When it comes to work productivity, everyone has a secret trick that works for them.
Some swear that a cluttered desk does wonders for their concentration. Others couldn’t live without meditation and a drop of Mozart in their headphones.
But you’re not here for gossip and anecdotes.
This guide shows you:
- Nine science-backed mistakes that are genuinely making you less productive (regardless of your preferences).
- Actionable advice on changing light, sounds, and posture to skyrocket your productivity.
- Hidden techniques such as the Deliberate Gaze Method or the Horse Blinders Technique.
- And more…
Keep reading below.
1. YOUR LIGHTING IS NOT OPTIMIsED FOR WORK
Standford neuroscientist Andrew Huberman underlines one widespread mistake that affects work productivity:
You’re not tapping into the power of light.
- Your office may be too dark in the mornings or too far away from a natural light source.
- Your afternoon lights are too bright.
- You may be doom-scrolling on Twitter in your bed while sipping your morning coffee.
All those habits decrease your focus, motivation, and alertness.
That’s because your brain isn’t getting the right neurotransmitters for work productivity.
Here’s how to turn that around:
- Go outside as soon as possible after waking: A morning walk triggers cortisol release in the first part of the day, thus making you more alert. Huberman also notices a connection between cortisol release, better mood, energy, and work focus.
- Use overhead lights: Bright overhead lights stimulate motivation, alertness, and concentration because they enable your brain to release dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. These neurotransmitters increase your drive and make you ready to tackle challenging tasks.
- Place your desk near a natural light source: Natural light regulates circadian rhythm. That means you can take advantage of the natural highs and lows in hormones that sunlight signals enable.
- Use different light colours depending on the time: Morning lights should be blue and bright to accelerate focus and analytical thinking. In turn, Huberman suggests that red and yellow afternoon lighting promotes creativity.
Pro tip: Huberman’s data shows that following this advice improves your sleep, too. And of course, there are plenty of studies that show optimal sleep enhances concentration, attention, and focus.
2. YOUR COMPUTER SCREEN IS TOO LOW
Andrew Huberman’s research also shows that placing your tablet or laptop too low decreases productivity.
Here’s how that works:
- Your brain stem has neuron clusters, which control eyelid muscles and eye movements.
- When you’re looking down, these neurons connect with specific brain stem areas that release neuromodulators and neurotransmitters.
- And these substances promote calm and sleepiness.
You may want to be calm at work to be more productive, but you certainly don’t want to be sleepy.
The solution is easy:
Place your computer screen higher than your eye level. That should be easy with some books, but you can also purchase a specific desk or system to raise your screen.
3. YOU ARE RECLINING
Studies show that working from a reclined or slouching position will decrease your focus and motivation – both essential for work productivity.
Let’s review some explanations:
- Negative mindset: Dutch behavioral scientist Erik Pepper suggests that reclining or slouching may facilitate a negative attitude. This doctor suggests that sitting upright improves positive thinking. And being positive is essential in the workplace, especially when dealing with a hectic work schedule and tough tasks.
- Increased anxiety: These findings correlate well with a San Francisco State University study. Apparently, students sitting up straighter experience less anxiety related to solving problems and can focus better than those who slouch.
- More brain fog: Dr. Vikki Petersen highlights in a Forbes interview that poor position affects blood flow to the brain. And if your brain is not properly oxygenated, you will experience headaches, brain fog, and tiredness.
- Decreased risk tolerance and power: A common study from Columbia and Harvard Universities shows that slouching affects cortisol and testosterone levels. These hormones are associated with feeling powerful and ready to take on challenges and risks.
Here’s what you can do about that:
- Sit up straight: Adopt a straight-back position at your desk, whether sitting or standing. Minimise the periods when working from a sofa or a reclined chair.
- Use power posing: If you’re a Grey’s Anatomy fan, you know that Amelia Shepherd’s always doing the Superman pose before a tricky surgery. The Columbia and Harvard universities study proves that power posing like that will increase your self-esteem, focus, and a positive mindset.
4. YOUR OFFICE DÉCOR/ ENVIRONMENT ARE NOT OPTIMIsED [THE CATHEDRAL EFFECT]
In the intro, we suggested that some people swear by working in cluttered environments.
Others will tell you you can’t work properly in a disorganised environment.
And Marie Kondo will agree to that.
But here’s the thing – different environments are better for different pursuits. You should figure out your productivity goals before arranging your office.
Enter the Cathedral Effect.
American anthropologist Edward T. Hall noticed that short rooms make people feel cramped, while tall ones project a feeling of freedom.
Recent studies have built up on this idea, proving that:
- High ceilings facilitate abstract thinking and creativity.
- Low ceilings are better for minute work.
What does that mean for you?
- If your job involves a lot of creativity and talking with people, you’ll fare better in open spaces and large rooms.
- If you’re doing detail-oriented work, you may work better in a tiny room with a low ceiling.
Side note: There’s actually a stereotypical image of olden-day accountants working in such small enclosures, with no natural lighting and only a small candle on their desks.
Apparently, this stereotype has a grain of truth in it because these conditions promote analytical thinking.
5. YOUR GAZE ISN’T FOCUSED [THE HORSE BLINDERS TECHNIQUE]
You probably know that horses wear blinders to focus on the road and the commands they’re getting.
But did you know that the same thing applies to us humans too?
Your focus is affected when you have multiple items in front of you. And that means your work productivity decreases as well.
Enter vergence eye movement.
Studies show that concentrating your gaze on a narrow field of work increases your alertness, attention, and cognition.
And you need all three conditions to be productive at work.
How can you tell that your gaze is focused enough?
It’s easy – take your hands and cup them around your eyes. Anything that falls outside this visual field is a distraction.
And yes, we’ll talk about distractions in a minute.
But for now, remember that you need to focus your paperwork and computer screen in this narrow field.
Pro tip: Take breaks every 45 minutes.
Focusing your gaze does promote focus and attention. But staying too focused can lead to headaches and eye strain.
That’s why other studies recommend shifting your gaze and letting your eyes wander.
Besides, this research also proves this tactic boost:
- Memory recall
Again, you need those three factors to ensure top-notch work productivity.
Pro tip: You could also take a short walk outside. The grand outdoors allows your eyes to de-focus naturally, which is linked to a slew of health benefits.
Plus, getting some natural light and movement will considerably increase your alertness.
5. YOU’RE NOT TAPPING INTO AUDITORY STIMULI [THE MAGIC OF WHITE NOISE & BINAURAL BEATS]
You may have heard that a noise-free environment promotes productivity.
However, you may sometimes need to put on music or work from your local café. But most people don’t feel productive when construction workers use pick hammers under their windows.
Or when their neighbors bust out their lawnmowers.
But how can you tell which sounds enhance work productivity and which ones hinder it?
Let’s review the science.
Studies show that high-level white noise hinders concentration and attention.
- Low-level white noise at 45 decibels increases cognitive performance by honing your attention, working speed, and accuracy.
- White noise at 65 decibels increases your working memory but also your stress levels.
To get a better idea of these numbers:
- 45 dB is like a babbling brook or a computer.
- 65 dB is similar to an air conditioner or the humming of a café.
Remember: You should test different white noises and optimise according to your tasks.
White noise isn’t the only auditory technique you can apply for improved productivity.
Binaural beats are also shown to increase focus and performance.
Let’s rewind for the science:
Binaural beats entail releasing two different frequency tones in each of your ears. This difference in frequency creates an auditory illusion that mimics the benefits of meditation.
Basically, binaural beats:
- Keep your anxiety at bay.
- Boost focus.
- Decrease your stress levels.
- Make you feel more positive.
- Enhance creativity.
But you have to pick the right frequency for your goals:
- Beta frequencies between 14 and 30 Herz can improve:
- Problem-solving abilities
- 40 Herz binaural beats improve:
- Training of your perceptual and motor skills
Pro tip: You don’t necessarily have to listen to binaural beats while working. You can reap similar effects by playing these sounds while exercising or taking a morning walk.
6. YOU’RE NOT INCORPORATING MOVEMENT WISELY
If you work a desk job, you may be all too familiar with this situation – you get ready to work, plop yourself down at the computer, and only get up four hours later for your lunch break.
And that’s a huge mistake.
People are made to move. And movement:
- Improves blood flow to the brain.
- Significantly relieves anxiety.
- Triggers dopamine, thus improving your mood and sense of self-reward.
Besides, there are numerous studies on active sit-stand workstations. Unfortunately for us, many have contradicting conclusions.
However, new research explains this contradictory data. Active workstations (treadmills and stationary bicycles) can:
- Improve attention and cognitive control, but:
- Reduce verbal memory.
And the type of workstation (treadmill or cycling) doesn’t matter much.
Pro tip: Take this research with a grain of salt.
- Incorporate movement during your day: Take active breaks every 45 to 90 minutes, depending on your task.
- Listen to your body: If you feel better taking a business call while pacing around the office – do it. It will significantly decrease your anxiety and improve your composure.
7. YOUR ENVIRONMENT ALLOWS DISTRACTIONS
You may get email or social media notifications every two minutes.
If you’re in a management position, your team members can come to your office with different inquiries. Others will stop by to say hi.
And if you’re working from home, the list of distractions never ends, from family members to neighbors and even the mere enticing existence of your bedroom.
Here’s the problem – distractions decrease focus, not just because you must interrupt and resume your work later.
A study from the University of California shows you need 23 minutes and 15 seconds to achieve deep focus again after an interruption.
Depending on your job, you can minimise distractions by:
- Putting your phone on airplane mode for specific periods.
- Establishing specific times during the day to check your email.
- Scheduling all your meetings to ensure people don’t pop up unannounced.
Pro tip: Practice the 30-second deliberate gaze technique to regain your focus faster.
This technique is another of Andrew Huberman’s gems, and it’s already practiced in many schools to help children focus better.
Basically, you will aim to focus your gaze on one fixed point for 30 seconds, breathing normally.
And yes, you can blink too.
Why does that work?
Your visual system dictates your cognitive focus. And that optical system has two forms of attention and focus:
- Overt focus: This is defined by looking at a specific object, such as your laptop’s mouse. In this case, your brain starts perceiving and analysing the details of your visual target.
- Covert focus: This is defined by the mental shift of attention without physical movement.
Notice: The deliberate gaze technique is connected to the Horse Blinders Method.
As you concentrate your gaze on a fixed object, your brain will get into focus mode faster so you can get on with your tasks more productively.
8. NOT HAVING A GROWTH MINDSET
Are you familiar with the feeling of having accomplished a huge task and then feeling mentally drained and sluggish a few days later?
There’s science behind that too:
Apparently, hitting a major milestone elicits a dopamine spike followed by a dopamine crash.
And generally, a huge spike implies a major crash.
This feeling of sluggishness and inactivity will mess with your overall productivity.
So the mistake here is focusing on the win. Even if you get a major victory, the feeling of reward will be short-lived.
Luckily, you can take charge and improve that if you have a growth mindset:
- Focus on the process instead of the win.
- Celebrate small victories along the way with smaller rewards.
- Retrain your brain to get satisfaction from the effort, not the final victory. This will also help if you can’t hit that expected milestone.
9. NOT LEVERAGING LISTS
There’s a reason why Santa is “making a list and checking it twice” each year.
It helps him stay productive and cheery. Otherwise, delivering gifts to 2 billion children in one night would overwhelm anyone.
- Show you clear objectives you must reach that day.
- Prove your results, thus increasing your feelings of work satisfaction.
Research (and experience) show that planning how to tackle pressing tasks also decreases your overall anxiety.
Here’s what you can do:
If your day is full and you’re unsure of how you can handle everything, start building a to-do list with actionable steps.
Use task management apps so you can track your progress and remaining tasks.
Pro tip: Don’t add recurring, everyday tasks on your to-do list, such as checking your email or handling calls.
Instead, focus on essential goals and plans for the day.
And then, enjoy the satisfaction of crossing them off your list.
What Productivity-Enhancing hack Will You Use?
This article provides several hacks to enhance your work productivity.
- Use bright overhead lights in the first part of the day.
- Place your computer screen higher than your eye level.
- Sit up straight.
- Leverage power posing.
- Pick your office according to your job: wide rooms enhance creativity, and tiny spaces work best for analytical work.
- Focus your paperwork and computer screen in a narrow field of vision.
- Use low-level white noise and binaural beats.
- Incorporate movement during your day.
- Don’t allow distractions.
- Focus on a growth mindset.
- Leverage lists.
Combine a few of these techniques that make sense for your situation, and you’ll see your productivity levels skyrocketing.
Photo credit: Oladimeji Ajegbile