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5 Science-Backed Ways To Effectively Boost Your Productivity

5 Science-Backed Ways To Effectively Boost Your Productivity

You consider yourself to be a relatively busy person. You have a lot to get done in a short amount of time, leaving little room for distractions or breaks. Lately, though, you’ve noticed a sharp decline in the amount of tasks you’ve been able to get done on a daily basis. Your workload hasn’t increased. You’re not taking that many breaks. So what’s the problem?

Learning the science behind productivity, and what you can do to increase the amount of tasks you can complete every day, is your key to success. Here are five ways science says you can boost your productivity, starting today.

1. Make a list of mindless activities

Have you ever been in the middle of something and distracted yourself by thinking about another thing you need to do when you get home? Not only is that distracting, it can also be stressful. When that happens, make a list of all the mindless chores you need to get done later, but plan other activities along with them, like listening to an audio book or watching a TV show.

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In the right context, according to science, multitasking works. Mindless activities like laundry, washing dishes, and cleaning take time. If you pair them with listening to recorded lectures or podcasts or watching the news though, you can get your chores done and learn something new at the same time.

2. Complete a string of smaller tasks first thing in the morning

Distractions do a really good job of stopping our productivity train in its tracks, and one way to eliminate this hindrance from the equation is to push yourself into a flow state, which happens when we immerse ourselves so deeply into a set of tasks that everything else around us almost ceases to exist.

To launch yourself into a flow state, list out a few smaller things you want to get done and get going right away. Not only will you feel more productive while successfully completing multiple tasks in one sitting, but you’ll also free up more time later in the day for larger projects and breaks, too.

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3. Write down daily S.M.AR.T. goals

Yesterday you planned on clearing all the emails in your inbox. Not too difficult of a task, right? What you didn’t take into account before you started, though, was how many emails you had waiting or how long it would take. There were just too many, and instead of breaking it up, you just never got started.

Setting goals for yourself on a daily basis will help you fight through distractions and roadblocks to productivity. Making them specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused and time-based will help you define exactly what you need to do and what you can expect to have achieved once you’ve done it.

4. Sit down and just start

One of the biggest roadblocks to productivity is procrastination, and procrastination often happens unintentionally. We’ll start reading that article in five minutes, and five minutes quickly turns into ten. We’ll answer that email after lunch, but after lunch, something else always gets in the way.

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To beat this productivity blocker, just start. Don’t even give yourself enough time to change your mind. Click over to that tab and start reading. Hit the reply button and start typing. Once you begin, you might be surprised at how quickly and effectively you can complete that task, and you might even be more motivated to jump right into the next one.

5. Schedule out time to relax

Look at your schedule for the upcoming week. Have you blocked out any time to relax? While this might seem counterproductive, working relaxation into your schedule will, in the long run, leave you more room to get things done.

Trying to push through all your work at once will leave you feeling burned out and unmotivated, so break up your work load with 10 to 15-minute rest periods in-between. During those periods, complete a few of those mindless tasks we mentioned earlier. The key is to let your mind wander and recharge.

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By doing multiple things at once (within reason), settling yourself into the occasional flow state, setting goals and just getting to it—with the occasional break in-between—will boost your productivity and keep you on task even when you have to step back and let your brain breathe for a few minutes.

Featured photo credit: Hillary via flickr.com

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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