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.

What Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg Love But 1 in 4 Americans Ignore

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What’s the secret weapon of highly successful people? Reading books.

Throughout history, Bill Gates and many of the world’s most successful and influential people have been avid book readers.

Unfortunately, many Americans are not. One in four Americans did not read a single book in 2013, according to a Pew Research Center poll. In 1978, that number was 8 percent. By 2005 it was 16 percent.

It’s a trend to avoid it you want to do great things.

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How Decision Fatigue Makes You Work Worse When You Work More

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Planning on getting arrested anytime soon? Better hope the judge has had a sandwich.

Researchers in 2011 studied more than 1,100 decisions from eight Israeli judges serving on a parole board. Their findings were surprising: the biggest factor determining how lenient a judge would rule was how long it had been since the judge had a snack or lunch break.

“Basically, right after a short break, judges came in with more positive attitudes and made more lenient decisions. As they burned up their reserves of energy, they began to make more and more decisions that maintained the status quo,” wrote Jeff Sutherland, CEO of Scrum, Inc. and author of “Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time.

The problem: decision fatigue. The mental work of making all those high-stakes decisions, one after another, wore down the judges.

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How Distractions At Work Take Up More Time Than You Think

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Make an estimate on how many times are you are distracted during an average work day.

Now take that number and multiply it by 25.

That’s how many minutes of concentration you’re losing. It takes an average of about 25 minutes (23 minutes and 15 seconds, to be exact) to return to the original task after an interruption, according to Gloria Mark, who studies digital distraction at the University of California, Irvine.

Multiple studies confirm this. Distractions don’t just eat up time during the distraction, they derail your mental progress for up to a half hour afterward (that’s assuming another distraction doesn’t show up in that half hour).

In other words, that “30 seconds to check Twitter” isn’t just 30 seconds down the drain. It’s 25 minutes and 30 seconds.

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Make Statistics More Meaningful By Using Fewer of Them

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Let’s play a game. Pretend I’m pitching you a fictional business.

“Since launching 29 months ago in 12 cities across 4 states we’ve acquired 208,000 users and 195,000 daily active users averaging a 10.5 percent monthly user increase over the last 7 months.”

Now here comes the important part.

There were a lot of statistics listed there, right?

Close your eyes and remember as many as you can.

How’d you do? There were seven statics in that paragraph.

Did you remember all seven? Three? Any of them?

There’s a good chance you didn’t. Let’s try this again.

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What Sports Knows, and Business Gets Wrong, About Motivation

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Big teams are bad for productivity. The bigger the team, the less people do.

Maximilien Ringelmann discovered this more than 100 years ago. The French engineering professor measured effort from students in a simple rope pulling exercise. Not only did people exhibit less individual effort while pulling as a group, individual effort quickly diminished as the size of the group increased.

Ringelmann found that eight people didn’t even pull as hard as four. It became known as the Ringelmann effect.

Unfortunately, many businesses are run like a giant game of tug of war. There can be a top notch team, a clear objective, everyone working toward the same goal. And maybe it’s successful. But who actually helped pull the rope? Did they do their best? We’ll never know. Stop running your business like tug of war. Want to be successful? Run it like an NBA team.

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The Scientifically-Backed Best Ways to Spend a 15-Minute Break

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We have all worked with the marathoner office worker. The one with eyes glued to a spreadsheet all day, or frantically taking calls for hours on end.

Or maybe that’s you. Maybe you measure hard work in raw hours logged. Maybe you put in 12 solid hours and eat at your desk. Maybe you care so much about work you haven’t taken a lunch break in months.

Maybe you’re terrible at your job. Ever think about that?

Or at least you could be hurting your productivity. There’s a growing amount of research suggesting that work punctuated by short breaks leads to better focus and better productivity.

Also, working for uninterrupted hours on end — especially if done sitting down —can be terrible for your health.

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Why You Should Always Write Down Your Bad Ideas

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Most of Thomas Edison’s ideas were bad.

At least they weren’t good enough to make it out of the laboratory. Or from the patent office to the product line. Thousands of ideas, never to see the light of day.

An associate of Edison’s, Walter S. Mallory, recalled asking the inventor about this, according to a 1910 biography “Edison: His Life and Inventions.” Mallory recalled that Edison had been working for months on a nickel-iron battery. Mallory visited Edison in his shop and learned his friend had tried more than 9,000 experiments for the battery and none had been successful.

“In view of this immense amount of thought and labor, my sympathy got the better of my judgment, and I said: ‘Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven’t been able to get any results?’”

Mallory sympathized with Edison. He felt sorry for him that so many ideas had not yet produce one result. Edison saw it differently.

“Edison turned on me like a flash, and with a smile replied: ‘Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work.'”

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How to Have a Great First Day at Your New Job

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Day one at the new job. How’s it feel? Slightly terrifying?

It should. At your old job — just last week perhaps — you were the most experienced you ever were there. Suddenly, you’re the least experienced you ever will be at this job.

It’s enough to cause a panic. But it doesn’t have to. Fresh starts come with great opportunity. Here are a few tips on how you can capitalize on this new adventure. We’ll skip the obvious — show up on time, practice the route to the new office —and focus on some of the research behind the first day and how you can use what science and experts say about the topic.

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Why Your Brain Loves Negativity and How to Fix It

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Pretend you’re a caveman.

You’re in your cave preparing for a hunt, but something outside seems dangerous, violent sounds you don’t understand.

You have two choices: Skip the hunt, spend the night hungry but live another day. Or risk death and go outside.

Hold onto that thought. We’ll be getting back to that.

Now imagine you’re driving to work. While getting off the highway, someone cuts you off. You slam on your brakes.

You know the feeling that’s coming. That tense anger rises up. Your fingers clench the steering wheel.

It’s enough to set you on a path to feel horrible all day. You might be less productive at work, distracted during meetings. You might try to counterbalance the feeling with a quick shot of endorphins from junk food, mindless web surfing or time-wasting YouTube videos. This only compounds the problem. This is like taking short-term unhappiness and investing it in a long-term, high-yield unhappiness investment plan, ensuring belly flab and career stagnation for years to come.

So why does this one minor thing, getting cut off, have such a powerful effect on us? Why does one negative experience ruin an otherwise great day?

The answer has to do with our friend, Mr. Caveman. Research shows that our brains evolved to react much more strongly to negative experiences than positive ones. It kept us safe from danger. But in modern days, where physical danger is minimal, it often just gets in the way.

It’s called the negativity bias.

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Writing is Power

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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.

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