As if it’s not hard enough to stay focused at work, the end of the year is sure to bring a flurry of goals, projects, and tasks that demand your attention and expertise. Ready to refocus on your career or life? Try a few of the pro tips we scored from Julie Morgenstern, a productivity expert who has transformed offices for Amazon, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and more. “Productivity is the art and skill of spending time on strategic activities that energize and move you toward your goals,” she tells us. “It’s important because it’s the driving force behind success.”

A woman sits and thinks in a cafe

1. Plan ahead and simplify. “We’re all hungry for success — but it’s not always easy to know where to start, or what path will make our dreams come true,” Morgenstern says. “To be successful at anything (whether it’s health, work, relationships, happiness, or wealth), you have to start by creating a roadmap: Set clear goals, define specific actions to take you there, and plan the time to make it happen. This is where productivity comes into play.”

Morgenstern says, “To start being more productive right now, begin to make decisions efficiently and plan your schedule three days ahead (which is as far out as most of us can contemplate without feeling overwhelmed). For example, if you wait until the last minute to prep your meals and snacks, you’re not likely to do it — but planning can be as simple as packing almonds in baggies you can grab on your way out the door.” Why put off something you can tackle today until tomorrow? Don’t overthink it, just do it.

2. Watch what you eat. What you put into your body affects so much more than your waistline. “The vulnerable afternoon crash happens to many of us, but a simple solution is to consume more nutrient-rich foods and snacks that keep you energized,” Morgenstern shares. To maximize your hours, snack on healthy whole foods and fuel up with well-balanced meals all week long. That food coma has nothing on you.

3. Finish the tasks you start. Are you easily sidetracked, or do you lose sight of a project as soon as you take a break from it? Morgenstern suggests training yourself to finish whatever you start as a way to get things done. “Don’t stop to pick up a phone call, answer email, or carry on a conversation if you’re in the middle of a task,” she says. “If you do, it can take 20 minutes or more to regain your concentration.” Add your lost time up over the course of a day, week, or month, and you’ll be flabbergasted by the amount of extra time you could’ve had. If you find it hard to do things differently and remain dedicated, Morgenstern says to be gentle with yourself. “We’re only human,” she reminds us. “Understand that sometimes things will inevitably fall through the cracks; you will get distracted or have a bad day. However, it’s important to learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward to stay focused, rather than dwelling.”

4. Know what keeps you on track. Different tips and tricks work for different people, but knowing what keeps you focused can be a secret sauce for saying adios to wasted time. “When used effectively, to-do lists can keep you accountable and help you stay on the path to getting your most important work done,” Morgenstern explains. “If this is a tactic that works for you, make a list of five to eight goals that you would like to accomplish the next day when you wrap up.” Need help keeping tabs on personal stuff too? Try a separate list and stick to setting a number of objectives you can realistically accomplish. “Though you can’t expect to change years of working habits overnight, small changes in how you work can gradually add up to big changes in productivity,” Morgenstern promises. “Try one thing to start, and keep adding more as you find the strategies that work best for you.”

5. Streamline your workload. Morgenstern clued us in on the four D’s, a trick she uses to make sure she doesn’t take on more than she can handle. “There always seems to be more work to do than time to do it, so the goal is to make sure you are doing the most important tasks. Use the four D’s to lighten your workload:”

  • Delete: Some items on your list might not be worth your time. “Ask yourself, ‘Are there other tasks on my list that accomplish the same goal in a more effective way?’ ‘What’s the worst thing that would happen if this to-do weren’t done?'” Morgenstern advises.
  • Delay: According to Morgenstern, delay doesn’t mean procrastinate. So what’s the difference? “Procrastination is about indefinite postponement, while delaying something is about consciously rescheduling it for a time when you can get it done more efficiently,” she explains. “For each item on your list, ask ‘Is this the best time to do this?'” If it’s not, she says your tasks might be best saved for a time when you have the right resources, info, team, and focus to do ’em justice.
  • Delegate: “The real purpose of delegation is to free you up to focus your time on your highest value tasks,” Morgenstern says. “Are there tasks on your to-do list that should really be set for someone else? Are there things you do out of habit, or tasks that aren’t a good use of your time? Which tasks could someone else do better or faster?” Once you start outsourcing, you’ll see your extra time start to stack up.
  • Diminish: Diminishing your workload isn’t cheating — it’s working smarter. “For this one, ask yourself, ‘Is this the most efficient way to get this done?'” Morgenstern offers. “For example, hopping on a quick call might be more efficient than sending a stream of email, and a few bulleted points might serve you better in a meeting than a 20-page deck will.” So true.

How do you stay productive during chaotic times? Tweet us your tips @BritandCo.

(Photo via Getty)