5 Productivity Hacks Supported by Science

Fundamentally, productivity is about finding ways to get more done in less time. It sometimes seems impossible–but it doesn’t have to be. Here are 5 productivity hacks supported by science and used by top performers like Barack Obama and Steve Jobs.

1. Simplify decisions

Even small decisions drain our willpower. It’s why Barack Obama only wears two colors of suits. He said, “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits, I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

What President Obama is referring to is known as decision fatigue. Basically, the human brain has only a limited amount of mental resources available to apply to decisions. Once these mental resources are used up, you inevitably start to make poor choices or get stuck in uncertainty–draining your productivity. As someone who is constantly asked to make decisions Obama must focus on the truly important tasks. But you don’t need to be President to work like Obama. When was the last time you wasted time on a minor decision? Did all that time wasted really make a difference?

Streamline your life and actively decide you are going to make fewer decisions. Then you can focus on more important things.

2. Get busy

Simplifying your decisions doesn’t mean you don’t get anything done–far from it. In fact, getting busy in a focused, productive way is necessary to remain happy. One study done by University of Chicago researchers found out that busy people were happier than their idle counterparts–even if they were forced to do an activity they wouldn’t otherwise do.

Moral of the story? Figure out what you love, and then get working on it–it will make you happier.

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3. Distractions don’t just waste time, they reduce your IQ

Avoiding distractions seems like obvious advice, but most of us don’t realize just how harmful distractions can be to our productivity. You see, one study showed that workers who broke up work with texts and emails performed as if they had lost an average of 10 IQ points. Interestingly, the study showed that men were much more susceptible to the negative effects of distraction, with men losing 15 points, while women only lost 5. Still, regardless of your gender, if you want to stay productive–and smart–ditch the distractions.

4. We waste 2 days a week being unproductive

A study by Microsoft found that people really only do 3 days of work per week–the rest of the time is unproductive. While that might sound depressing, there are ways to embrace it. If you have flexibility on the job, try working less and enjoying your breaks more–you might be just as productive as before, and happier as well.

5. Question your path

Frederick Douglass once said, “A man is worked on by what he works on. He may carve out his circumstance, but his circumstances will carve him out as well.” 

If you have a job you hate, are surrounded by toxic people, or are doing something that you think is pointless, sooner or later it is going to rub off on you. Not only will you be less productive, but you might permanently alter your career trajectory in a negative way.

Having a shitty job isn’t a bad thing–we’ve all been there. Getting stuck there and letting it define you is the real problem. If you’re at a point in your career where you hate everything, something needs to change. Steve Jobs said, “I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

What do you need to change?

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