stop being a miserable hermit
There's no study required for this simple bit of often overlooked common sense: Go. Talk. To. People. No seriously, a simple phone call or a quick jaunt to someone’s desk can save you from those 47-message chains where less time is spent communicating and more time is spent worrying whether clever sarcasm is resonating digitally. Save that wit for the bar, or the karate tournament. All those hot "Karate Moms" will totally appreciate it.