15 Scientifically Proven Ways to Work Smarter, Not Just More
Whether you're working a traditional 9-to-5 gig or running your own business, we all struggle with productivity. For many this is a daily struggle. The good news? That struggle will be a thing of the past if you implement these 15 scientifically-proven methods for increasing your productivity.
1. Track your time.
Time tracking will boost your productivity by allowing you to see how much time you’ve spent on a task. The task may be invoicing or emailing, the tracking will be be done the same. You will also know how much time you’ve wasted. Have you counted all the times you’ve checked your phone when you receive a notification?
Researchers found people who were assigned to wear a pedometer walked at least one extra mile per day on average. It also improved their overall activity levels by 27 percent.
There are hundreds of companies that offer everything from clock timers and time sheets to automated business process features. You can get faster at invoicing, project management, collaboration platforms, payroll software and more. I recommend choosing the right Calendar to help with this.
However, choosing the best time tracking tool for you can be overwhelming. The good news is we’ve already put together a list of 101 time tracking companies for you to check out.
2. Unplug every 90 minutes.
If you’re like most people, you’re probably busy responding to emails on the morning commute. You may be answering the phone whenever you have a break -- but you're working non-stop. This is not as uncommon of an occurrence as previously believed. But, we weren’t designed to work like that.
The fact is that our bodies and minds actually follow a daily cycle called a circadian rhythm. “...these are the physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle. These respond primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment.”
It’s the same rhythm we follow for healthy sleep patterns. We shift between several 90 minute cycles of truly deep restorative sleep. This sleep is then followed by a lighter, dream-filled REM sleep.
When it comes to productivity research shows that going full-throttle for eight hours straight goes against this design. We cycle through ultradian rhythms. In other words, the brain can only focus for 90 to 120 minutes before it needs a break.
That’s why it’s suggested that you carve your workday into a trio of 90-minute chunks. This change will put you in the patter or order, to achieve maximum productivity.
3. Take a nap.
Yes. You read that correctly. Studies have found that taking a 20 minute nap in the afternoon can make you more productive. A little nap will recharge, refresh and reinvigorate both the body and the brain. Naps also make you feel more relaxed and will extend your life by preventing risks like heart attacks.
No wonder Google, Pfizer, Proctor & Gamble and Saatchi & Saatchi have added Energy Pods (or Sleep Pods) to their work spaces.
4. Work in natural light.
A study conducted by the neuroscience program at Northwestern University found a strong relationship between workplace daylight exposure and office workers' sleep, activity and quality of life.
The NU study stated that the employees who worked in natural light slept on average 46 more minutes per night. Workers slept more soundly and efficiently, and reported higher quality of life scores than those who did not. Windowless workers had lower scores in measurements of physical problems and vitality. It proved those who didn't work near daylight also had less quality sleep.
The NU study goes back to the original proof of the circadian rhythm. So, it’s not surprising that natural light can impact your productivity and energy.
What if you don’t work in an office that has windows? A quick fix would be to purchase a natural light lamp that can simulate natural light. If that doesn’t work, consider working remotely or finding a new job where you can bask in the sunlight.
5. Evaluate your internet speed.
A Boston-based Analysis Group, via The Washington Post, cities that those with high average internet speeds were more productive. The report added that the cities that offer 1G or higher in internet speeds reported a higher per-capita GDP. The results were analyzed next to those cities lacking high internet speeds.
This may sound like common sense to you. Realize how much your productivity will improve when your internet speeds-up. You have probably become accustomed to waiting for webpages to load.
You can run a speed test tool to find out how much speed you're actually getting. This tests speeds from your current provider. You can also use an internet speed estimate tool. With the test you will get an idea on how much speed you should sign up for.
6. Bring the outside, in.
Research shows that as individuals we can be more productive after spending time outdoors. Being surrounded by trees and rocks can stimulate and inspire creativity and productivity. Unfortunately, not all of us can get outside every day.
To get around this, bring nature inside by investing in plants. Plants increase our happiness and productivity, while reducing stress. This may have something to do with the fact that plants can reduce the chemicals emitted into the air.
Rodale’s Organic Life has eight recommendations for plants that improve productivity.
7. Plan your day the night before.
Planning your work day allows you to schedule work on your meaningful goals. You can write these goals to do within the first few hours of the day.
When you're able to accomplish these goals, your mood will improve. Accomplishing your goals will eventually make you even more productive. Creating a plan also relieves anxiety and leaves some free mental space.
Research has discovered that when you create a specific plan you’re behavior is likely to follow the plan. Don't hold on to the notion that you can just think through your plan. A study had participants write a report two days after Christmas about how they spent their holidays.
One group was asked to specify where, when, and how they were going to write the report. The control group was asked to write the report, but didn’t create such a plan.
Of the participants who made a plan, 71 percent sent the report back in to the researchers. This is compared against the 32 percent of participants who hadn’t formed a plan.
8. Get happy.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, one of the leading happiness researchers, describes this in The How of Happiness:
“In sum, across all the domains of life, happiness appears to have numerous positive by-products. Few of us have taken the time to really understand [these]. In becoming happier, we boost experiences of joy, contentment, love, pride, and awe. We also improve other aspects of our lives. Energy levels, our immune systems, our engagement with work and with other people, and our physical and mental health benefit."
A study from the University of Warwick also found that happiness made people around 12 percent more productive. “We have shown that happier subjects are more productive, the same pattern appears in four different experiments. This research will provide some guidance for management in all kinds of organizations. The goal, striving to make their workplaces emotionally healthy for their workforce,” said one of the researchers Dr. Eugenio Proto.
If you want improve your happiness, start with the basics like taking care of yourself. This includes exercising, meditating and eating healthy. Start expressing gratitude and surrounding yourself with optimistic people.
9. Avoid the news.
Living in a world where we’re plugged in 24/7 means that we’re bombarded with news. You may not even want to hear about the particular news story you're hearing. The problem as Buffer’s Joel Gascoigne explains -- the news is negative. The ratio of bad news to good news is around 17:1. As previously mentioned, happiness influences productivity -- skipping the news may help you.
Constantly consuming this unhealthy information can affect your mood and prevent you from bettering yourself. For instance, instead of watching the 24/7 news cycle, you could hit the gym. Consider strengthening a skill, or reading a book that’s inspiring to boost your productive and happy self.
10. Take breaks with a friend.
Sociometric researchers found employees who spent their lunch breaks with others were 36 percent more productive during the week. The same study also revealed that this same group were 30 percent less likely to become stressed. Even when the company went through a round of layoffs later in the year, there was less stress.
Those who were more productive and less stressed were those who socialized. Socializing helps clear the mind and allows us to decompress. Talking to others gives us the chance to gain a new perspective on a problem or task. Companies like Google have been pushing for campus style workplaces. In these workplace employees will all collaborate and interacts with each other during the day.
What if you work from home or are a freelancer? Call a couple of friends and have lunch with them.
11. Watch YouTube.
It’s true. A study out of the University of Melbourne suggests that procrastination can sometimes be good. Dr. Brent Coker found that those who browse the internet while working are more productive than others who don’t.
“People need to zone out for a bit to get back their concentration,” Coker said. The study found that those who spend time on websites like YouTube were more motivated. A reasonable amount of time provided a nine percent raise in productivity. Those without the YouTube benefit (I love this) were not as productive.
You can use YouTube to watch clips making you smile or even instructional videos that can help you become more productive. The boss may like the instructional videos from YouTube better than the humors ones.
12. Adjust your thermostat.
Researchers from Finland found that performance increases with temperatures up to between 69.8 degrees and 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit. This correlates to 21 degrees to 22 degrees Celsius. The study was conducted at Helsinki University of Technology, Laboratory for Heating Ventilating and Air Conditioning.
The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Environmental Energy Technologies Division at Berkeley concurred with the Finland study. Berkeley also found the highest productivity at around 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
A Cornell study suggests that chilly workers make more errors. More errors can potentially increase a worker’s hourly labor cost by 10 percent. Warming up, “typing errors fell by 44 percent and typing output increased 150 percent..."
Researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute studied clutter on productivity. They discovered that too much clutter causes brain activity to decrease. Your brain becomes overly distracted by the clutter preventing you from being able to accomplish more.
How often have you had to stop working on a project because you had to look for a tool that you needed? When you find what you need how long does it take you to get back on track?
Keep your workplace clean and organized. Always put things back where they belong.
Mental clutter also hinders productivity. June Saruwatari is a best-selling author of Behind the Clutter. Saruwatari recommended that you to create a to do list each evening or morning. She suggests that you prioritize the list, and then reflect and reorganize it. As you cannot get everything done in one day, this allows “everything in it’s own mental container. You only open the lid when we are ready to deal with it.”
“The brain cannot be in two places at once, so what people are referencing as multitasking is actually what neuroscientists call task switching and that means rapidly moving back and forth between different tasks,” states Devora Zack, author of Singletasking: Get More Done – One Thing at a Time.
Task switching, warns Zack, not only lowers productivity by 40%, it also shrinks our brains. “When you overload your brain trying to get it to task switch, you shrink the grey matter in your brain,” she says.
This means that our brains and bodies should be in the same place and focused on one thing at a time, aka single tasking. You can start by eliminating distractions like turning off auditory dings or pop-ups, cluster-tasking emails, jotting down any distractions so you can revisit them, and carving out around 15 minutes for quiet reflection.
Related: The Fallacy of Multitasking
15. Listen to music.
Noise can be distracting. But, the right noise does have the power to boost productivity. Music in particular can help with focus and concentration when working on repetitive tasks. What kind of music though? The nifty app called focus@will contains a unique library of instrumental music that will increase your attention span and general concentration.