Productivity Tricks

7 Surprisingly Simple Tricks to Get More Done (Backed by Science!)

Sarita Harbour

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 if you work from home the comings and goings of family members 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, background conversations can distract you from the task at hand. 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 coffee shop (if you can) where a steady stream of background noise could be just what you need to concentrate.

|| If you’re ready to invest a little more time into boosting your personal productivity, get our free eBook: 21 Days to Be a More Productive Business Owner Without Losing Sleep or Sanity today. ||

#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.

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 Fewer 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.

joint 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.

Ready for more tips?

Get your free copy of 21 Days to Be a More Productive Small Business Owner. This 26 page eBook will set you on course to minimizing distractions and maximizing productivity. You’ll learn:

• How to find your most productive time of day for certain tasks.
• Ways to identify and cut unnecessary habits and distractions from your life.
• How to expedite business procedures by automating parts of your personal life.
• Why “email pressure” causes stress and decreases your productivity.
• When it’s time to hire a virtual assistant.
• The best strategies for “batching” work to increase your productivity and performance.
• And much more!

Want more insights on how to best run your business? We’d be glad to welcome you as a subscriber to our Small Biz Ahead newsletter. We share guidance on everything from business management and finance to hiring employees and marketing, including more tips on the world of eCommerce.

27 Responses to "7 Surprisingly Simple Tricks to Get More Done (Backed by Science!)"
    • Adriana | October 5, 2022 at 10:46 pm

      Great advice! I used some of them these two weeks. And it worked!

      At some point during the day, I was feeling tired and working slowly. I took a nap, and drank the coffee before the nap. It was perfect! Without the coffee, I was feeling tired after the nap, with the coffee before the nap (20 min), I woke up ready to work again. I put Mozart in the background, finally, I was able to finish all my emails and working on the important ones. Definitely, more water! even I ate less! and I start having more focus!
      Thanks so much for the tips! I’m going for the third week implementing two more. Let’s see how it turn out.
      Thanks again!

      • Small Biz Ahead | October 6, 2022 at 9:02 am

        That’s great, Adriana! Thanks for commenting.

    • Rich Brazill | September 9, 2022 at 7:58 am

      #7 should be “Work fewer hours”, not “less hours”.

      • Small Biz Ahead | September 13, 2022 at 8:57 am

        We just updated it. Thank you!

    • David | July 9, 2021 at 1:57 pm

      #1 Work with Background Noise, Not Distractions

      “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 coffee shop (if you can) where a steady stream of background noise could be just what you need to concentrate.”

      The specific keys are either white noise or pink noise. The noise must be “unintelligible,” unlike music with melodies or human conversations.

      • Small Biz Ahead | July 9, 2021 at 2:02 pm

        This is great advice, David! Thank you for sharing it!

    • Hassan Serhan | July 8, 2021 at 12:32 pm

      Thank you so much for sharing!

      • Small Biz Ahead | July 9, 2021 at 10:35 am

        You’re welcome! Thank you for commenting and reading SBA!

    • lee | July 8, 2021 at 10:16 am

      Drinking coffee right before nap? FANTASTIC

    • Shelia Horvath | August 12, 2020 at 8:56 am

      Great content! Thank you for sharing.

    • Patti Purcell | March 9, 2019 at 10:16 am

      Bama and Janet, I think this article is intended for small business owners, not for employees in general. So these tips are for YOU, not for your employees. I wondered, too, with the tips about “closing your office door” if these are tips for employees at first because so many companies are heading toward open workplace environments and it’s hard to drown out the noise (and they no longer have offices with a door to close). But then if you think of who Hartford’s audience is, it’s small business owners, not their employees.

      Take the ones that work for you and leave the rest behind!

    • Danny Morgan | March 8, 2019 at 1:28 pm

      Great Tips !!!
      I recently brought a jump rope to the office . Ironically , It seems to wake everyone up … hehehe

    • David Watkins | March 6, 2019 at 6:55 am

      I find, especially when I’m out and about running around the city, that pulling over to a quiet section of a large parking lot, kicking the seat back a few notches and running through a simple 10 or 20 minute meditation on #SimpleHabit app works really well. It allows me a little downtime, adds a great re-affirming message in the middle of hectic days and helps to clear the mind from all of the millions of little tag-end items that end up accumulating. Of course the million little items come back to you but they become such brain noise at times that its nice to set them aside and then redress them later on. That app is really fantastic especially for helping to learn the process and then maintain it in bite-sized chunks of time.

    • G. Clare | March 6, 2019 at 6:46 am

      As I build my small consulting business, I am looking for ways to make the concept more focused on future trends (meeting clients’ needs as well) – which is smaller office footprint (i.e., what actually do you need an office for); working around potential employees’ productivity versus “9 to 5” and other steps leading to productivity, efficiency and a culture for the future workforce. Based on the type of work I do, sometimes middle of the day doesn’t make sense to sit at my desk so I do household work then or other things. Not unusual for me to work at 7 am EST and even at midnight/1 am. So I integrate work and life.
      These tips are very helpful.

    • Bama Pinson | August 29, 2018 at 9:44 am

      I agree with Janet. I wouldn’t want my employees to start taking naps at their desks, looking at their phone in the dark for 30 minutes or constantly complaining about the temperature in the office, now stating it affects their productivity.

    • Sandra Bird Aldridge | August 29, 2018 at 7:07 am

      Thanks for the tips! I’m going to start implementing a couple of them today. The background noise tip has been a help to me for years. I’ve never heard about the Coffee Nap (though I am a promoter of power naps/cat naps), and I’ll definitely try that one. It’s too bad more workplaces don’t encourage napping on breaks.

    • leslie | August 28, 2018 at 10:12 pm

      I have used tip number one with some success. You Tube has a number of 8 hour videos that are designed to help relax, improve concentration etc.I have tried “celestial white noise” and “smoothed brown noise” and I do find it helps me focus.

    • Janet Johnson | May 1, 2017 at 4:45 pm

      Many of the suggestions seems unrealistic. Less hours. Working at home. Not feasible.

    • David McIntire | March 24, 2017 at 8:21 pm

      Great tips. Just trying two or three should help my mid-day drag.

    • CPA Mike | March 14, 2017 at 1:38 pm

      Thanks so much!! Will try blue light & water

    • Jayne Jammes | March 7, 2017 at 9:10 pm

      Thank you for these tips! I cannot wait to see if putting some of them in practice helps my productivity, and perhaps makes my day go faster.

      • Elizabeth Larkin | March 8, 2017 at 2:03 pm

        We’re happy you found them helpful. Don’t forget to download the free eBook for more tips.

    • Haley Kostinas | March 7, 2017 at 1:49 pm

      Love your tips! Definitely gets the brain energy flowing thinking of simple ways to improve the day.

    • Haley Kostinas | March 7, 2017 at 1:48 pm

      Loved your tips! Definitely starts the brain energy going just thinking about simple but easy ways to improve the day.

    • Shelby Trinkino | March 7, 2017 at 12:03 pm

      Thank you for the article. Would love to get more information.

    • lisa | March 7, 2017 at 6:14 am

      Thanks so much for this – very helpful!
      Rock on…

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