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5 Counter-Intuitive Psychological Facts About Increasing Productivity

Daydream, but not for eight hours.

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Everyone wants to increase their productivity -- from the employee sitting in the cubicle to her boss. Most of us find ourselves constantly seeking answers whenever we hit a roadblock that impedes our performance or that of our employees.

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Fortunately, resources that offer data-backed advice on productivity can be derived from just a few Google searches. Unfortunately, some of the resources don't outline obvious ways to go about increasing productivity, even though they are packed with actionable ideas.

Related: These 5 Simple Tweaks Will Make Your Office More Productive

This article aims to elucidate some not-too-obvious, counter-intuitive ways to ensure productivity. It is by no means an attempt to compel you to act in a certain way, but only seeks to provide unconventional knowledge about how productivity can be increased. It’s up to you to decide what works for you and your business.

1. Distractions can be helpful.

Distractions are usually considered to be performance-killers. For example, many articles on productivity tout social media usage as a major cause of underperformance in organizations. Negative opinions and statistics on the use of social media in workplaces are also portrayed as good enough reasons to ban its usage altogether. But should you consider not banning social media usage? The answer is yes, and for good reasons.

Studies show that social media usage, when managed, isn’t always a killer of productivity. An Evolv study suggests that social media "power users" are more likely to be better multi-taskers. More so, distractions posed by social media and other things can come in handy in helping us take the occasional breaks that are needed to reduce fatigue and to make us more productive.

Like it or not, distractions will continue to exist. Social media usage, for example, has been on the rise, growing by 153 percent in 7 years, according to a statistic by OnTheClock, and will continue to grow. Attempting to ban some sources of distraction, such as social media, may not only hinder performance by preventing employees from enjoying their occasional breaks, but may also cause morale issues. Rather than ban certain sources of distraction outright, measures should be put in place to ensure they don’t generate into tools for mishap.

One of the best ways to prevent or reduce the harmful effects of distraction in an organization is to employ monitoring technologies. Read on, and you’ll see how to go about using these effectively, while disallowing them from causing morale issues.

2. Fantasizing can be counterproductive.

While growing up, many of us were encouraged to dream big and allow our dreams to goad us into doing something great with our lives. Many of us adhere to this advice for the rest of our lives.

To be clear, daydreaming is great and healthy. Fantasizing about future achievements can be a great fillip to planning ahead. However, too much of it has been pronounced counterproductive, for it can reduce motivation. Fantasizing too much and too positively may cause you to lose grasp of reality. You may become irrationally optimistic about what the future holds, so much that you turn a blind eye to portending challenges. You may also start to live in the future and mentally enjoy the benefits of achieving goals that are yet to be met. This may cause laxity, and your motivation to actually move the needle may be gone before you realize it.

Mental contrasting is considered to be a much better alternative to positive fantasizing. Contrasting involves juxtaposing where you are presently and where you wish to be. Comparing these two positions will spur you to deploy more energy into actually mapping out strategies rather than merely daydreaming of all the good stuff that can come your way,

Let’s say you’ve just thought about a great feature that may increase your product’s value. Instead of merely imagining how nice implementing it would be, or consistently ranting to your team about it, you’ll be better off actually moving the needle. You’d need to envision possible challenges, set plans and get going. After all your idea might just be a few moments from being implemented by a competitor.

Related: What Can You Really Accomplish in Just an Hour?

3. Lying to oneself helps -- sometimes.

Lying to others is morally reprehensible, but lying to oneself? Well, not so much.

To be clear, lying to oneself in the literal sense is, as you know, impossible; so, lying in this context means delusion, which certainly has a bad press. A number of people suggest that positive delusion is needed to enable one reach one’s full potential. A study by Martens argues that delusional systems can be a route to survival and remission via the temporary avoidance of an “unbearable reality.”

Positive delusion enables us to make up positive stories about ourselves in our minds, and even to exaggerate our present capacity to achieve something. This deception will, in most cases, nudge us into taking every needed step towards achieving a goal, and we’ll often end up acquiring on-the-fly the skills we had thought we needed at the outset.

On a personal level, as an entrepreneur, positive delusion will help you to fight self-doubt and, when handled properly, may enable you to consciously or unconsciously do all it takes to build your business. On the organizational level, positive delusion can be a morale boost for your team, as it provides momentum, which is also great source of productivity. Spurring your employees to believe in their ability to meet a goal even when various obstacles may be stacked up against everyone is a crucial skill.

4. Anxiety isn't all that bad.

Do you know why coffee can be so addictive, especially for those who wish to be productive for the rest of the day? Easy: caffeine stimulates the adrenal gland to produce more adrenaline, which significantly increases productivity.

Like caffeine, anxiety can also supercharge productivity. When anxious, our body produces adrenaline which, when channeled rightly, can provide us with the needed gear to perform a task more effectively than we would do without it.

A good way to leverage anxiety, according to a research study conducted at Harvard Business School (HBS), is to reframe it by seeing its existence as a source of strength rather than of weakness. The research by HBS found that saying “I am excited” out loud can improve performance.

There are many other ways to harness anxiety. Next time you are anxious about your business, turn it into positive energy. You can also do the same when there’s anxiety lingering within your team. However, keep in mind that like excess caffeine, too much of anxiety can ruin things.

Related: 3 Rules I Use to Stay Productive and Not Overwhelmed

5. The feeling of being monitored can make people perform a lot better.

I know it’s cliché to state that monitoring can make employees lose motivation. But on the flipside, monitoring can also lead to momentum. Research suggests that the illusion of being watched can make people behave better; and in business, an improvement in the attitude of employees towards work can also trickle down to increased productivity.

To make employees more comfortable about being monitored, make sure that your attention doesn’t pose any danger to their autonomy -- and make them aware of this. Encourage them to be creative, and give them your trust and respect.

In addition, you can deploy monitoring in such a way that it will portray the fact that you have genuine interest in your employees. This can give rise to the Hawthorn Effect, a famous productivity boost.

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