Career Woman

13 Science-backed tips to boost productivity


Is productivity a solid, a gas, or a liquid? When it flows, you might think it is more of a fluid than a solid. But then, even when productivity seems forthcoming, it is difficult to grasp or quantify. Like a gas, a productive streak can drift away before you ever even knew what it was.

The people at QuickQuid decided to look at the science of productivity to learn a bit more about this elusive property. But sensibly enough, they decided not to dwell on daft thought experiments like that above, but rather to nail down what science can tell us about being more productive. To be more specific, they figured out thirteen things that are counterproductive (according to science), and came up with the same number of rigorously tested alternatives.

Here are some of the eureka! moments they had.

Take it easy… but not too easy

Stop forcing yourself up early. Really! If you’re not a morning person, levering yourself out of bed and to the office before you’re ready is counterproductive. Yet four out of five of us have work schedules that clash with our natural rhythms, according to the Uni of Colorado. In one study, steel workers whose shifts were realigned with their circadian rhythms managed to get 16% more sleep each week and reduce ‘social jetlag’ by an hour.

Once you’re at work, taking proper breaks is a more productive approach than gritting your teeth and trying to power through. But beware procrastination: tidying and re-tidying your desk while you wait for inspiration to strike results not just in less work getting done, but also a lower standard of work (according to boffins at the University of Texas). Instead of looking at a project as a high-jump that requires days of mental preparation, take it one small hurdle at a time and make steady, regular progress for better results and a considerably reduced sense of encroaching panic.

Fewer meetings… more co-operation

People are the literal lifeblood of any business, but boy don’t they just get in the way sometimes? Our contemporary business culture is so obsessed with meetings that execs waste around 14 hours per week more in meetings than they did 50 years ago. Did making a decision become so difficult?

We’ll always need communication, and to share information, ideas, and goals. But the process could be a lot leaner. Try holding a meeting audit at your firm – cancel every meeting this week and start again from scratch, only reinstating meets that are totally necessary. You might even arrange to have ‘standing’ meetings, where those who are comfortable and able to stand forgo a chair, in order to put the emphasis on making decisions and moving on.

Or go the opposite way and try redesigning meetings as workshops. Over-emphasis on blocking out others to get things done by yourself can also be counter-productive. Working collaboratively towards solutions is productive because of the mutual encouragement and chemistry of ideas. Plus of course the informal distribution of tasks that play to the duo or team’s individual strengths. So say the scientists of Stanford.

Indeed, splitting one project between multiple people is very often more productive than attempting to multitask.

“It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking,” according to Stanford professor of communication Clifford Nass. “They’re terrible at ignoring irrelevant information; they’re terrible at keeping information in their head nicely and neatly organized; and they’re terrible at switching from one task to another.”

Nass found that the human brain just isn’t designed for multitasking. But try telling that to a 21st century high-achiever!

“One would think that if people were bad at multitasking, they would stop,” continues Nass. “However, when we talk with the multitaskers, they seem to think they’re great at it and seem totally unfazed and totally able to do more and more and more.

“We worry about it, because as people become more and more multitaskers, as more and more people — not just young kids, which we’re seeing a great deal of, but even in the workplace, people being forced to multitask, we worry that it may be creating people who are unable to think well and clearly.”

Eat more, exercise more

If you’re not just skipping breaks but skipping meals, guess what: science says you’re doing it wrong.

Your brain burns up one-fifth of your daily energy intake. Starve it, and it will soon start functioning below its potential.

Maybe you skip meals to save time, or maybe it’s because you’re trying to lose weight. Well, good news if it’s the latter: you can eat more if (duh) you exercise more. And more aerobic exercise also helps your brain function better.

Instead of skipping meals and the gym, do both. It may sound time-consuming, but you’ll work faster and better when you get back to your desk. Eureka!

About Taylor Tomita'

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