Six science-backed tips on how to increase productivity

By Treena Diebolt, VP People,

The discussion around the number of hours we work has been accelerating in recent years – and it looks as though there’s no sign of it slowing down. Currently, the world’s largest study into the four day week, and its effects on productivity, is taking place. Many freelancers and self-employed individuals are now deliberately opting to work fewer hours, citing an increase in their productivity when hours are reduced. Combined with the magnitudinal shift to remote, hybrid and flexible working, triggered by the pandemic in 2020, the traditional working day looks very different for many people in comparison to just a few years ago.

So with all this in mind, self-motivation and productivity are inarguably more important than ever before. Luckily, scientists have long been interested in the things that drive us to be more – and less – productive.

Below are some of the ways in which you can help increase your productivity, with each tip backed by scientific research.

  1. Multitask smarter, not harder  

Multitasking can’t be fully avoided, but the fact is that research indicates multitasking can undermine working efficiency. When it comes to ‘multitasking,’ our brains are actually just switching from task to task very quickly, rather than literally doing multiple things at once. One study by the University of Sussex found that frequent task-switching can hinder brain functioning.

No matter how busy we are, we can take steps to reduce the amount of multitasking we do, or, if it’s strictly needed, to do it more wisely. For example, try and limit your multitasking to only when it is essential, so you can focus on one thing at a time. You can also use technology to help you focus. Apps such as Forest reward users when they don’t go on their smartphones for the duration of a task. Utilise whatever you need to, to keep going at the task at hand, and you’ll see your productivity levels increase.

  1. Ensure you get enough sleep  

The benefits of sleep are common knowledge – a good eight hours is fundamental. But it’s worth reiterating that sleep is vital to our cognitive functioning. Studies have shown that poor sleep can lead to decreased performance, safety, and productivity. Getting a good night’s sleep doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be productive, but it does put the odds in your favour. If insomnia or sleep issues are something you struggle with, even napping helps with mental ability. Research has identified ties between naps and improved productivity for workers.

  1. Use music to your advantage

Some people may find music to be a distraction, but studies have found that listening to music can help increase work performance. Another famous example is the British government’s ‘Music While You Work’ scheme, launched during World War Two, which gave factories live, upbeat music twice daily. It’s estimated that output increased 12-15% after this scheme was implemented. This may not be true for all music, however, so it’s wise to stick to certain genres. Classical music has long been linked to memory functioning, improved mood and even better relationships.

4. Make time to exercise

Research has found that beyond increasing your physical health, exercise also helps improve cognitive performance. In other words, getting in regular workouts can help improve your memory, decision times, attention span, and other key elements that contribute to personal productivity. While neglecting exercise can feel like the easy route, in the long-term, it’s far better to invest your time in physical activities you enjoy doing. Even going for a daily walk is scientifically proven to be extremely beneficial for the mind.

5. But take breaks too

It’s commonly believed that being productive is all about putting your head down and powering through your work for hours on end. But that’s not the case. There are lots of studies which show that brief breaks can greatly improve focus on the task at hand. One study focused on a phenomenon known to anyone who’s ever had trouble doing the same task for a long time: after a while, you begin to lose your focus and your performance on the task declines.

There are numerous tools that can help you maintain productivity while taking a break. If you have to skip a meeting,, the AI-powered collaboration and transcription tool, automatically joins for you, providing an interactive transcript of the meeting – so you don’t miss important items when you’re taking a break. It’s also a useful tool to curb your multitasking – with note-taking now off the cards, you’re free to concentrate on the meeting, lecture or seminar with all your attention.

6. Let in some natural light

Scientific studies have found that natural light can be a real help when it comes to productivity: workers who are exposed to more natural light during the work day are more alert and more productive than those who work exclusively under artificial light. In the winter time, when there is less daylight, this can be maintained by investing in a sun lamp, which mimics the effect of the sun and provides Vitamin D – so you don’t necessarily have to rely on Britain’s unpredictable weather.

The key to improving productivity

In our fast-paced working environments, it can be easy to neglect the simplest things: but these are often the most vital. It’s clear that there are many extraneous factors for how productive we can be at work, but by making sure we are on top of them, we’re not only ensuring our productivity levels are steady, but also preventing stress and even burnout. Keeping our minds and bodies equipped to deal with the daily challenges of the working day is a vital step in ensuring healthy levels of productivity.