We’re all working long hours and pushing ourselves at work, yet productivity in the workplace is falling.

Nobody wants to take work home with them in the evenings or give up family time at the weekends to catch up. So how can we make sure we work smarter, not even harder, to make ourselves more productive during the day?

Leave the office

The modern office isn’t always conducive for getting work done. Open plan offices mean we’re surrounded by the noises, smells and visual distractions our colleagues bring.

Plus, not everyone is programmed for a 9-5 working day. Some people work best in the afternoons and early evenings while morning larks prefer to tackle hard tasks early but find themselves tired by 4pm.

Many offices are starting to give their workers a bit more trust and freedom to work flexibly using their own laptops or tablets. If there’s a meeting, they can pop into the office or join remotely using their webcam. This Bring Your Own Device trend gives workers the freedom to choose the working hours and environment that suits them.

Play ping pong

Those crucial breakthroughs won’t come by staring at a computer screen for hours. Sometimes we need to engage our brains in a totally different activity and let ourselves switch off to tap into our creativity and productive potential. Stress is one of the biggest killers of productivity.

Some of the world’s most successful companies like Google and Microsoft don’t give their staff swimming pools, basketball courts and ping pong tables for no reason: they know that paying attention to the wellbeing of their employees and giving them time to relax will ultimately help them crack problems and be more productive.

Don’t answer your email

When 5pm comes around, do you wonder where your day has gone? Trickles of emails, a phone call here and there and a few impromptu chats with colleagues about a project distracts us from what we’re doing and pulls our brains in a million different directions.

Experts agree that it’s far more productive to bundle similar tasks together. So set aside a chunk or time for responding to and drafting emails, time for making phone calls and time for creative brainstorming without interruptions. Most emails can wait.

If the lure of social media and email when you have an important report to finish is too much to ignore, why not enlist the help of WriteRoom or Dark Room, which only lets you write a document on your computer when the app is running. And Chrome’s Siteblock and Firefox’s BlockSite let you block distracting websites you get drawn to. If you stumble upon an article you feel compelled to read, save it with the Pocket app to read later?

Go to sleep

A study of elite violists by Ander Ericson found that they had a similar trait in common: they made sure they got enough sleep. Burning the midnight oil to get a job done can be counter-productive.

According to the Sleep Council, savvy bosses are setting up dedicated nap rooms to help staff get some sleep during their lunch breaks because they understand the link between sleep and productive, healthy workers.

If your boss isn’t as forward-thinking, aim to pack in about 7-8 hours of sleep during the night if you can. But go for quality, not quantity: make sure you’re getting restorative REM sleep by using apps like Sleep Cycle (which wakes you up at the optimum time) or Sleepbot (which helps you track how well you’ve slept during the night).

How do you stay productive at work?