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How Can I Be More Productive at Work? (5 Quick Science-Based Hacks)

As a freelancer working from home (and on the road) for 5 years, I've learned some great, easy hacks to be more productive at work!

Can't concentrate? Here are 5 quick hacks to get you more productive than ever!

Can't concentrate? Here are 5 quick hacks to get you more productive than ever!

Why Can't I Focus at Work?

You're sitting in front of your computer screen, staring blankly. Your coffee is steaming hot, you're sitting up straight on that special ergonomic office chair—the one that guarantees good posture—and the door to your office is shut, ensuring silence. Everything's ready for you to get to work, except your mind won't cooperate. Why can't you concentrate?

There are several reasons why, and some might surprise you.

1. But...You're Probably Drinking Too Much Caffeine

Caffeine works by blocking a chemical in your brain called adenosine (a chemical that prohibits the release of excitatory chemicals). The key factor is that depending on how much and what type of caffeine you choose, the results will vary.

  • What goes up must come down. Sodas and energy drinks offer a sufficient dose of caffeine to give you an energy jolt, but they also come with a crazy amount of sugar. Too much sugar and you'll be crashing again in an hour or two... and energy drinks have been shown to have their own unsavory side effects like heart palpitations.
  • You can overdose on caffeine. Nature Neuroscience published a study on how performance increased after 100mg of caffeine, peaked at 200mg, and showed no significant increase after 300mg. Sustained high levels of caffeine consumption have even been linked to psychosis.

Try Drinking Your Caffeine Drink Slowly

When choosing your caffeinated drink, make sure it’s something you really enjoy and try to savor it (instead of just slamming Red Bulls to wake up). For instance, if you’re a coffee drinker, consider treating yourself to freshly ground beans. The fresher the coffee grounds are, the more heavenly they taste (and the healthier they are for you).

Try Swapping Sugary Sodas for Caffeinated Seltzers

Did you know you can now buy refreshing seltzers that are caffeinated? Heck yeah, it's about time! It might be a week or two of sugar cravings while you try out an energizing seltzer like Phocus, Bubly, or HiBall, but there's no denying that chilled, bubbly effervescence still hits the spot. When you find you focus better, it'll be sweet enough.

Who says healthy work snacks have to be boring or traditional? Fatty fish like salmon and tuna are some of the best brain-boosting snacks out there!

Who says healthy work snacks have to be boring or traditional? Fatty fish like salmon and tuna are some of the best brain-boosting snacks out there!

2. Your Choice of Work Snacks Directly Affects Your Brainpower

The average human brain weighs a little more than 3lbs (about 2% of total body weight), yet consumes about 20% of our daily glucose intake! Kinda reminds you of the annoying old adage, “You are what you eat”, right?

The mammalian brain depends on glucose (a simple sugar) as its main source of energy, and our brains require an astoundingly large amount to run efficiently.

Most importantly, though: not all glucose is the same.

  • You’re shooting yourself in the foot with sugar. You might get a quick energy high from a sweet candy bar or pastry, but it will be followed by a drop in your glucose (also known as a sugar crash) and you'll be left feeling spacey, tired, irritable, and probably reaching for another sweet thang to keep the vicious cycle going.
  • Find some kind of healthy snack that you can’t get enough of. You’ll be rewarded with a longer-lasting and more stable energy level from nuts (try freshly roasting them at home), fruits, dark chocolate (heck, dip your fruits in dark chocolate!), fatty fish (like salmon and tuna), berries, and oats. These snacks are full of essential vitamins and rich in soluble fibers that not only give you glucose, but also help you regulate it (along with other handy benefits like improving your cholesterol, heart health, and digestion).

According to the World Health Organization, you can actually boost your brainpower by as much as 20% by eating the correct foods. What I’m hearing here is that we can get smarter while snacking! Win-win!

If you don't have a window or natural light in your office, simply bringing in a potted plant or changing your lightbulb can make a big difference in your work productivity.

If you don't have a window or natural light in your office, simply bringing in a potted plant or changing your lightbulb can make a big difference in your work productivity.

3. Your Office Design Might Be Too Artificial

A report on Biophilic Design studied 7,600 workers from 16 countries and found that when an employee had a natural element in their workspace, they had a 15% higher feeling of well-being, 6% higher level of productivity, and were 15% more creative. That’s a lot of potential benefits from simply bringing a plant to work!

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Read More From Toughnickel

Natural light and darkness patterns each day/night also help regulate our circadian rhythms; this is crucial for good sleep, and therefore good focus and attention. If you don't have access to a window/natural light in your office, try switching out your light bulbs to halogen bulbs. Halogen bulbs have the closest approximation to natural daylight which can help keep you awake and alert (bonus: they also use approximately 10–20% less energy than incandescent bulbs).

Serene: The App for Laser Focus

4. Your Smartphone or Tablet Is a Big Problem

These days, checking your phone many times in an hour is nothing unusual; in fact, it's the norm. A recent study shows that millennials are on their smartphones for up to 18 hours a day (yikes).

Fun fact: humans can't actually give their full attention to more than one task at a time. "When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so," says Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT. No matter how much of a multi-tasking wizard you think you are, you will never do your best when your attention is divided.

Need help with self-control? There’s an app for that! Sometimes, getting outside assistance when you need laser-sharp focus for a project can really help a lot. With apps like Freedom or Serene, you can schedule your "free time" on all of your devices and block yourself from accessing frivolous time-stealers like social media, messaging, and YouTube during work hours.

FocusWriter App: Clear Screen, Clear Mind

5. You Gotta Clean Up Your Computer Desktop Screen

It seems like a small detail, keeping your computer desktop screen clutter-free… but it's not. We all have that friend who has so many files on their desktop that we gasp because you can’t even see their screen. That’s at the extreme end of the clutter spectrum, but most of us are still guilty of a lesser-kind of clutter.

According to Psychology Today, there are a few reasons why having a messy screen decreases productivity:

  • It distracts us by bombarding our minds with extra stimuli
  • It makes it more difficult to relax
  • It creates feelings of guilt

Of course, keeping your workspace organized while juggling hectic work and life schedules is not always easy. Luckily, there are a few great apps to the rescue.

OneTab

This extension on Google Chrome converts all of your open tabs in your browser into one list. This instantly streamlines the look of your browser, saves your computer's battery power, and bonus: the list is shareable. When you want to reopen a tab, you simply restore it.

FocusWriter

This app uses a hide-away user interface that simplifies your desktop to a tranquil workspace in seconds. It's ideal for when you don’t want to overhaul your whole computer, but need to focus on just one project and shut out all other distractions.

Bonus Productivity Work Hack: Get Up and Walk Around

No matter which way you choose to tackle increasing your productivity, don't forget one of the most overlooked strategies: remember to take at least a few small breaks a day to rest your eyes and stretch your muscles by walking.

If you struggle to remember to take breaks, try placing your water bottle, snacks, lunch, and phone across the room—that way, whenever you need one of those things, you have to stand up and walk at least a few steps!

If you can't find any motivation to be productive after taking these steps, you might want to consider finding a new job that you truly enjoy, or checking out more science-based hacks by Dr. Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist and professor at Stanford University School of Medicine.

YES! Nothing feels better than completing a project and doing it well. Rock on!

YES! Nothing feels better than completing a project and doing it well. Rock on!

References

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Jasmine Hanner

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