Getting stuff done and being more productive as a small business owner doesn’t have to be complicated. And when a change requires little effort, it’s easier to stick with than one that requires a lot of preparation or special tools. In fact, you’ll find that some of these productivity-boosters are simple enough to try as soon as you’re finished reading this, and their effectiveness is backed by science. So here are seven simple tricks to becoming more productive – starting now.
#1 Work with Background Noise, Not Distractions
Have you ever found it hard to concentrate at work because of noise? Maybe your employees’ telephone conversations catch your attention from the next office. Or perhaps the comings and goings of customers in your shop, though necessary and welcomed, interrupt your focus. Instead of wishing for a quieter workplace, why not add some more noise? Science says it may help.
As recently reported by Time Magazine, researchers from Yamaguchi University in Japan discovered that while background noise is conducive to productivity, office noise like conversations distracts you from the task at hand. So instead of donning earplugs at work, close your office door. Try using headphones and play some gentle, constant background noise such as music without lyrics or nature sounds to boost productivity when you have a noisy workplace. And if that fails, head to a busy coffee shop where a steady stream of background noise could be just what you need to concentrate.
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#2 Grab a Coffee Nap or a Catnap
If you’re like many sleep-deprived small business owners, you may feel you’re just too busy to get the suggested 7 to 8 hours of sleep nightly. And forget about adding a daytime nap — who has time? Yet if you’re looking for a cheap and easy way to boost productivity, a 20-30 minute midday-nap could be the answer – especially if it’s a coffee nap.
A coffee nap simply refers to drinking a cup of coffee then sleeping for about 20 minutes. Though it’s a stimulant that can improve reaction time, the caffeine in coffee takes about 20 minutes to hit your system. And sleeping reduces brain chemical adenosine which accumulates when we’re awake and can contribute to brain fog. Caffeine works by inhibiting the adenosine receptors. So napping while giving the caffeine from your coffee time to kick in could make you alert, focused, and ready to work when you wake up.
Even if coffee isn’t your thing, a catnap on it’s own could do the trick. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that napping in the workplace effectively boosts productivity. The recent study of 40 subjects found that those who napped were better able to “persevere through difficult or frustrating tasks.” In other words, they could power through their tasks and were therefore more productive than those who didn’t nap.
#3 Stay Home
Sometimes the best way to get work done is to avoid going to work at all. Instead, stay home with your laptop, tablet, and/or cell phone for a productive work session.
According to a new survey of 509 full-time remote workers by workplace engagement firm TINYPulse, a whopping 91 percent of remote workers believe they’re more productive working from home.
So why not give it a try and stay home one morning or day a week? As long as your family members are away at school or work (or advised that you cannot be interrupted unless someone is bleeding or something is on fire), this could let you work in a distraction-free environment. Take the opportunity to focus without interruption while you finish up an important project or even strategize your next business expansion.
#4 Crank Up The Heat
One of the fastest things you can do to boost productivity for yourself and your staff is to simply adjust the temperature of your workspace. A story published by the Association for Psychological Science (APS) reported that studies show a relationship between cold offices and lower productivity.
In fact, multiple studies going as far back as the 1940s have shown a warmer temperature increases productivity, and that workplace temperature even impacts our perception and language.
Traditionally, men’s body heat was the basis for typical office temperature settings, however a recent study published in Nature Climate Change found that women generally have a metabolic rate 20 to 32 percent lower than men. So if you’re a woman, turning up the heat may help boost your productivity. But don’t turn it up too much — science says that an environment that’s too hot (over 77 degrees Fahrenheit or 25 degrees Celsius) can actually impede your productivity, according to the APS.
#5 Drink More Water
While you’re probably aware of the health benefits of drinking more water, did you know that increasing your water intake could also make you more productive?
While severe dehydration has long been linked to impaired cognitive ability, more recent studies have found a surprising link between mild dehydration and our ability to focus, which in turn helps us work more efficiently.
According to a report in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism, scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College’s Brain & Mind Research Institute found that mild dehydration (defined as “water loss below 5 percent of our body weight”) interferes with the increased blood flow necessary for proper neural activity. Feeling even a little thirsty means you may fall short of your peak productivity.
So despite the added breaks that drinking more water may add to your day, keeping hydrated could help stave off brain fog and improve your mental focus so you can get more done.
#6 Get a Blue Light
If you find yourself succumbing to brain fog after lunch and can’t nap at work, try a midday blue light brain boost, say scientists. For the same reasons you shouldn’t check your phone, laptop, or tablet right before bed (it makes it harder to get to sleep), blue-light exposure can make you more alert and attentive, which boosts productivity.
A June 2016 study from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine published in the scientific journal Sleep found that subjects exposed to blue light in a darkened room finished cognitive tasks more quickly than the control group. What’s even more interesting is that the subjects only needed 30 minutes of blue light exposure, and that the effect continued on for more than another 30 minutes after the exposure ended. So schedule a blue-light break right before you turn your attention to difficult or complicated tasks that need your complete attention.
#7 Work Less Hours
The six-hour workday seems to be boosting productivity in Sweden, so why not here?
In recent years, several news outlets such as CNN, the BBC and the New York Times have reported that increasing numbers of businesses in Sweden are experimenting with 6-hour workdays. While the idea was to improve work-life balance, the shorter workday seems to increase productivity. And scientific studies back up the anecdotal claims in these news stories — that when we work fewer hours each day, we are more focused and productive.
A joint 2014 study between Stanford University and the Institute for the Study of Labor found a non-linear relationship between output and hours worked in the performance of female munitions workers. So at some point, known as “threshold hours,” the relationship between hours and output changes, and output declined as the number of hours worked increased. In layman’s terms, our productivity changes after working a certain number of hours, suggesting we are actually most productive when we work fewer hours.
So though it may seem counter-intuitive, working less hours each day could boost your productivity.
Becoming more productive at work doesn’t necessarily require hiring an expensive efficiency expert, drastically changing your routine, or investing in a time-consuming course. And while not all of these tricks may work with your lifestyle, work style, or personality, why not give them a shot? Trying just one or two at a time requires little investment of time and money, and they’re easy to scrap or change if they aren’t working.