How timing can improve productivity

Anna King
16 March 2017
3 minute read

Getting a business off the ground is a monumental undertaking. There's always too much to do and not enough time to do it. Maximising your productivity is essential if you want to hit your deadlines, reach your objectives and stay ahead of the competition.

But in reality, 'maximum productivity' usually feels frustratingly elusive. We're human beings after all and there are inevitably times when we're more tired and less motivated than others, or when the lure of social media and office distractions become too much. Even entrepreneurs can't keep going at top speed for 24 hours a day.

So, rather than trying to force yourself to be productive constantly, why not accept that you're going to have peaks and troughs, and use them to your advantage. Academics have done tonnes of research over the years around the science of productivity and why, when and how we're at our best. This is what they found:

Get in the morning zone: Research by the science writer, Jennifer Ackerman, looked at how productivity is influenced by our circadian rhythm – that's the natural cycle that governs the body's energy levels. She found that the brain is at its most alert between 2.5 and 4 hours after waking up, meaning this is when it's best at problem-solving, creative work and detailed tasks. So be sure to make the most of those mornings!

Want to be more productive? It’s all down to timing The exercise buzz: Various studies have shown the effects of exercise on alertness and productivity, including a study by Jim McKenna from the University of Bristol which showed that after exercising, work performance was consistently higher. Exercise enhances your body's ability to deliver glucose and oxygen around your brain and body, thus increasing your energy level. And you don't need to train for an Iron Man to feel the benefits. A study by the University of Georgia found that low to moderate exercise can boost your productivity as much, if not more, than a high intensity work-out.

Want to be more productive? It’s all down to timingIt's all about the breaks: If you ever feel guilty about stepping away from your desk for a breather – don't. Research by the US Army found that people have better focus and energy when working for 90 minutes followed by a 15 to 20-minute break, as it matches the body's natural rhythm of rest and alertness. Breaks should be used to refocus your brain and replenish your energy, so spend the time doing something away from your computer, such as taking a walk, chatting to a colleague or preparing a healthy snack.

Want to be more productive? It’s all down to timing

The happiness effect: Of course, you're always happy when you're working, right?! Well, here's an incentive to make your workplace an even more fun place to be – a study by The University of Warwick found that happiness makes you work harder. Researchers asked 700 participants to either watch a comedy video or talk about a personal bereavement before starting work. They found that the former group used their time more effectively and increased the pace of their work, without reducing quality.

Want to be more productive? It’s all down to timing

Give yourself more to do: It's often said, 'if you want something done, give it to a busy person', and science now backs this up, showing that being busy can increase motivation and reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a task. Researchers at the University of Columbia analysed data from a popular productivity app and found that those users with the highest number of incomplete tasks finished their work more quickly than those with less on. The busy users were also less fazed by missing deadlines, ploughing on to catch up more quickly. So maybe that bulging 'to do' list isn't such a bad thing after all!

Want to be more productive? It’s all down to timing

What more tips on how to boost your productivity? Then check out our blog on how to squeeze the most out of your day.

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