5 proven tips for being more productive, according to a neuroscientist
Open up social media and you’ll find countless posts from people claiming to have the secret to improving your productivity, whether it’s waking up at 4 a.m., taking certain supplements, or filling your day with activities.
However, many of these claims have no scientific basis, and many are completely false. So, is there a trick to increase your yield? Are there any simple, science-based life hacks we should all incorporate into our daily routines?
There may not be any life-changing hacks that will make you the next Bill Gates, but there are a few small changes you can make that will help you work more productively.
Background music is beneficial
There’s a lot of debate these days about which is more productive. Does he work from home or does he work in the office? And both parties regularly argue that the other provides more distractions at work.
However, one thing that is rarely mentioned is the fact that some distractions can be helpful for productivity. Some people prefer to work in relative silence, but many find they are more productive with some sort of background noise. Usually this takes the form of background music. It helps, rather than distracts, because of how our attention works. Fundamentally, we have two attention systems: the conscious, which we direct and control, and the unconscious, which alerts us to anything significant that our senses pick up and diverts our attention to it.
When we try to focus on a task, our conscious attention is occupied, but can still be diverted by the unconscious system. And if we’re in complete silence, any crackles, sighs, whispers, or other random sounds stand out more, which means our unconscious attention is more likely to be distracted, hurting our productivity.
But if we play music in the background, it masks distracting noises and occupies our unconscious attention, like giving a bored child a toy to play with while you try to work. Obviously, the type of music will make a difference. Things with lyrics aren’t as good because our brains are more stimulated by linguistic information, and music that negatively impacts mood can undermine motivation.
Strangely, a the type of music that seems to easily increase productivity and concentration is video game soundtracks. It makes sense, really; it’s music designed to be uplifting while you focus on something else.
Either way, there are plenty of situations where background noise and music can actually enhance productivity, not disrupt it.
Waking up when you’ve slept enough is better than waking up at 4 a.m.
We saw earlier that forcing yourself to wake up before dawn to be more productive can be self-defeating. However, this does not necessarily have to be the case. In truth, any waking hour can be productive if you’ve had enough sleep. So if you wake up at 4 a.m. after going to bed at 8 p.m., you’ve almost certainly had enough time to sleep. There are many health benefits of getting enough sleep. It boosts memory retention, aids concentration, improves overall health, improves mood and reduces irritability, which increases your ability to be productive.
Sleep can help productivity in other ways. Sleep is when our the brain processes all memories and thoughts that we have accumulated throughout the day, and integrates them into our existing neural networks.
That is why “sleeping on it” is a legitimate approach to problem solving. If we can’t understand a problem, sleeping on it means more of our brain is connected to our experience, opening up new approaches, while staying up all night trying to understand it is less effective. So yes, sleep is important for productivity – more so than waking up at certain times.
Walk around and decorate your workplace with plants
It is quite common for people to brighten up their workplace by incorporating indoor plants. Or to covet the desk or office whose window overlooks the nearby park or woods. Some organizations frown upon such things, opting instead for greater uniformity, but overall, plants (and green sights) in the workplace are sought after and appreciated by employees.
Why, however? Why, as a society, would we spend so much time and effort building buildings that keep nature out, only to keep bringing pieces of it inside constantly?
It’s not just for aesthetic reasons; it turns out that plants, foliage, and other types of greenery are actually good for productivity. This has been confirmed by numerous studies that report increased productivity when plants are introduced to the workplace. This happens, at least in part, through the process of restoration of attention, sometimes called “fascination”.
The problem is that, in most modern human environments, there are things that “actively” attract our attention. Screens, billboards, writing, many colors and shapes, an ever-changing variety of people, and more. Our brains love all of these things, of course, but they invariably have to work hard to pay attention to them, to decipher the sensory information they provide, and so on. But, as we saw earlier, our brains only have limited resources to do all of this, so they will eventually run out.
However, this doesn’t seem to happen when we look at similar plants and stimuli. When we look at natural greenery, it seems like our brains are busy without being taxed. It is the cognitive equivalent of a good book; it is doing something, but something restorative, rather than demanding.
That is why greenery is useful for productivity. It replenishes your brain resources. So if you feel like you need to go for a walk to “clear your head,” you’re probably more literal than you think.
Diet and exercise improve productivity, as long as you ignore fads
Of the countless articles on how to be productive by following advice from “successful people,” many focus on the individual’s diet and exercise.
Although their exercise routines are usually unobtainable purely for practical reasons (most people don’t have a home gym, dedicated personal trainer, and four free hours a day to use them) , their diets can often be called ridiculous. You’ve probably read an article about a go-getter who pulls seven figures and apparently eats a daily breakfast of a bowl of unknown berries and leaves considered “superfoods”, washed down with several glasses of ionized water, or the secretions of a beluga whale. whale, or something equally weird.
If their claims seem moralizing and superior, it is because they are. It’s a way to display status and success to the unwashed masses. But if we ignore the ridiculous aspects, it’s fair to say that diet and exercise can be a big help for productivity.
Regular exercise has been shown, countless times, to have many benefits for your body and brain. Your brain is ultimately another organ after all, and the fitter your body is, the more resources it can devote to the brain, improving functionality and productivity.
Food can also have a direct impact on our brain. While the indirect health consequences of junk food should be kept in mind, recent studies show that these foods can have rapid negative effects on brain functionaffecting our ability to focus and stay motivated on the tasks at hand.
So while you don’t need to stock your fridge with the latest superfoods, improving your diet and physical activity can boost your productivity.
Just enter your “zone”
With everything that has been discussed so far, it is important to consider one important caveat; everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another. Individual differences play a huge role in how productive we end up being.
But if you can possibly figure out which factors work best for you, it would be wise to tap into that awareness, as it increases your chances of achieving a cognitive “flow” stateknown to most people as being “in the zone”.
Flow is arguably the most productive state of mind it is possible to be in. It is when you are most focused on any task and thus demonstrate the maximum level of skill you are capable of performing it.
Despite the time and effort people put into reaching a state of flow, it’s actually hard to do. This is likely because our brains are actually doing dozens of things at once, and often, as with our attention systems, many of those things will get in the way of other things.
Sometimes, however, all the scattered parts of our consciousness join forces and focus on a specific task, and so we enter a state of flux. The problem is that what actually occupies the myriad parts of your brain varies from person to person. So the particular setup that allows you to be the most productive will likely be unique to you.
The thing is, reading articles and advice columns on how to be more productive is great, but no one will know the best way to increase your own productivity better than you.
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