If you are seeking a better work-life balance in the coming year, you have probably already heard some standard advice, such as getting more sleep and taking more time off. But what if you are doing these things and still feel things are out of balance? What it boils down to is productivity- using time efficiently so you are your best self at work and during leisure time. The problem for a lot of us is efficiency does not come naturally- you have to work at it. It can be especially hard here on Maui, when gorgeous weather lures our attention away from tasks at hand. Here are a few easy balancing act hacks you can employ to even the scales, getting more work done and having more time to enjoy life.

Get up earlier

wake up earlierUgg, I know- the thought of giving up those last few precious moments of sleep doesn’t seem appealing. But once you get in the swing of an earlier start, you’ll appreciate the “me time.” Carve out an extra hour in the morning before anyone else is up, or before your co-workers hit their desk, and use that time for your most creative thinking.

Let’s get science-y for a minute. The best time for focused attention, bouts of creative writing and effective learning is just after waking up. This is the time of day when your prefrontal cortex is most active.  Set the alarm earlier, grab a cup of joe, and jot down your amazing ideas and solutions. As the day goes on, the analytical part of your brain becomes more active- so save reviewing reports and editing documents for a little later in the day.

There is also a practical reason to get up earlier. If you live in a busy household, use these precious early moments of peace to think and plan before the kids, dog and spouse all want your attention. Same goes for the office. It is eerily serene to work at your desk without interruption from co-workers, the phone or your boss. Plus, it gives you a jump on the day.

If you can set a flexible work schedule, arriving at work early means you get to go home early too, and traffic will be lighter on your commute. The last hour of the work day is typically less productive anyway- no one wants to schedule a meeting at the end of the day and it is hard to get a hold of people so it is not the best time to return calls or emails.

Establish a life rhythm

You may have heard of Circadian rhythm. Basically, your brain has one cycle per day. For most people, alertness is highest during daylight hours and decreases at night. If you work a night shift, your brain can adjust over time, but it is best to stick to one pattern. Go to sleep and get up at approximately the same time every day (including weekends) and your brain will thank you with better motor skills, reaction time, verbal articulation and ability for higher level thinking such as mathematical calculations.

A typical adult circadian pattern dips in the middle of the night and in the early afternoon. Those times can vary if you are a night owl or early bird. However, you won’t feel the swings in your circadian rhythm as strongly if you go to bed and wake at approximately the same time every day.

Have more efficient meetings and workflow

scheduling meetingsRegular communication with your team is a good thing. But could some meetings be more efficiently handled by a quick email, or stopping by someone’s office? Try to keep group meetings to the important topics, saving hours of time by handling the small stuff directly.

Whether you are leading a meeting or are a participant, come prepared to take digital notes on key outcomes or anything you commit to. Notes can then be sent out immediately after the meeting to pertinent team members. Eliminate paper note taking, printing and copying documents as much as possible. Organize files and documents digitally, eliminating a mountain of paper.

Large projects can be overwhelming. Once a project is laid out with short and long-term goals, make shorter to-do lists- what can be reasonably accomplished in a day.

Set some job and personal goals within a specific time period- this helps with motivation and focuses your concentrate. Check in with your boss on work goals, or if nonexistent, set one of your own, ie, “increase customer response rate this quarter by 10% by editing the auto responder text” A personal goal may be “be more fit- go to the new Pilates class every Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening.”

Make notes for your off-time activities

Spontaneity is great for date night, but not so great for keeping your life organized. Use a smart phone app to track tasks and shopping items and calendar social engagements. This will not only make you a more reliable friend or partner, it is a huge time saver. What was that other thing you needed at the store? When was aunt Sally’s retirement party? Try Wunderlist– a cool, free app that also syncs to nearly every calendar platform. You can also share Wunderlists with others in real time, like a grocery list with your roommate.

A calendaring side note- You need to see your work commitments and personal appointments in once place to avoid conflicts. However, you also need to keep these calendars separate. An app like Google Calendar allows you to create as many calendars as you need, as long as they are tied to separate Google email accounts.

Avoid distractions

work distractionsSocial media can be a huge time sucker. A recent Kansas State University study revealed between 60 and 80 percent of an employee’s time on the Internet is cyberloafing- doing something other than work. Self-impose restrictions on how often you check your social media accounts to get your actual work done within a reasonable schedule.

Along the same line, schedule times of day you will check and respond to email. Resist the temptation to read incoming text and email each time you hear the inbox ping. Interrupting your work flow to check email will make it difficult to concentrate.

Pay attention to your health

Life often throws us curve balls- a family member is in the hospital during the same period you are working overtime on a huge project. Sticking to routines during stressful times will help you be more productive, including making time for fitness and nutrition.

When making dinner, make an extra portion and pack it for lunch the next day. Include energy-enhancing between meal snacks like nuts, fruits and yogurt. This pre-planning will cut down on unhealthy food choices made on the go.

The stand-up desk idea is dead- it has been proven to not be any more beneficial than sitting in your comfy chair. However, the concept of getting up from your desk on a regular basis is essential for blood flow and heart health. Fit in exercise daily, even if it is just getting up from your desk and walking around the building or doing some at desk exercises. Making time for an even higher level of fitness, such as going to the gym on a regular schedule, is a great way to reduce workplace and life stress.

A healthier, more productive you

By establishing time for creativity, keeping a few things organized and taking care of yourself, you will be more efficient at work and have more time and energy for fun activities during your leisure time.