The Secret to Your Productivity Lies in This Surprising Science-Backed Habit

This curated post is authored by Elle Kaplan, Founder & CEO, Lexion Capital

When we think of productivity, most of us think about putting our noses to the grindstone and juggling as much as possible in as short of an amount of time as possible.

However, studies show that multitasking and constantly working actually eat away at your productivity and work quality instead of enhancing it. The amount of time we are spending at work is not only making all of us exhausted, but it is actually detrimental to our productivity levels on the job.

Add multitasking to those long hours? The modern workplace’s approach to productivity has created a recipe for disaster.

While some of us may be forced into working those long hours and managing large workloads, there is a science-backed way to make those hectic days more worthwhile:

Start by breaking it up.

Using the app DeskTime (an app built to track employee productivity), a study was conducted by the Draugiem Group to determine the differentiating habits between the most and least productive employees. They found that the most productive employees did not put in any more hours of work than their peers, but rather, they all had regimented breaks throughout their workday.

The most successful time-users were working for a solid 52 minutes, without interruption, and then taking a 17-minute break when they would completely disconnect from their work. This allows the brain to re-energize and get ready for the next working block.

The results were highest when employees were actually walking away from their computers to take a walk, chat to colleagues about non work-related topics or read a book outside of their cubicle.

Here are a few tips to help structure your day with your brain’s energy levels in mind:

“Top performance requires full focus, and sustaining focused attention consumes energy–more technically, your brain exhausts its fuel, glucose. Without rest, our brains grow more depleted.” — Daniel Goleman, Psychologist

Be intentional about scheduling breaks.

Creating actual calendar events in your Outlook (or other email system) will allow you to be sure the time is free and will also remind you to walk away from your desk when the event pops up on your screen. If possible, try to do this every 52 minutes. Setting a timer to remind yourself to return back to your work after 17 minutes is important too!

Be realistic.

Don’t get hung up on the 52 minutes — this is only one school of thought. Other studies argue that your peak performance window is 90–120 minutes followed by 25 minute reenergizing breaks. The focus should not be on the exact amount of time if you can’t control your schedule — as long as you are taking consistent breaks, then you are on the right track!

Honor the working hour.

This strategy is only effective when we use our peak energy levels during this time to reach a high state of focus for a short period of time. If you let yourself become distracted by responding to a text, reading emails or checking your Instagram, you defeat the purpose of the interval approach.

How to maximize those 52 (or so) minutes

Multitasking is a growing epidemic that has been completely misunderstood, to the point where employers are actually expecting us to have this as a skill. The problem? This ability doesn’t actually exist!

David Meyer, a University of Michigan Cognitive Scientist, notes:

“When you perform multiple tasks that each require some of the same channels of processing, conflicts will arise between the tasks, and you’re going to have to pick and choose which task you’re going to focus on and devote a channel of processing to it.”

A very common example is trying to use your phone while simultaneously writing an email. While you may think you are completing the two tasks at the same time, your brain is actually switching back and forth, as there is only one neural channel for language to flow. Thus, you’ll end up lacking in the fine details of either your text or your email (cue in the awkward text sent to your boss instead of your spouse).

So how can we actually reduce multitasking when there are so many things to get done in a day?

To begin, close your extra tabs when you’re on the computer.

Set a single-tab browsing rule for yourself, meaning that you will only have one tab opened at a time. This way you have no choice but to prioritize the task that you are working on and you won’t have the urge to click on your other (most likely unnecessary) opened tabs.

“Your conscious brain cannot multitask. If I’m speaking to you and checking my IPhone at the same time, I’m doing neither. This is why our society is frazzled; this misconception that we can consciously do more than one thing at a time effectively.” — Deepak Chopra

Allow yourself to unplug.

Sure, tech has done wonders for society’s productivity as a whole. However, the day-to-day bleeps, notifications and emails are not helping your focus.

Unplugging can do wonders for limiting the urgency to multitask created by electronics. However, as with everything else, we need to be realistic; you can’t live the life of a caveman, and you certainly can’t banish electronics from your office.

Instead, find time in your day to detach from media and electronic devices. Block off an email-free hour, or leave your phone stuffed in a drawer for the morning. Trust me, those messages will still be there when you return.

Use tech to fight tech.

Tech is finally starting to fight back against itself in the battle to end multitasking. There are numerous apps, plugins and widgets out there that can eliminate non-essential electronics to help your productivity. Since you can’t live the life of a caveman, this is the next best step.

For, instance, I use tools to pare down and filter my email. I obviously can’t be completely unresponsive (and I always answer clients right away), so I use apps to send everything else into a folder I check in the future. That way, I don’t waste mental resources multitasking on an email that could’ve been done at the end of the day.

Outside of email, there are plenty of apps that can do everything from limit your internet usage to prioritize tasks digitally. The electronic possibilities for increased productivity are virtually endless.

Fight your battles early on.

Put your most difficult tasks first thing in the morning and immediately after one of your 17-minute breaks. This way, you can maximize your brain’s most effective performance — allowing you to then move on to the smaller and less grueling tasks in the afternoon (when you actually feel like taking a nap).

While you might not fully be in control of your hectic workdays and long hours, you can control how you respond to them. It will take some effort to adjust, but putting your mental rest and focus first will dramatically increase your productivity over time.

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Do you have any other useful productivity tips to add? Leave a comment or reach out to me on Twitter!

If you found this piece useful, please check out my website for more tips.

Disclaimer: This is a curated post. The statements, opinions and data contained in this column are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not that of iamwire or the editor(s). The article was originally published by the author here.

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