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Blog > 7 Counterintuitive Ideas to Help You Become More Productive at Work
Multitasking, long and uninterrupted work sessions, total silence, and prioritizing results over all else: These may seem like a formula for productivity, but on the contrary, studies show these inhibit your best work self. Here’s why.
Business person smiling at their desk and talking on cellphone with their laotop open and a tablet, being very productive at work.

Ordinarily, you measure your productivity at work by your output—but before you decide to calculate output, it’s helpful to know what activities and environments put your mind in the right place to work. Below, we’re sharing seven, scientifically-proven ways you can up your productivity, whether you work at an office or from home, by increasing your mental capacity for work.

1. Understand That Music Isn’t Necessarily a Distraction

According to this University of Miami study in which researchers investigated the effect background music can have on work productivity, people tend to work more quickly, produce higher quality ideas, and experience a better mood when they work with music playing in the background.

While different music genres tend to work for different people, instrumental music without lyrics seems to work best for most individuals in strategic and creative fields.

2. Get Some Exercise each Workday

Getting physical workouts can raise your work productivity by as much as 20%, according to data in this Bristol University research study. Researchers looked at a couple of hundred workers at three different companies and studied how productive the subjects were on a day they got exercise as well as on the next day, when they didn’t. Workers’ productivity drastically improved when they put in a little strenuous physical exercise at the beginning of the day. The study data indicates that they were more motivated, focused, and efficient and that they took fewer breaks overall.

3. Embrace Nature

In a study at the University of Exeter, British researchers found that houseplants can impact the productivity of office workers­­ by as much as 15%. According to the study, workers who decorated their workspaces with natural plants experienced lower stress levels and fewer sick days. By decorating with low-maintenance plants such as cacti (which require direct light) or pothos (which have more flexible light needs) in the office, you can improve your employee performance and mental health in addition to the oxygen levels in your space.

4. Prioritize Sleep

According to researchers at the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, shortchanging yourself on sleep can have major consequences on your productivity. In this study, data showed that sleep-deprived workers had trouble with motivation, focus, memory, decision-making, and other aspects of productivity. Adequate sleep is critical for anyone interested in optimizing their productivity.

Researchers Baxter and Kroll-Smith have even determined that power naps may benefit your productivity. In this study, they determined that managers at more and more companies around the country are approving power naps. These naps enable workers to achieve greater focus over the duration of a workday.

5. Quit Multitasking

Researchers at the University of Oregon show that workers who allow themselves to multitask also tend to be more readily distracted by external stimuli. Multitasking workers also tend to exhibit poor performance when it comes to switching between tasks—that is, in focusing entirely on one task, then doing so on the next task.

While multitaskers tend to prefer keeping many activities and projects going at the same time in the interest of productivity, focusing on one thing at a time tends to help them produce more—and better—work. For most office workers, email notifications tend to be one of the greatest sources of regular distraction. Turning off such interruptions can help workers improve productivity.

6. Take Breaks

Avoiding distractions and focusing to the point you allow yourself to get into a flow state is a good plan. There is such a thing as being too absorbed in what you do, however, since forcing yourself to do the same thing for too long can impact your ability to focus. Researchers at the University of Illinois have demonstrated that workers who allow themselves to take short breaks between work sessions are more focused each time they return to work. Workers only need to make sure that the breaks they take aren’t too long.

7. Take a Walk

Sitting for extended periods of time isn’t the best way to be productive, according to this Stanford University research paper. In the study, participants who took walking breaks in the middle of their workdays were more likely to come up with creative answers to questions at a rate 60% higher than those who didn’t have the benefit of these breaks.

If you are struggling to find a solution to a difficult challenge, a short walk may stimulate the creative process and help you think of better ways to deal with the problems that you’ve been battling. Moreover, the findings in the study indicate that walking on a treadmill only partly delivers in terms of productivity. Taking a walk outside is the best way to go.

The Bottom Line

While productivity hacks that take you away from your work or require you to sleep or exercise more may not necessarily seem like the most intuitive of ways to amp up your output and creativity, substantial research indicates that forcing ideas out of your mind without getting enough sleep, time outdoors, exercise, or focus decreases your productivity. By taking care of your body, your mind, and your physical needs, you can keep yourself in top productive form.

Looking to improve your output and performance at work? See how an Arootah Career Coach can support you in gaining valuable insight and achieving your professional goals.

Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be and should not be taken as professional medical, psychological, legal, investment, financial, accounting, or tax advice. Arootah does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or suitability of its content for a particular purpose. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read in our newsletter, blog or anywhere else on our website.

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