The Science of Productivity

Here's the actual science behind what makes us more productive and happy at work.

You'll learn what the latest in neuroscience and psychology means for your productivity, and we'll give you concrete tips on how to make it a part of your life.

Writing is Power

Guy writing in notebook

We’re writing more than ever these days. Every day, you’re texting, emailing, and chatting. As many of us sit at our computers at work all day and our phones everywhere else in between, we’re writing.

Successful leaders believe writing is a crucial ingredient of great work. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, for example, insists that writing replace other forms of communication to make the most of meetings. Instead of jumping straight into a conversation, or snoozing through bullet pointed sentence fragments in a slideshow presentation, he requires his senior executives to write six-page narrative memos.

He explains in a 2012 interview with Charlie Rose, “When you have to write your ideas out in complete sentences and complete paragraphs, it forces a deeper clarity of thinking.” In this age of knowledge work, we’re hiring people to think and communicate those thoughts — which means people who can write have a leg up.

Like most things worth doing, writing can be a chore. But the more fluent and practiced you become at the writing process, the more you’ll be able to own your success.

Continue Reading

The Science Behind How Emotions Lead to Smarter Decisions

Range of Smiley to Angry Faces

There once was a man named Elliot. An intelligent, pleasant thirty-something guy, he had built a pretty good life for himself, with a family and a good job. But his life started to fall apart when he got a brain tumor the size of a small orange that compressed his frontal lobes — causing debilitating headaches and an inability to focus.

Even after a successful surgery to remove the tumor, Elliot’s life continued go downhill. His relationships unravelled, he couldn’t hold a job, and invested in a disreputable business scheme that lost him his savings. Something was still wrong with Elliot’s brain — damage to parts of his frontal lobe somehow resulted in an inability to feel emotion.

You’d think that this might have been beneficial at least for his work ventures, some ability to make calculating, rational, optimal decisions. But the opposite was true. After losing his emotions, he’d become hopelessly ineffective at business.

That can be a jolting lesson for many of us who consider emotion something to regard very lightly in the workplace. Emotions work, not as a barrier to getting things done, but to help us reason at a basic level and thrive.

Continue Reading

Why You Will Gain Freedom with a Set Creativity Schedule

Create an oasis of quiet by creating boundaries of space and time.

Ira Glass not only hosts the popular public radio show, This American Life, but also writes, edits, performs, produces, and manages. There’s plenty of work to keep him busy, which is why he confessed to Lifehacker that his worst habit is that he procrastinates … by working.

He explains:

Ira GlassIn addition to being an editor and writer on my radio show, I’m also the boss, and deal with budgets, personnel stuff, revenue and spending questions, and business decisions… [W]hen I should be writing something for this week’s show, I’ll procrastinate by looking over some contract or making some business phone call or doing something else that actually isn’t as important as writing.

When you’re wearing lots of hats, the temptation to procrastinate by working is high, and it’s usually creative priorities and projects that wind up getting the short end of the stick. The double whammy is that not only do you feel guilty and demotivated for not getting to priorities, you also feel worse and burned out from working so much anyway.

In order to reliably get to your creative priorities, the solution is to carve out a deliberate creativity schedule. Without it, the work you put off will be creative work as other tasks seem easier to get through and justifiable, to boot, as part of your job.

Continue Reading

The Secret to Finding the Elusive Balance Between Busy and Happy

collage of balance

Let’s face it. We have a love-hate relationship with being busy. We want more free time but are quick to jam-pack our calendars and flaunt the bling of our busy status.

While busyness has become a badge of honor to be admired and applauded, at the heart of it, busyness seems a human way to assert that you exist, to prove you matter. I do, therefore I am — which can quickly morph into, I do more, therefore I am better.

University of Maryland sociologist John P. Robinson studies how people use their time for a living. He’s even called “Father Time” by his colleagues, and he discovered that the happiest people actually balance busy schedules by not feeling rushed. Only about a tenth of Americans attain this elusive balance, and that might be because we’re inclined to trick ourselves into enjoying busyness for more than it’s worth.

Continue Reading

The Paradox of Why Top Performers Fail Under Pressure

performance pressure

You’ve seen it happen before. Maybe you’ve even experienced the stomach-churning, brain-in-hyperdrive feeling yourself. Whether it’s the professional missing those easy free throws on the basketball court or the professional sweating through an important presentation in the conference room — even the best performers choke under pressure.

The expertise and skillful command of these bright talents are exactly what should be helping them thrive in such conditions. All that hard work that brought them to where they are now should help them kick it up a notch and spur amazing feats. Instead, it’s these outstanding capabilities that set them up for failure in the clutch.

While star performers should be best equipped to handle pressure, the interesting paradox is that they might be the most prone to buckling.

Continue Reading

Stop Spreading Busyness Like the Flu

busyness at train station

Busyness has become such a sign of our times that there’s a trend in architecture of drawing blurry people on the move for office project designs. Apparently it’s a visual that clients can identify with “on an emotional level.”

While you might recognize yourself in that blurry state of being, consider how limiting busyness can be as a state of mind. Since you start coming across as irritable, impatient, and anxious, you start to close yourself off from others. It’s hard to connect with someone who’s a physical or mental blur that can’t sit still for a minute and feels like there’s no time.

One of the toughest part of falling into the busy trap is that you become preoccupied with your own busyness, and you might not realize that you’re spreading your busyness affliction to everyone around you.

Continue Reading

How Good Enough is Actually Optimal

Ten years ago, Jon Bell, now a designer at Twitter, told his wife that he’d be happy with how much he was making for the rest of his life.

I didn’t make much at the time. But that marked the day I began trying to fight back the impulse for “more” and instead try to discover how “enough” feels.

The conventional wisdom is that to be successful, you have to be really hungry for it, never content with mere sufficiency and outdoing everyone else. Surprisingly, Jon’s philosophy of aiming for enough is a better approach.

It all comes down to whether you’re a maximizer or a satisficer. A maximizer yearns for perfection — making the best decision after weighing all the choices while a satisficer goes for “good enough.” This doesn’t mean you have to settle for lower standards — but you do prevent yourself from “trying to maximize every single task outcome and ROI.”

Maximizer vs Satisficer list

That’s why high achievers fall into the peculiar trap of getting mentally caught up in what you haven’t done — there’s always something else to be working on because it feels like, the more you do, the more you gain an edge. But focusing too hard on maximizing your productivity and choices can come at an ultimate cost to your time, health, and happiness.

Ironically, maximizing doesn’t lead to the optimal result.

Continue Reading

How to Short-Circuit Procrastination by Starting Before You’re Ready

stop procrastinating ruleThe time between intention and action can be unending.

Whether it’s getting around to joining that gym or applying to a job — you can be in a zone of perpetual procrastination I call “yet” in which there’s lots of time “researching” on the internet. Whether it’s a trivial or life decision, when you get in this zone, you’re mostly left overwhelmed, tired, and discouraged — all before you’ve even started.

Louis C.K. is one of the most prolific comedians today, who also writes, edits, produces, and stars in his critically acclaimed TV show Louie. He credits the way he keeps moving forward to a system he came up with for avoiding analysis paralysis and this zone of yet.

He calls it his 70% rule of decision-making, and it kicks him into action when there’s that irresistible call to procrastinate that leads to opportunities slipping by.

Continue Reading

How to Stop Working Too Much and Live Your Life

 

work diary balance boundaries

Humans aren’t made to work around the clock — but our working culture refuses to acknowledge this. We’re still checking our email before we go to bed, not taking breaks and vacations, and burning out by burning the candle at both ends. 

Even when we aren’t fuzzy from fatigue, we can understand that working long hours has not just diminishing but unhealthy returns. But actually changing our behavior is tough. Employers still don’t trust the employees they can’t see and a long history of work where more hours meant more output seems to have forged a persistent guilt about how we spend our time.

Since the key to being happier and more productive is to not feel like you’re working all the time, one of the most obvious fixes is to set some time limitations. The weird thing is that one of the best ways to do this is to spend more time thinking about work.

Continue Reading

The Psychology Behind Why Relaxing with TV after Work Leads to Feelings of Failure

Watching TV After Work

After a tough day at work, most of us just want to kick back, turn on the TV and relax. The harder you’ve worked, the more that you want to turn off your brain for a bit to de-stress. It makes total sense, right?

It turns out that watching TV after a stressful day at work doesn’t relax or rejuvenate you. It’s worse, according to a recent study. Watching TV after a stressful day leads to feelings of guilt and failure. It doesn’t give you the downtime you need to prepare for the next day, nor does it keep you in a neutral state — it actually depletes you.

The reason this happens is a bit of a paradox but the psychology will make sense to productive people — and it will arm you with the knowledge you need to do get proper rest and relaxation after work.

Continue Reading