Productivity is low in February, here are 5 simple tips to boost it


Feel like February is off to a slow start? You're likely not alone.

During the winter months, productivity plummets. A 2017 study by workplace management platform Redbooth analyzed hundreds of thousands of its user data to determine how and when people complete tasks. The report found that January and February are by far the least productive months, with just over 7 percent of people reporting that they completed the most tasks in those months.

This year, February productivity may be especially low: Data from Captivate's Office Pulse found that the 2018 Winter Olympics will cost U.S. businesses $1.7 billion in lost productivity due to employees watching the games during work.

But you don't have to surrender to a sluggish month. Instead, try these tricks to boost your productivity, and power through that to-do list.

Minimize distractions

Olympics aside, interruptions to your daily workflow can be a huge time-waster, says productivity expert Bhavin Turakhia, founder and CEO of Flock, a team communication app for the workplace.

"The number of devices and tools — and in many cases open work environments, open floor plans — result in making it very easy to constantly be interrupted," Turakhia tells CNBC Make It.

Smartphones are especially sinister. In a 2016 CareerBuilder survey, half of employers surveyed said employees' smartphone activity is to blame for hours of lost productivity each day.

To minimize distractions, Bhavin suggests doing what he does — keep your phone on silent, with no vibrate mode and with the screen face-down.

"Most of technology is developed to constantly give you that kind of tiny dopamine kick when you're looking at it," Turakhia explains. "It can be easy to fall into this habit of constantly picking up your phone or checking stuff out online...and I think it's important to sort of cultivate that habit of not being constantly interrupted."

Another distraction to workflow can be the constant pinging of emails hitting your inbox. Workers spend 6.3 hours a day checking email, according to a Reuters survey. Instead of sporadically checking your mail throughout the day and randomly firing off messages, take a more strategic approach.

"Every time I've completed a fixed amount of time or a fixed unit of work, then I'll go and check my inbox and spend some time on it," Turkahia says. "Then, once [every] a couple of days, I will take dedicated time to clear out any backlog in emails, because I've not necessarily gotten to all the items."

Many successful people have a strategy when it comes to email. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, for example, wakes up (at 7 a.m.) and takes 30 minutes to address what he calls "critical emails," according to Glassdoor. He also admits to checking emails while playing with his kids when they were younger, at an age where they didn't need his full attention.

Billionaire tech entrepreneur Mark Cuban also finds nuggets of time to power through his inbox.

"If I'm laying in bed watching a game, if it's halftime of a Mav's game, that's when I'll do my emails," Cuban tells Thrive Global Podcast. "It allows me to disconnect from whatever other things that have my attention, and it actually works out really well."

Nix multitasking

Science backs the argument that task-switching is actually counter-productive. According to Health.com, research shows that such mental juggling actually slows you down, makes you more prone to mistakes and stresses you out. Ultimately, shifting between tasks can cause a 40 percent loss in productivity.

To combat this, Turakhia has a strategy. He says that when he picks up a unit of work, he will either take it to completion or make sure he doesn't divert his attention from it for a set amount of time, like 20, 30 or 60 minutes. That way, he's not wasting time jumping from task to task, trying to get back into the zone.

"If you switch from task A to B to C rather quickly, then every time you have to switch tasks, you have to get rid of the context of the previous task, [learn the context] of the new task, get into it, get productive," Turakhia says. "And by the time you really get there, in the zone, you're again switching out to something else. If you're doing that, you're constantly wasting your time just switching context."

"It's easy to keep feeling that you're busy throughout the day without getting much done by constantly having to context switch and be interrupted by things," he adds.

Take breaks

According to a study in the journal Cognition, even brief diversions can dramatically improve a person's ability to focus on a task for prolonged periods of time.

"From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task," University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras and lead researcher of the study, says.

One way to do that is the famous Pomodoro Technique, a time-management strategy that involves working on a single task intently for 25 minutes, then taking a five-minute break, creating a time interval called a pomodoro. After four pomodoros, there's a longer break, which could be between 20 and 30 minutes. The Pomodoro Technique, has been touted as a way to boost productivity, and studies show it works. It's also been found to enhance feelings of power and control.

Tackle your most important to-dos in the morning

In order to really boost your productivity, consider taking those #MondayMotivation tweets to heart.

Redbooth's data found that during the workweek, the highest percentage of tasks (20.4 percent) are completed on Mondays, followed by Tuesdays. Meanwhile, only 16.7 percent of tasks are completed on Fridays.

The data also highlights the best time of day to get stuff done: On a typical day, people complete the most tasks (9.7 percent) around 11 a.m., but there's a big dip in productivity in between then and 1 p.m., with productivity never quite returning to that pre-lunch peak.

Best-selling author Daniel Pink also preaches the importance of timing in his new book, "When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing." In a recent essay for the Wall Street Journal, Pink writes that research has shown people experience the day in "three acts: a peak, a trough and a rebound." Most people (not all, though) experience the peak, which is when focus is at its best, in the morning.

"For most of us, these sharp-minded analytic capacities crest in the late morning or around noon. This is when we are most vigilant, when we can keep distractions from penetrating our cerebral gates," Pink writes in the Wall Street Journal. "That makes the peak the best time to tackle work that requires heads-down attention and analysis, such as writing a legal brief or auditing financial statements."

Have a snack

According to Harvard Business Review, when your blood glucose bottoms out, you can have a difficult time staying focused, and fluctuations in blood sugar can be bad for your brain and productivity. Smaller, more frequent meals allow you to maintain more consistent glucose levels.

But make sure the food you are eating isn't making you feel more sluggish than before you started chowing down. Research has linked a Mediterranean diet, which includes foods like whole grains and hummus, to a reduction in memory loss, and blueberries have been found to boost memory. Probiotics found in yogurt can also increase cognitive function.

"Many of us have a container of yogurt in our refrigerator that we may eat for enjoyment, for calcium or because we think it might help our health in other ways," says Dr. Kirsten Tillisch, an associate professor of medicine in the digestive diseases division at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine and lead author of the study.

"Our findings indicate that some of the contents of yogurt may actually change the way our brain responds to the environment. When we consider the implications of this work, the old sayings 'you are what you eat' and 'gut feelings' take on new meaning."

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