4 Proven Ways to Increase Your Productivity, According to Science

Research shows these methods have worked in the past.

Felicia Atkinson
Jan 26 · 7 min read
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Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash

Productivity is something that everyone strives for. The more productive and efficient you are, the greater chance you will become successful. But productivity is not as simple to achieve as it seems — especially with the recent pandemic.

This past year, people were spending more time at home with their loved ones, and if you work better in a team setting or in a more formal environment, then finding the discipline and motivation to get your work done in a timely fashion may have been a bit difficult.

As someone who is use to running in all directions and having a heavy workload, I wasn’t too fond of the idea of being stuck in my house all day. I had to finish my college classes online, and even as a pretty self-disciplined and motivated person, I found procrastination to be the enemy at times.

In order to get past this procrastination I experienced from time to time, I followed a few strategies that are scientifically proven to boost your productivity. These four strategies helped me immensely, and may help you too.

Here are four scientifically proven ways to increase your productivity.

1. Take frequent breaks.

During my final year of college, I took extra classes in order to complete my undergrad degree in three years. These additional classes I was taking added an immense amount of stress and pressure, because I was not only taking difficult college classes, but I was taking more than the average person.

At the beginning, I tried to cram in as much studying and work as possible. I would sit at my desk for hours at a time staring at a textbook or a computer screen, experiencing headaches from time to time as a result.

After a while of doing this, I realized it was unsustainable. All of this work I was cramming in at once in such a short time frame greatly fatigued me. So, I started breaking my studying and homework up into smaller segments. This helped give my mind and body a break.

Although it might sound simple, taking a break every once in a while can make you more productive than sitting at your desk for hours at a time and cramming in as much work as possible. Your mind needs a break every once in a while, and sometimes a short 5-10 minute break is all you need to get going again.

In one study, students were broken up into two groups to complete a task: the first group of students had no break, and the second group of students were given a break. They found that the students who were given a break performed better on the task than those who were not given a break.

According to Meg Selig, from Psychology Today,

“Working for long stretches without breaks leads to stress and exhaustion. Taking breaks refreshes the mind, replenishes your mental resources, and helps you become more creative. “Aha moments” came more often to those who took breaks, according to research. Other evidence suggests also that taking regular breaks raises workers’ level of engagement which, in turn, is highly correlated with productivity.”

2. Do one task at a time.

Maybe you consider yourself a pro at multitasking, but for me, I have never had a good experience with it. In college, I got in the bad habit of starting an assignment, setting it aside, and not finishing it until a later date. I would then get another assignment for a different class, and repeat this same process of starting the first part of it.

I would then have two assignments that were only half-done, with more work piling up with each passing day. This only led me to procrastinating, taking even longer to finish them, and by the time I finally got around to completing the second half of each assignment, I had to spend time re-shifting my focus on the assignment I had started days prior.

After a while of repeating this method of multitasking that cost me an incredible amount of time that I couldn’t get back, I decided that it was best to just do one assignment at a time from there on out. It was not only a better use of my time, but it helped keep me more organized as well.

Here’s why doing a single task at a time is so beneficial.

Numerous studies point to multitasking as being less efficient, because it takes additional time to switch gears when they switch tasks. When I switched assignments for two different classes, I was spending extra time shifting my focus on the assignment I had already started.

And according to the American Psychological Association,

“When people do two things at once, are they being more efficient or wasting time? A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance (Vol. 27, №4) indicates that multitasking may actually be less efficient — especially for complicated or unfamiliar tasks — because it takes extra time to shift mental gears every time a person switches between the two tasks.”

I’m not saying that multitasking isn’t effective for anyone — because for some, it might be. However, if you’re a multitasker and are struggling with being productive, science shows that doing one task at a time may be beneficial for you and aid you in some way.

3. Make a to-do list.

I had never made to-do lists before a few months ago. In college, I owned a planner but rarely used it. Instead of writing things down, I would keep a mental note in my mind in terms of due dates, practices, and other important information I needed to keep track of. It wasn’t the best method, but I wasn’t super organized and thought it was a waste of time to write everything down in a planner.

However, in these past few months, something that has helped me immensely is making a to-do list. I use to have structure in college, but as a recent college graduate, I no longer have that — at least for the time being.

I wake up, go for a run, and start my work for the day. Each morning, I write out every single task that I want to complete for the day. I don’t include times or anything, but specific tasks that need to be finished by the end of the day. And after I’ve completed each task, I cross it off my list. It’s almost like you get instant gratification by crossing a task off your list.

To-do lists are more beneficial than they might seem.

Studies show that people who write out their tasks that need to be done increases productivity. A renowned study known as the Zeigarnik Effect showed that individuals who completed a task from their to-do list increased their productivity, because it freed up their brain from worrying about their unfinished tasks that needed to be completed.

According to Sarina Schrager, MD, MS and Elizabeth Sadowski, MD,

“The implication is that people are more effective when they are able to cross off the first thing on their list. It allows them to go on to the next thing.”

Making a to-do list doesn’t take long either. You can make it in less than five minutes, and it’s highly rewarding.

4. Get sufficient sleep each night.

Sleep was something I’ve always prioritized, ever since I was a freshmen in high school. I was a three sport athlete and a good student, and wanted to put myself in a position to be successful in both my athletics and academics.

Sleep often gets pushed under the rug for one reason or another. You’re cramming for a last minute exam, have to finish an assigment from work that’s taking longer than you anticipate, or you like to binge watch t.v. at night. However, neglecting sleep is one of the worst things you can do — not only for productivity, but for your health as well.

In a recent study, researchers found that individuals who suffered from insomnia or insufficient sleep syndrome had a noticeable decline in productivity, performance, and safety outcomes.

And according to Ruth C White Ph.D. from Psychology Today,

“Sleep deprivation leads to lost productivity because it causes a loss of mental clarity, focus, and creativity.”

Making a small change like getting an extra hour of sleep each night can make a major difference. You have to give your mind and body the proper time to recover at night in order to have enough energy to be productive during the day.

Final Thoughts

Struggling with productivity is something that most people can relate to. Even the most disciplined, self-motivating people have mental blocks at times. I’ve found it difficult to be productive myself, and I’m sure I’ll experience it again in the future.

If you’re facing procrastination and find it difficult to get any actual work done, try out some of these methods to boost your productivity. They might not work for everyone, but science shows that they have worked in the past.

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Felicia Atkinson

Written by

College grad with a degree in Psychology. Health fanatic and recipe creator: veganandplants.com

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

Felicia Atkinson

Written by

College grad with a degree in Psychology. Health fanatic and recipe creator: veganandplants.com

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

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