5 ways to 'trick' your brain into being more productive, according to science

Image: iStock/Tero Vesalainen
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  • Numerous studies have found ways to help us be more productive in less obvious ways.
  • Many of these hacks exploit the unusual quirks of the human brain.
  • Something as simple as looking at pictures of cute animals can give you a small productivity boost.

Whether you’re working from home or in an office, staying productive throughout an entire day can be easier said than done. Sometimes distractions in either environment can get in the way of good work, but it could be a factor you’ve never considered before.

While the human brain is incredibly powerful, it does have its shortcomings. For example, something as simple as the colour of the room you’re in can throw a spanner in your productivity.

Luckily, there some science-backed brain quirks you can exploit to stay productive, even if you’re not necessarily feeling it.

Get plenty of natural light

If you’re feeling a little sluggish or sleepy, getting out of the house for some natural light and fresh air is one way to perk yourself up. A study by Mirjam Muench compared a group of people exposed to natural daylight with a group exposed to artificial light and found that the former was better for productivity.

“Compared to the afternoon, people who had DL (Daylight) were significantly more alert at the beginning of the evening, and subjects who were exposed to AL (Artificial light) were significantly sleepier at the end of the evening,” the study said.

In other words, if you don’t have a window you can work near, get outside as much as you can during breaks.

Don’t get too cold

While you’d be forgiven for thinking that heat is a real productivity killer, working in a cold environment is actually worse. Researchers from Cornell University found that employees in an insurance office made 44 per cent more errors and were half as productive in colder temperatures (20 degrees Celcius) compared to warmer temperatures (25 degrees Celcius).

This happens because the human body uses energy to keep warm in the cold through mechanisms like shivering, for example, which means less energy for concentration.

So if you’re looking to stay productive during the colder months, best keep that heater close.

Put up some pictures of cute animals

It sounds ridiculous, but looking at cute images can actually improve productivity, according to a Japanese study. The research states that “university students performed a fine motor dexterity task before and after viewing images of baby or adult animals” and found that performance improved by 10 per cent after images of cute puppies and kittens were seen.

Taking a moment to stare at some cute animals could very well be the key to a nice little bump in attentional focus.

Greenery can help

Plenty of studies have explored the effects plants can have on office workers, with one 2014 study showing that staff in offices with plenty of greenery are happier than those in offices without them. In fact, offices with plants can increase employee productivity by as much as 15 per cent.

“We know from previous studies that plants can lower physiological stress, increase attention span and improve well-being,” said Kenneth Freeman, Head of Innovation at Ambius — an interior landscaping company involved in the research.

“This is the first long term experiment carried out in a real-life situation which shows that bringing plants into offices can improve well-being and make people feel happier at work. Businesses should rethink their lean processes, not only for the health of the employees but for the financial health of the organisation.”

Try listening to video game music

Some swear by video game music as a working soundtrack and – when you think about it – it makes sense. A lot of the music created for video games is there to keep you focused on what you’re doing, doesn’t contain lyrics and is fairly easy to let settle into the background, all of which can help with productivity.

There might not be any specific research on the genre itself, but does fit into studies that show music is better than silence when it comes to working.

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