Apply Science to Boost Productivity at Work, part one

by Scott Crabtree

“So much to do, so little time.”

Have you found yourself saying this to a  colleague or perhaps even your boss? Has there been a time when you wish you could buy yourself one extra hour so you could make more progress?

While it might not be possible to get more hours in your day, science suggests you can make those hours you do have more productive. Research provides us with strategies that, when consistently applied, can help make each day happier and more productive.

Apply Science to be More Productive

In the series, I will share five interrelated strategies for boosting productivity and brain function at work.

  1. Minimize Multitasking
  2. Get Into The “Flow”
  3. Diminish Distractions
  4. Eat The Frog First
  5. Get Active To Be More Productive

If you’re ready to boost productivity, start today by minimizing multitasking, as I discuss in this first installment in the series.

Minimize Multitasking

In a scientific-nutshell, multitasking makes you miserable and stupid.

In this study performed by the University of New York, participants were separated into groups wherein one group were asked to multitask while the other group was not. In the study researchers found that multitasking can lead to a slight increase in productivity, but that the more the participants multitasked, the more their accuracy decreased as well.

The findings of this study are supported by another group of researchers from different universities across the US. The result of their study found that “working on more projects in one time period at first increases productivity, but, as the level of multitasking increases, the marginal benefits of additional multitasking decline”. In short, increased multitasking causes performance to suffer over time.

Here is a simple test that I present to audience in The Science of Being Happy and Productive at Work to show how multitasking causes you to slow down and make more mistakes.

You may be thinking, “But my boss expects me to deliver more than one task in a day! How can I be more productive if I have to do all my tasks without multitasking?”

Here are several strategies to help you to minimize multitasking to do better work:

  • Batch Your Email – Pick 2 or 3 times of day to check email, and shut it down other times of the day. Science suggests that people that check email at specific times of the day experience less stress throughout the day.
  • Focus Indicator – When you are focusing on one task, use a visual indicator like putting up a sign or putting in headphones.

Both of these strategies align with a strategy called Time BlockingSimply stated, time blocking allows you to allocate chunks of your working hours for certain tasks within a day. This method allows you to focus on one task for a significant amount of time, allowing you to produce meaningful output while minimizing the overhead or additional time needed to rewire your brain when you switch between different tasks. This concept is also similar to the Pomodoro Technique which basically indicates that you break down your work into intervals of time, allowing you to get into the right rhythm and “flow” enabling you to fully focus on one activity.

In the next post in this series I will discuss how flow helps you boost productivity, and how you can get into flow more often at work.

For now, because the science of memory and learning is clear that repetition helps to create learning, here’s a simple recap to remind you of the science and strategies from this post:

  • Multitasking is a myth: Science suggests that the more you multitask, the more your productivity and accuracy decreases.
  • Minimize Multitasking with Batching: Batch tasks together to get into flow more often.

We’d love to hear how these tools work for you. Let us know by sharing on Facebook or Twitter, or by contacting our team.