3 Brain-Based Productivity Hacks...to help you refocus and get back on the path to success!

article productivity

1. Refresh Your Attention

Being able to sustain our attention on a single task for long periods of time, without distraction, can be frustratingly difficult. As Josh Davis in his book Two Awesome Hours says "That's because our brains are constructed to respond to distractions".

He goes on to say "From an evolutionary perspective, it's hard to imagine how we could have survived otherwise. Detecting approaching people, animals, flying objects, and so on is a straight forward survival strategy, whereas staying focused on one thing without keeping on eye on potential dangers would leave us fairly exposed."

With a brain built for distraction, how do we stay productive?

One solution would be to remove as many distractions as possible. The problem is our brain will continue to look for new and novel things to be distracted by. So why not just give in to distractions, strategically.

This can be accomplished by refreshing our attention, by letting our mind wander from time to time. Look out the window at the trees swaying in the breeze.

Drift off into thought for a brief moment, perhaps about what you will cook for dinner or who you will meet up with later in the day.

Brief periods of mind wandering can help us be more creative and productive

Oddly, brief periods of mind wandering can actually be very helpful. In one study participants whose mind wandered the most during a short break from a creative problem-solving task came up with more creative solutions the next time they had to complete the task.1

Those who were asked to do a cognitively-demanding task during the break, those were asked to rest during the break, and those with no break at all, showed no improvement in the experiment.

While we may not always be able to sustain attention for long periods of time on a single task, we can maintain consistent productivity by allowing our mind to wander briefly, by refreshing our attention, and by taking short attention breaks when we need to.

2. Go For a Walk

Walking is known to have many health benefits, but it can also increase our productivity too.

In one fascinating experiment, researchers investigated the effect of video-game play, exercise-game play, and walking, on cognitive control.2 This was done with a neuro-electric assessment and attention task.

Participants completed four sessions of 20 minutes of activity: seated rest, seated video-game play, exercise-game play (Wii-Fit), and a treadmill exercise, followed by cognitive testing (once their heart rate had returned to within 10% of pre-activity levels).

The experiment found that participants had improved attentional control while dealing with distractions after a single walking exercise session, on a treadmill. No changes were found in the video-game play or exercise-game play.

In a world where we are constantly dealing with distractions, a quick walk may help us to re-focus, so we can get back to working on what matters most to us.

3. Brighten Up Your Work Space

Exposure to light at night, particularly the blue wavelength variety from bright indoor lighting, laptop and phone screens, can suppress our brain's release of our sleep-inducing neurohormone, melatonin. However, exposure to bright light during the day, ideally from nature's rays, can help us be more productive.

In one experiment, office workers on two different floors, who engaged in similar types of work, were exposed to two different types of lighting.3

The study found that the blue-enriched white light improved subjective measures of alertness, positive mood, performance, evening fatigue, irritability, concentration, and eye discomfort. Daytime sleepiness was also reduced, and the quality of subjective nocturnal sleep improved.

By creating a brightly-lit working environment, preferably from natural lighting, we not only get a mood boost, but our ability to be productive may be increased too. Just remember to dim the lights and avoid blue wavelength light at night, so you can get a good night's sleep.

1. Baird, Benjamin & Smallwood, Jonathan & Mrazek, Michael & Kam, Julia & Franklin, Michael & Schooler, Jonathan. (2012). Inspired by Distraction: Mind Wandering Facilitates Creative Incubation. Psychological science. 23. 1117-22.
2. O'Leary, Kevin & Pontifex, Matthew & R Scudder, Mark & L Brown, Michael & Hillman, Charles. (2011). The effects of single bouts of aerobic exercise, exergaming, and videogame play on cognitive control. Clinical neurophysiology : official journal of the International Federation of Clinical Neurophysiology. 122. 1518-25.
3. Viola, Antoine & M James, Lynette & Schlangen, Luc & Dijk, Derk-Jan. (2008). Blue-enriched white light in the workplace improves self-reported alertness, performance and sleep quality. Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health. 34. 297-306

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