What’s the Best Way to Increase Productivity? 11 Tips Based on Science
Want to increase productivity?
You’re not alone.
Research suggests that the majority of professionals are interested in boosting efficiency, achieving more in the workday, enjoying more leisurely downtime, increasing focus…in a word, increasing productivity.
At KosmoTime, we share this obsession. But instead of turning to pop methods or the latest trending productivity book or guru, we look to science for answers.
Here are some specific techniques to increase productivity based on science that will turn your workday from so-so to beast mode.
Increase Productivity By Devoting Blocks of Time to Critical Tasks
Research has found that “98% of people focus best when facing a single type of task, instead of multiple tasks.”
Further, shifting between different types of tasks results in projects taking up to 50% longer to complete.
The human brain simply isn’t wired to check email, while setting up a meeting, while responding to a message on Slack, while creating a Google Doc, while baking a cake.
“Context switching,” where you jump from task to task is a massive productivity killer that not only slows you down, but leaves you feeling drained and fatigued.
That’s why so many experts are so big on “batching,” a form of time management where you increase productivity by focusing on one particular type of task, giving it your full concentration.
Business management sage Chris Ducker explains the basics of batching in this video.
Getting in the habit of batching helps you better utilize your mental energy and get more done with less wasted motion.
So instead of bouncing from email, to setting up a meeting, to responding to Slack messages, etc., you would want to break these tasks down into blocks and tackle them one-by-one.
Use a Distraction Blocking Tool with Sprint Tasks
But let’s be honest.
Devoting your focus to one type of task at a time isn’t always easy.
Old habits die hard, and you can’t necessarily expect to have the self-discipline to completely stop context switching.
Luckily, a distraction blocking tool can keep you on track.
For example, KosmoTime helps you stay focused by using Sprints.
Here’s how it works.
First, set aside blocks of time in your calendar to concentrate on particular tasks on the macro level.
Then, break those tasks down into smaller, micro tasks.
Make sure that these tasks are similar in nature.
When you start your sprint, KosmoTime will automatically block distractions so you’re not tempted to stray.
If you do try to visit an unrelated site, this screen will pop up to keep you on the straight and narrow.
This allows you to move throughout your day more quickly and fluidly, while avoiding distraction traps to increase productivity.
If You Absolutely Have to Check Out an Irrelevant URL, Bookmark it for Later
Let’s say that you’re working intently on a critical task, but you come across a URL that’s completely irresistible, like a captivating KosmoTime, for example.
You don’t want to miss out on it.
And you’re afraid that if you don’t check it out right away, you’ll forget about it and it’ll be lost forever.
In this type of situation, you can use KosmoTime to bookmark the URL with just a single click.
Then, you can assign it to a Sprint whenever you have some free time so you can focus on it 100% without creating a distraction.
That way you can seamlessly move throughout your day and not have to deal with the haunting FOMO feeling.
Just bookmark whatever you’re interested in for later, and you’re all set.
Work Offline Whenever Possible
The internet is an endless source of distractions.
There’s email, social media, notifications, impulsive Google searches, and cat videos just to name a few.
And these can all culminate to take a chunk out of your productivity.
That’s why I suggest going completely offline whenever possible.
Say, for example, you need to do some brainstorming or write a blog post.
In many cases, you can go offline so that you can focus wholeheartedly and have zero temptation to get sucked into distractions.
Many popular tools, like Google Drive, Trello, and Evernote even have offline capabilities that allow you to keep getting work done without an internet connection.
Increase Productivity By Giving Yourself Strategic Periods of Downtime
On paper, working long hours with no breaks may seem like it would yield higher productivity.
After all, more time spent working results in higher output, right?
As much of a productivity beast as you want to be, we’re human. We can only be productive for a finite amount of time before we need to recharge.
Pushing yourself too hard can actually be counterproductive where the fatigue and stress you suffer ends up hurting your productivity.
So another proven way to increase productivity is to give yourself strategic intervals of downtime based on ultradian rhythms, which are biological cycles that occur within your body during a 24-hour period.
There’s a huge body of scientific research that’s been done on this, and here’s an overview of what optimal human activity levels look like.
As you can see, it moves in waves where we can put in around 90 minutes of work before we naturally crave time for rest and recovery for about 20 minutes.
If you try to push yourself much further than 90 minutes, it will inevitably lead to burnout, which can put a damper on your productivity.
The solution is simple.
Develop the habit of working intently where you’re completely engrossed in a task for 90 minutes, then take 20 minutes off.
This is known as the 90/20 rule, which helps put you “in the zone” without needlessly taxing your brain.
Try the Pomodoro Technique
If you’re unfamiliar, the Pomodoro Technique is where you break tasks down into manageable chunks, working for 25 minutes with a high level of focus, then take a five minute break.
Repeat this four times, then
Repeat this four times, then take a long break of around 20 minutes.
This revolves around the same concept of ultradian rhythms, but on the smaller scale.
And it’s a productivity technique that can have a huge impact.
In one case study, entrepreneur and blogger Chris Winfield actually used it to get 40 hours worth of work done in only 16.7 hours.
It’s especially potent when used in conjunction with the 90/20 rule, where you work in smaller segments over the course of 90 minutes, taking small five minute breaks.
Once the 90 minutes is up, take a longer 20 minute break to cool down and recharge your batteries.
And it’s something that I can personally vouch for.
I’ve done a lot of experimentation with the Pomodoro Technique and can say for certain that it allows me to increase my productivity, while keeping fatigue at bay.
Base Your Schedule Around Peak Times of Productivity
Like I discussed in a previous tip to increase productivity, our bodies work in cycles.
And this is a phenomenon that applies to other areas, including energy levels.
As we move throughout the day, there are times when we naturally have more energy and are more productive.
Another key part of increasing your output is to identify your times of peak productivity and base your schedule around them.
That’s when you’ll want to focus on your most important tasks for the day.
Then, as your energy levels naturally decline, you can shift your attention on less pressing matters.
While everyone is different, researchers have identified a specific two-hour window when the vast majority of people are most productive.
And that is….drumroll…9 – 11 am.
As you can see from As you can see from this graph, productivity starts rising around 7 am, peaks from 9 – 11 am, then gradually declines over the next few hours.
By 9 pm, any semblance of productivity is pretty much nill.
This data coheres with my own personal experience and can be used as a basic template for most people.
With a bit of experimentation, you can find your own productivity sweet spot and create a schedule that enables you to completely slay tasks.
Increase Productivity By Giving Yourself Less Time to Complete Tasks
In his book Train Your Brain for Success, Roger Seip talks about an interesting hack that involves intentionally setting deadlines that are shorter than you need.
“Give yourself more time, tasks will take you longer. Give yourself less time, and it’s amazing how the same task will usually get done, with the same or better quality,” Seip explains. “Few things spark energy and productivity like a hard deadline.”
This one really resonated with me because I find that if I absolutely have to get something done by a certain time, I almost always do.
But if there’s some wiggle room and it’s not mandatory, the odds of getting it done by then decrease significantly.
And I think that’s a pretty universal human experience.
So, if you give yourself less time to complete a task than you think you need, it lights a fire under you, where you naturally put forth greater effort and increase productivity.
In many cases, this will help you finish projects faster than what you thought possible.
And even if you don’t quite meet the deadline, you should still be ahead of schedule.
Set a Timer
Better yet, set a timer to increase your accountability and stay on track.
“Creating time limits for projects and routine tasks creates constraints that force us to be more focused, and use our time intentionally,” writes Mariah of Bloom Hustle Grow. “By setting time limits, you are automatically giving yourself a perimeter in which to work in.”
Increase Productivity By Always Looking for Areas of Improvement
Another way to become a productivity ninja is to develop self-awareness where you objectively analyze your habits and tendencies to look for areas that can be improved.
For example, one of my biggest weaknesses used to be context switching, where I would mindlessly do whatever popped in my head, such as checking email or performing a random Google search like the year Top Gun came out.
It was 1986 by the way.
Calling yourself out on habits like these helps you get a bird’s eye view of your behavior so you’ll know what specific things to work on.
Then, over time, you can keep making the necessary adjustments until you basically become a Shaolin warrior of productivity.
Let Go of Perfectionism
“Perfectionism is a double-edged sword,” explains Rebecca Knight in the Harvard Business Review.
“On one hand, it can motivate you to perform at a high level and deliver top-quality work. On the other hand, it can cause you unnecessary anxiety and slow you down.”
I know that any time I set unrealistic expectations on a project where I strive for perfectionism that it often results in paralysis where I overthink every little detail.
And when that happens, it inevitably stifles the creative process, where the end result is less than ideal.
The bottom line is that being a perfectionist creates added pressure and makes you more sluggish, which are certainly no ways to increase productivity.
So, what should you do if you’re a hard-wired perfectionist?
Matt Plummer, founder of productivity coaching service Zarvana, says it largely boils down to “calibrating your standards” and knowing when something is good enough.
This doesn’t mean you should justify complacency. It just means you should learn to leave well enough alone and know when it’s time to move onto the next task.
It’s also helpful to focus on the big picture and recognize how spending an excessive amount of time on a particular task can be detrimental.
While you obviously want to do quality work, constantly nitpicking minor details is going to have a negative impact.
Having this mindset should help keep you moving in the right direction.
FAQs on How to Increase Productivity
How long should I work before taking a break?
Ideally, you’ll work 90 minutes before taking a break.
However, if you use the Pomodoro technique, you can break this down into smaller 25 minute sessions, with small five minute breaks in between.
How long should I take a break for?
Roughly 20 minutes.
What time of the day are people most productive?
Between 9 – 11 am.
Mastering the Art of Productivity
Being a productivity master isn’t something that comes naturally to most people.
In fact, many of us have self-sabotaging behaviors that naturally hurt our productivity, such as context switching or working ourselves to the point of complete exhaustion.
But fortunately, it’s something that can be learned by understanding some core scientific principles and properly implementing them.
Following the specific techniques listed here should help you refine your habits so that you eventually increase productivity without even breaking a sweat.
See how KosmoTime can help you plow through tasks and block out distractions, while at the same time building cognitive resiliency.