The science behind staying productive

Entrepreneurs are mildly obsessed with ‘GTD’, explains CafePod co-founder Peter Grainger. That’s Getting Things Done, for the uninitiated. From sleep pods in shared workspaces to adopting the Pomodoro technique, productivity is our number one goal. We want to be the best versions of ourselves in the most efficient way.

It makes sense. It’s hard for anyone running a business, whether it’s a kitchen table start-up or a global brand, to find the ‘off switch’ so we want to make sure we’re being as productive as possible. We are all searching for something that can help us take some more time back, or get more done in the time we have.

A quick look at the app store shows literally thousands of apps dedicated to productivity offering us new ways to manage our email, to-do lists, calendar and even sleep patterns.

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But what if there were other ways in which we could be boosting productivity, which tapped into our own biology? Mark Zuckerberg famously revealed the reason why he wears the same outfit everyday - simply so he can avoid ‘decision fatigue’ and retain his energy to focus on the challenges of his day job. Understanding how our body reacts to things in our daily routine, and why, could help supercharge our energy levels.

We’ve been working with a scientist, Dr Owen Bain, on science-backed ways to hack our own productivity with just a few tweaks to our daily routine.

Supercharge your caffeine fix

Most of us are reaching for that first cup of coffee before anything else in the morning, but if you’re looking for a pick-me-up, drinking it too soon could be counterproductive. Drinking a coffee as soon as we wake up doesn’t actually give us a boost as our bodies still contain a stress hormone, cortisol, that only starts to decrease after an hour, so make that espresso at least an hour after you wake.

It's a good idea to time your coffee according to when you need it most. Peak performance is reached 20 minutes after a cup of coffee, when you’ll have increased concentration and be less likely to make mistakes. If you’re looking for an extra boost, it’s worth checking the blend - Robusta beans contain almost twice the amount of caffeine compared to Arabica.

Pick the right soundtrack

It’s not uncommon to find people ‘plugged in’ to their favourite tunes when they need to focus. It’s a good idea. In a study, it was proven that people who listen to music actually completed tasks faster and were more creative than those who didn’t. Why? Simply because music improved their mood. When you are in a positive mood you are more likely to enter a flow state when lots of work can be accomplished. A study from Stanford University also showed that music actually engages the area of the brain involved in paying attention and making predictions. But don't just put any old track on - the type of music you choose also has a big effect on how productive you are: songs that don't contain lyrics will give you an extra boost.

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Too much sugar can kill your focus

Ever felt the lull of a sugar crash? I’m the first person to reach for something sweet and the temptation is so much greater when we’re tired, but the low that follows the high is a productivity killer. When we eat sugary foods, it hits our blood stream quickly, leading to a surge in insulin. When that drops, we crash and so does our concentration.

While your brain is only two per cent of your body weight, it uses 25 per cent of the body’s energy consumption so you need to keep it well fuelled. Dr Bain asserts that the brain needs a steady supply of glucose so it's better to snack on nuts or seeds throughout the day. They’re healthier for you and give a slow release of energy.

Take a break

It’s the oldest rule in the book, but taking time out is more important than ever in our hyperconnected ‘always on’ world. Unsurprisingly, blood flow to the brain is reduced when you sit for long periods of time, meaning you’re not able to work as effectively. So try to get up at regular intervals, at least every two hours to stop your brain actually going into sleep mode.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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