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The Science of Productivity in the Workplace

January 1, 2017

Welcome to 2017.


New Year’s resolutions – there’s nothing like the annual traditional of biting off more than you can chew. Yet people continue to do so because the new year is a good reminder that life is a continuous journey of self-improvement. One of the things people strive for is the productive use of time – especially in the workplace. Time is limited and unreplenishable. We all want more of it, but since we can’t, we try to make the best use of it. In other words, we strive to be more productive people, which can prove difficult in a world saturated with infinite avenues of distractions (i.e. cat videos, memes, Game of Thrones). Need I say more?



Productivity is the act of getting more done, faster. How do we become more productive? How do we waste less of something as precious as time? Although it may be counter-intuitive, multitasking does not necessarily increase productivity. Although it may give us the illusion that we are getting more done, researchers have found that the quality of work we produce is of lesser performance. It may prove more productive to single-task at the workplace rather than trying to do all things at once. When all effort is focused on one exclusive task, performance is increased and as a result, so is overall productivity.


Another tip to increase productivity is simply get started. Studies have shown that one of the biggest obstacles to productivity is stalling. It may seem like common sense, but people tend to get distracted with mindless tasks like Facebook stalking, responding to all the office email chains, and catching up with your co-worker at the water-cooler. What seems like insignificant distractions are actually the brain’s way of procrastinating what it believes to be a considerable task at hand. However, by simply starting a task, people tend to be motivated to finish.


Why is that? Psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik in 1927 found that people have a drive to finish a task which is incomplete. Chances are, you probably already experienced this effect. The all-nighters in college, late nights at the office, or how you couldn’t stop playing 2048 – it all stems from our instinctive drive to finish what is undone and unconquered. So next time your employer gives you a daunting task, the best thing you can do is just ‘go for it.’


And once you’ve started, be disciplined. Give yourself a deadline – maybe one even sooner than the one your boss gives you. It can provide the necessary motivation for you to finish your task as quickly as you can. And while you’re working, try working in 90-minute intervals with breaks in between. Studies have found that elite performers such as athletes and musicians were more productive when they worked in intervals no more than 90 minutes than those who worked in intervals longer than 90 minutes.


There are many tips you can do to increase your productivity this year. Sometimes, willpower alone is not enough. You need strategies to make the most of your time and discipline to ensure you meet your personal and professional goals.


Good luck!


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