I started ProductivityReport to bridge the gap between research and practice related to personal productivity. My hunch was that we are being fed false information about what to do to maximize our productivity that’s not grounded in real research, and that the real research that does exist doesn’t get enough attention because the findings aren’t ripe for sexy headlines. My aim is to help people make sense of what they can do to be the productive person they want to be, and to make sure their decisions are based on facts.
Here are six of the most important facts and myths I’ve uncovered so far:
Email ruins productivity. Email is just as bad for personal productivity as we always thought, if not worse. The problem is email itself, but rather that it interrupts us continuously throughout the day. To that end, the popular alternative-to-email communication tool Slack is just as guilty. The best remedy is one that remains wildly unpopular, but that truly productive people have always sworn by: Shut email while you work. Open email at dedicated intervals during the day. Set time aside to process email, and the rest of the time, leave it and other notifications off.
Sleep is extremely important to productivity. Yup, and duh. I think people know how important sleep is to their productivity (and health, and happiness…) but don’t like to hear about it because fixing bad sleep is as hard as losing weight. It requires lifestyle changes, and often it even requires losing weight—sleep apnea is strongly correlated with being overweight or obese.
You need a minimum of 7 hours of sleep every night. How much sleep a person needs varies based on the individual, but it’s likely to be at least seven hours a night. And it has to be consistent. In a really good sleep experiment, researchers found that people who consistently slept only six hours per night for two weeks straight had the cognitive skills of someone who was forced to stay away for two days straight! The only real difference was that the people who slept six hours a night thought they were fine. They didn’t know they were bombing their performance tests. t can’t even get across how alarming that fact is. In the same study, people who were allowed to sleep up to eight hours a night consistently had the highest performance.
Social media is a productivity killer. Nope! While some people get distracted by social media and online surfing, the number of seconds people spend doing it while at work or when asked to complete a computerized task turns out to be fairly small, according to a few studies. In talking with representatives from RescueTime, a company that makes time-tracking software that monitors which apps and websites you use, most people’s worries about Facebook and Twitter hurting their productivity are nowhere near the real hit they take from using email throughout the day.
Rainy days lower sour mood, sap our energy, and make us less productive. Nope! Office workers tend to get a lot more done on days when the weather is rainy or snowy, or when the temperature is extreme, either super hot or cold. Sunny, comfortable days, on the other hand, caused productivity to drop in all the studies I’ve read.
We should never ever multitask. Once again, let me give a big old “Nope!” to that one. I don’t know who started the war on multitasking, but it was clearly someone who didn’t want to look at what a complicated issue multitasking is. When people multitask in the right way and to the right degree, they are wildly more productive than when they don’t multitask at all. Very often, multitasking has to do with making efficient use of wait times. When we hand off a task to another colleague, should we really sit and wait for it to return while doing nothing else just to keep our brain fresh and alert to the project and its nuances? Clearly, no. If we are required to be in a meeting that really isn’t useful, should we really hang on every word spoken and not catch up on email? No, no, no. As long as people are sensible about what kind of multitasking they’re doing and how much, it is absolutely productive to do it.