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.

The 5 Daily Habits of a Terrible Boss


About half of workers at some point have left a job to get away from their manager.

Not the work, not the clients or coworkers. The manager.

We’ve written before about how 95 percent of managers are wrong about what best motivates employees at work. Now we know that many managers are so bad they’re making half their employees leave the job. According to another survey, 19.2 hours are wasted every week — 13 during the workweek and 6.2 over the weekend — worrying about what a boss says or does.

It’s not easy being the boss. But terrible habits make it hard to be a good boss. Don’t be a terrible boss. Avoid these common habits of bad managers and maybe your employees will stick around a while.

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How Distractions Ruin The Most Important Thing You Can Be Doing At Work

We live in the most distracting time in history. When else did people have access to so much information with so little effort?

It’s a phenomenon that can be both beautiful and terrible. You can easily stumble on to a new favorite song, or a link to a book that changes your life. You can take personalized Portuguese lessons with a native speaker without leaving your house. Or…

Cats. So many cats. One click on a Facebook link can send you down the rabbit hole of lost time and missed productivity. Who knows how many hours and dollars you’re costing yourself in the long run.

Even worse, we’re most susceptible to these kind of distractions at work, where our attention and energy is at its most vulnerable.

Not only is it taking away your time. And taking away your money. It’s taking away the most valuable, important thing you can be doing at work.

It’s taking away your flow.

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How Procrastination Can Be Your Best Productivity Tool

Consider the cliche job interview question — What’s your biggest weakness?* What’s the worst answer you can give?

“I’m a procrastinator.”

Probably no quicker way to ensure you’re “not the right fit” for that job. No matter what the job is.

Procrastination has become one of the ugliest words in modern work. It’s practitioners are stigmatized more than employees who make bad choices and blow up the company. They at least were doing something, the thinking goes.

But what if we’re thinking about it all wrong. What if the impulse to procrastinate is one of the more valuable tools we have?

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

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


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


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


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


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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