Ways to be more productive, backed by science

Written by: the Officevibe Content Team
Published on June 11, 2014 | Reading time: 6m

We’re all trying to be more productive. We’re always on the hunt for “productivity hacks,” or how to do more with less, or how to make the most of your time and energy.

Things like learning how to multi-task, and outsourcing all the mundane tasks are fine, but we’re still obsessed with optimizing our own productivity.

On one hand, this really worries me, as I think we’re moving way too fast, and we don’t appreciate slowing down and taking our time anymore.

A lot of us are also sleep deprived, and use things like 5 hour energy and coffee to mask what’s really going on.

On the other hand, I personally want to learn how to be more productive in less time.

I’ve been doing a lot of research into 4 day workweeks lately, and why they seem to work, and I want to eventually try and implement this into my life.

Your 8 Hour Workdays Are Slowly Killing You http://officevi.be/1v0gzeP

Posted by Officevibe on Friday, June 6, 2014
There’s also effects on your health for having 8 Hour Workdays.

The main thing I’m realizing, is that it’s all about prioritizing properly, and learning how to say no to the things that just don’t matter in the long run.

I’m noticing myself that by Thursday or Friday, I’m incredibly tired, and I’m not even close to as productive as I am on Monday morning.

There’s something to be said for taking time to recharge your batteries, and I want to try and learn how to do this effectively, which is why I started doing some research into how to actually be more productive, backed by scientific research.

Let’s take a look at a few things we can do to be more productive at work.

1. Stay focused

This is kind of what I was talking about earlier, but I’ll take it a step further.

A study done called The Role of Deliberate Practice studied the habits of violin players, and tried to find what the best of the best did to become the best.

What the research found was very interesting. The best players actually practiced less, and got more sleep than their counterparts.

This sounds counterintuitive at first, but it goes back to what I was saying at the beginning about recharging your batteries.

What the best players did was they found when they were their most productive, and only practiced then.

They didn’t have a rigid schedule, like practice every day at 4pm, they used their energy level to determine when it was good for them to practice.

This is what the concept of deliberate practice is, practicing on the right things at the right time.

2. Get more sleep

I also mentioned this in the beginning, about how I seem to be more productive after a nice weekend of relaxing, but now there’s research to back me up.

A study in the Journal of Vision found that the longer someone is awake, the less productive they become.

The study also found that people are the least productive from midnight to 6am, which sucks for night shift workers. If you run a company that employs people who work night shift, expect them to make a lot more mistakes than your day shift workers.

There’s a great article in Harvard Magazine that talks about sleep, and the effects of sleep deprivation. Here’s a quote from the article:

“Students often wonder whether to pull an all-nighter before an exam. Will the extra studying time outweigh the exhaustion? Robert Stickgold, who has studied sleep’s role in cognition for the past 10 years, reports that it depends on the exam.

“If you are just trying to remember simple facts—listing all the kings of England, say—cramming all night works,” he explains.

“That’s because it’s a different memory system, the declarative memory system. But if you expect to be hit with a question like ‘Relate the French Revolution to the Industrial Revolution,’ where you have to synthesize connections between facts, then missing that night of sleep can be disastrous. Your ability to do critical thinking takes a massive hit—just as with alcohol, you’re knocking out the frontal-cortex functions.”

3. Plan your projects for the winter

This is the study I found the most interesting. Researchers at Harvard found that we are our most productive during the winter.

The researchers tracked employees working at a bank in Tokyo, and found that their most productive days were bad weather days, and they were least productive on sunny, beautiful days.

Thinking about it now, it makes some sense.

When it’s nice out, I find myself staring out the window a few times a day, wishing I was out playing in the field, or on a terrace having a few drinks, and when it’s cold and dark outside, you don’t mind staying in an office, so I could see how this would lead to higher productivity.

What this means for managers, is that when you’re planning yearly projects, or setting quarterly and yearly goals, think about how the weather affects productivity.

4. Don’t worry, be happy

A group of U.K. researchers say they’ve provided the first scientifically-controlled evidence of the link between human happiness and productivity: Happier people are about 12% more productive, the study found.

I’ve written before about why happy employees are good for business, but now there’s some science to back up what I was saying.

For managers, the trick here is to look at intrinsic motivators. There are a ton of things that you can offer your employees that don’t cost a thing, so an excuse like “we don’t have a budget for this” won’t fly.

Give your employees a voice. All any employee really wants is to feel important, and to feel like they belong to something.

5. Set deadlines for yourself

A study conducted by Dan Ariely, published in Psychological Science, found college students who imposed strict deadlines on themselves for assignment did much better and were more consistent than those who didn’t.

At Officevibe, we use Trello as a task management application, and we always set due dates for our tasks, to add that extra pressure to ourselves.

We only do this to motivate ourselves, if we miss the deadline, it’s not a big deal, it’s just to motivate us.

6. Do big tasks first

This is something that I had heard about for a long time, and recently started implementing, and I can tell you personally that it’s making a huge difference.

I actually wrote about this is my Building Better Habits series, what happens is the brain visualizes the worst parts of the task, or it envisions some horrible outcome, so we don’t even start the task.

What the brain does, is trick us into thinking we’re being productive by focusing on small, simple tasks first. This is a myth though, and is what is known as “busy work”.

Now, a study in  the Journal Of Personality and Social Psychology found the same thing.

7. Find a quiet place to work

At Officevibe, we work in a big, open loft-style space, which is super cool, but can also be very distracting when you’re trying to get work done.

Whenever I write blog posts, I find myself getting distracted by all the noise, especially the sudden, unexpected noise.

A study from Cornell University found workers who were exposed to low levels of noise had higher levels of epinephrine, which is a hormone that helps regulate heart rate.

That sudden spike in heart rate isn’t good for your productivity, and you lose your flow.

What are some other ways to be more productive?

There are many ways to be more productive at work, and work smarter, not harder. I think the future will be about finding ways to optimize and automate our workflows, so that we can enjoy more time with our friends and families.

Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know your thoughts on twitter @Officevibe.