Research by Gallup shows that a whopping 70 percent of American employees are not working to their full potential, and this affects the American economy to the tune of $550 billion annually. When we also consider the fact that approximately 10 percent of the American workforce is self-employed, we realize that the true cost of lost productivity to America in general is much higher.
There’s been a host of research on how the brain works, and how this knowledge can be used to be more productive. Here are a few scientifically proven ways to boost your productivity.
1. Sensory Adaptation and the Importance of Habits
One of the most powerful, psychologically-proven ways to boost your productivity is by tapping into the power of sensory adaptation (also known as neural adaptation).
Sensory adaption explains why your body naturally adapts to something that was initially “hot” or “freezing cold” after exposure to it for a while, why you naturally don’t notice a particular sound, even if offensive, once you’ve been hearing it for a long time. There’s a kicker, though: this only applies to unchanged stimuli. Once the stimuli – the sound you’re hearing, the action you’ve been conditioned not to notice, etc. – changes suddenly, sensory adaptation will weaken and you’ll start to notice that stimuli again. You can also leverage this fact to boost your productivity by conditioning yourself to do tasks you feel are essential until they become a part of you; akin to developing a routine, you get to work on that task everyday no matter how you feel.
To get the best productivity gains, make sure you do the same task at the same time, consistently and for a prolonged period of time. This could be exercising, writing or some other personal or professional goal; just like the uncomfortable blaring sound that you eventually adapt to, or the moderate hotness or coldness your body adapts to, you might find a task very difficult at first but in no time, sensory adaption kicks in and it becomes a habit you find yourself naturally doing it.
2. Tap into Social Learning Theory to Influence Good Behavior and Consistent Productivity
According to Albert Bandura, learning is a cognitive process that can be influenced purely through observation in a social context; essentially, when we observe others who we feel are similar to us do certain tasks, especially if there’s a visible reward or punishment for their actions, our observation of their actions can influence us to do the same actions. This is called social learning theory. Bandura proved this concept through the famous “Bobo doll experiment” that he conducted in the 60s: A group of children were allowed to individually observe an adult play with a Bobo doll; the action of the adult towards the Bobo doll can be classed as aggressive or non-aggressive. The children were then isolated and observed for a while. The studies revealed, consistently and predictably, that children who were exposed to aggressive adult models were more likely to show aggressive behavior once they are alone and vice versa.
Here are other key facts about the study that you should know:
- The sex of the adult model played a major role in the actions of the children; boys were more aggressive when exposed to aggressive male models compared to when exposed to female models. This applied to the girls as well.
- The children’s behavior was consistent whether they were live with the adult models or whether they observed the adult model on TV.
- Rewards and punishments influenced the behavior of the children after observing the adult models; when the children saw an aggressive adult model punished, they were less likely to be aggressive and vice-versa.
From this experiment, we can conclude that:
- The people you observe can influence your productivity a great deal. You will be more productive when you watch motivational talks and people performing extraordinary feats than if you spend all day watching Keeping up with the Kardashians or other “reality” TV shows.
- It is important that the people you observe are similar to you.They are more likely to motivate you if you feel you have something in common than if you perceive them to be much different.
- Furthermore, if you can identify a clear reward that the people you observe have for their lifestyle – money, fame, success, happiness, etc, –you are likely to be more productive since you can see that they were rewarded for their productivity.
3. Tap into the Power of Ultradian Rhythms to Give Your Best Work
Do you easily spend 10 hours at a stretch working? Do too much of that and you’ll find yourself burned out in no time. This is due to “ultradian rhythms.” Essentially, it means we are only capable of 90 to 120 minutes of focused work at once. After these 90 to 120 minutes of focused work, we will be in a state of lesser focus, akin to a kind of sleep, where we can only do little.Ignoring this rhythm will burn you out easily. So, tap into your ultradian rhythms to do more productive work. Create a system that allows you to work for about 90 minutes while taking 20-minute breaks and you’ll find that you’re able to do a lot more meaningful work in no time.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.