As an office worker, do you feel that you ought to be more productive? Different managers may have varying ideas on what optimal productivity looks like, but overall, any employee can and probably should find ways to make themselves more productive and efficient at the office. This means self-care and motivation of all kinds, and basic health is not to be neglected.

You are a living human being before all else, and a healthy, motivated, focused worker is one who will get the most useful work done. And bear in mind that productivity is not measured with the sheer number of hours that you work; it is based on the value of what you do. Two hours of important, high-yield work is better than an entire day of mindless busywork. Now, with that in mind, how can you optimize your office space, health, and mental faculties to become the best employee you can be?

Your Health

Good health comes before anything else in your life. If you are not healthy, then, of course, you are unhappy and unable to do any work or leisure activities. Often, Americans today get a little sloppy with their health or take shortcuts or make sacrifices that they shouldn’t.

Why not start with food? On average, and not including breakfast, an American will eat out 4.5 times per week. But they are not always eating the right foods, as very greasy or fatty or sugary food can do more harm than good. Not all items on a restaurant’s menu are good for you, and fast food is almost universally sub-optimal for your health.

Fast food burgers, fries, and ice cream are among the worst food you can eat, and while designed to taste good, it will not sharpen your mind or help you maintain a healthy weight. Rather, you are encouraged to eat a more balanced diet across the food pyramid, and you can consult your doctor if you want specific details for a diet that works for you. Avoid fast foods and processed foods, and focus on wholesome and organic foods that don’t have added sugars or fats in them. This helps promote a healthy weight, improves your immune system, and much more.

Avoiding illness is another fine way to improve your workplace productivity, as a single sick day means missing a lot of work, and an entire lost week can be difficult to make up for. While modern medicine is quite advanced, no one can actually eradicate the common cold and flu, so you ought to find ways to avoid contamination. This is especially important during the fall and spring seasons, when 50% of all colds are caught. What is more, a cold can develop within one to three days after someone catches the virus.

To start with, be sure to diligently wash your hands during cold and flu season, especially as you touch doorknobs, hand railings, and other commonly touched surfaces in public. Also wash your hands after blowing your nose and using the restroom, and encourage your peers to do the same. Hand sanitizer can have a similar effect, though before eating, fully washing your hands is best. Sticking to these healthy practices can help you and your coworkers escape the one billion colds Americans catch every year.

A workplace may have lower rates of illnesses if the premises are kept clean enough. Janitors and other staff should carefully wipe down all surfaces every day, and the air conditioning and carpets should be cleaned, too. Maid services can vacuum rugs and carpets, and perform deep cleans with rug shampoo, to remove all dirt and bacteria from them. This reduces how many harmful particles are emitted from those rugs and carpets. Hired workers should also clean out the air conditioning ducts and fans, to remove pollen, dirt, and other grime, which will also result in much lower bacteria and virus populations in the circulated air. Many offices have rather dirty air that easily transmits diseases, so the system should be cleaned out.

Workplace Optimizations

Suppose your place of work is now much cleaner, and you are eating well and getting enough sleep. That’s a good start. Now, it is time to focus on the work station itself, which is especially important given how office square footage has shrunk. Individual work stations have shrunk from 80 square feet in 1992 down to 39 square feet in the modern-day, according to Jacobs (a design and workplace construction firm). If space is so limited, then a smart worker will make good use of that space, and cut out anything that is not vital for work. Some items will take higher priority over others, as each square inch counts.

This also means cutting back on clutter, and many office workers allow too much paper (and too many digital files) to accumulate. Messes like these are nothing but a burden, and they mean the worker takes far too much time to look for important documents, and some documents might end up getting lost entirely in all that mess. Besides, it’s actually stressful to see any work in those messes, a mental drain that no worker should have to suffer through.

Be diligent about shredding or discarding unnecessary items. For physical papers, you’ll want to invest in a paper shredder. Nearly 30% of consumers neglect to shred documents with personal information before throwing them out, but making this mistake at your place of work can result in a major security breach for your business. Create a huge storage space for older documents that you might need some time, and make that storage space neatly organized in an intuitive way that works for you. Working in a clutter-free space can save a lot of time and even improve your mood.

For digital files, you’ll want a similar system in order to declutter and keep everything organized for years to come. Consider utilizing the cloud. It’s projected that about 83% of a company’s workload will be stored on the cloud in 2020. Not only does the cloud help declutter your computer files visually, but it can help your systems run more quickly.

Good habits are also essential for workplace productivity, and some of them are much more beneficial than they look. For example, taking breaks. Staying glued to your computer for many long hours on end is actually counter-productive since anyone will get fatigued after a point and start making workplace mistakes. It’s a matter of diminishing returns, in fact.

Instead, break up your work into chunks of one hour to 90 minutes, and take short breaks in between those work sessions. Doing so will relax your mind and body alike, and when you resume your work, it will be with renewed vigor and focus, which is a clear path to productivity. During those breaks, you could stand up and perform stretches, which can help improve blood flow and prevent cramps, neck pain, and the like. The human body was never meant to hunch in front of a computer at a desk all day, after all.

Another way to boost productivity is to reassess your priorities and tasks for the days. Workplace tasks and projects are not created equal; some are very efficient and productive, and others are little more than time-wasters that masquerade as work. One method to solve this is to think of the top three most important things you do during your day and do them practically to the exclusion of all others. Think: if you can do only one task all day, which would it be? It shouldn’t take long to come up with an answer. Then, you think of the second most important task, then the third, and give them the lion’s share of your energy and attention. This is a way to harness the famed 80/20 rule, which states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your tasks and work. Be choosy about how you spend your time, and the results will come flooding in.

Another tip: cut out distractions that divert your attention. What sort of distractions? Non-essential phone calls, for example, or email notifications or text messages on your mobile phone. The human mind is geared to focus on just one activity at a time, and even small distractions can divert and scatter its attention in a big way. Worse yet, even after the distraction is removed, the brain needs several minutes to get back on track.

Some office workers are distracted so often, their brain never stays fully on track at all. Put your smartphone away and put it on silent, so notifications don’t draw your attention, and make sure that your computer isn’t showing email notifications, either. Also, ask your co-workers to not talk to you unless it’s for something important, as idle chatter, gossip, or complaining is 100% distraction fuel. No one needs to chat up a storm at work like that.

Bonus tip: question the importance of meetings. Often, the information conveyed at meetings can be shared with email or other messaging systems. Many office workers spend around 30 hours per month on meetings but get very little value out of them. If your manager spends a lot of time on meetings like these, tactfully suggest that a future meeting’s content should be conveyed some other way, or not shared at all. If you are the manager yourself, then your mission is clear: re-purpose meeting time for work time for both your employees and you.