Many of us spend our working lives in a state of sensory bamboozlement – juggling endless to-do lists, while practising mindless online procrastination. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Honing productivity is actually very simple – you just have to put the science into practice:
Work in blocks
According to the ultradian rhythm theory, our brains are only able to stay focussed for up to 90 minutes at a time. We are therefore better able to manage our energy levels for longer periods if we take regular breaks throughout the day.
Working in blocks of 20 – 30 minutes – and taking a short break in between – has been found to make you more focussed, while cutting out the desire to procrastinate. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that has been designed using this science – for 25 minutes you turn off all possible distractions and work on only one thing. After your first “pomodoro”, you take a five minute break and repeat the process two more times.
Exercise for seven minutes every day
We are all aware of – even if some choose to ignore – the fact that exercise is good for overall happiness and wellbeing. What some may not know, however, is that it’s also been proven to be excellent for productivity.
Recent research on mice has found that regular exercise helps slow down the brain’s ageing and deterioration process and will help keep you sharper for longer. For freelancers, this is both fabulous and frightening – fab because you can take your exercise break at home without looking like a fool running laps around the office; frightening because there is no excuse not to.
To help you on your way, the New York Times has compiled The Scientific 7-minute Workout, designed to deploy only your body weight, a wall and your trusty desk chair to give you a high intensity workout – all based on science. Can’t argue with them apples.
Wake up early and avoid the snooze button
Waking up early is a productivity method favoured by a wide range of insanely successful folk. Franklin, Obama, Branson and Darwin have all shunned the slutty lie-in by developing what Robin Sharma refers to as “mind over mattress.”
Waking up one hour earlier each day will gain you fifteen days in a year – suddenly you have time to tackle all those tasks that you generally never quite get round to. The perils of the snooze button have also been linked to reduced productivity. This great video by ASAPscience shows that fragmented sleep first thing in the morning actually leaves you feeling more tired:
“Fragmented sleep [that happens if we snooze] is much less restorative and leads to sleepiness related daytime impairment. By breaking up those last 30 minutes of sleep, you are more likely to feel tired and perform poorly during the day.”
Research shows taking very short naps throughout the day leads to improvement in cognitive function, creative thinking and memory performance. In particular, research has shown that the learning process benefits from napping by helping us take in and retain information better.
This technique is not so appropriate for the office dweller, who very probably can’t just peace out to snore upon their keyboard, but is a very viable option for freelancers. Napping will not only help you avoid burning out but is beneficial for solidifying memories and helping us retain new information.
Develop a daily routine
According to Parkinson’s law, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” and with so many daily distractions, this is likely a sad fact of many people’s working lives. As freelancers, it’s even more difficult because there is no definitive cut-off point from which to leave the office and head home. Instead, you must take control of your working routine.
Developing a daily routine is a brilliant way of sectioning out each day and prioritising tasks, while setting time limits, taking breaks and practising all of the nifty tips that have previously been discussed. Routines also help to condition the brain to concentrate on specific things at specific times throughout the day.
Many of history’s greatest thinkers followed very specific routines and by creating your own system, you will find that you not only become a more productive person but also eliminate the stresses that come skipping along beside a chaotic and disorganised working life.