10 Science-Backed Ways to Boost Your Productivity

You all know the slump. It’s 3 p.m., you just ate lunch and your morning coffee has long since worn off. You’d rather not drink another nasty office brew, but you have a long to-do list without nearly enough check marks. Oh, and your deadline is EOD. Instead of sitting and stewing and working up even more stress, research shows there are simple things that can help increase your productivity—without caffeine. Yup, turns out you totally can accomplish that looming task. Try one of these ten science-backed ways to do it.

1. Cute animals

Who doesn’t love the adorable face and fluffy fur of a puppy or kitty? Well, it turns out the sight of these baby animals can help your work production. A study published in the journal PLoS ONE from Hiroshima University in Japan found that cute pictures of baby animals, including puppies and kittens, can have powerful effects on attention and concentration.

Dog-welcoming offices are even on the rise—companies like Google, Mashable and Amazon have pet-friendly policies that allow non-assistive pooches in their offices on a daily basis. Brb, applying now!

2. Plants

If you’re a plant mom at home, you might want to adopt some little plant babies for work too. Researchers found that when offices were spruced up with leafy green plant life, productivity increased by 15 percent. Over the course of three weeks, the offices reported higher levels of air quality, improved powers of concentration and a general increase in workplace satisfaction. Not sure a plant will survive in your cubicle? First, assess how much light is in your area. Use the compass on your phone to see which way the windows face. If they’re located on the west, you’ll get plenty of sunlight. Otherwise, look for varieties that thrive in the shade.

3. The color blue

A color that you might associate with feeling sad or down is actually quite the opposite. Color and colored lighting—specifically blue—can positively affect productivity, according to research from the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Saturated blue colors were found to increase alertness, especially for those who worked a night shift. The simulated blue light of a daytime sky. If you can, surround your office in this hue—pin up blue paper, change your computer desktop background or purchase your own blue light. You’ll feel awake in no time.

4. Happiness

Okay, this might sound obvious, but a study at the University of Warwick found that happy workers experienced a 12 percent spike in productivity while unhappy workers were 10 percent less productive. Companies that invest in employee support and satisfaction end up with happier, more productive workers. You can boost your own happiness at work in simple ways too—help out a coworker, meditate for a couple of minutes on your lunch break or write down three things you’re thankful for about your job.

5. Music

La, la, la! Step aside, stress, anxiety and depression. Music has the ability to improve efficiency, creativity and happiness in terms of work-related tasks. But the type of music and what’s on your to-do list matter. Listening to music with lyrics can prove to be distracting for many people, so it’s recommended to put on tunes without words, or a white noise station if you need to have steady concentration. However, if you’re working on a mundane or repetitive task, lyrical music can actually provide relief from tedious work. Test it out to see what’s best for you.

6. Dancing

Moving to a good beat can improve cognition and fine motor skills, so if you know a task will require deep concentration for an extended period of time, work in a dance class before getting started. Studies show that a moderate level of cardio activity (like dancing!) can give a huge energy boost, kickstart creativity and increase productivity for two hours afterward. Dancing also reduces depression, anxiety and stress. Just what you need before jumping headfirst into a big project. Plus, not only will it have the immediate effect of helping you get the job done, but a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that dancing can reduce one’s chance of developing dementia later on. That’s a win-win in our book.

7. Napping

Ah, napping. If only you were more acceptable during the typical 9-5 workday. Well, come to think of it, some companies are allowing it! Places like Ben & Jerry’s, Zappos, Uber and Google have installed dedicated nap spaces in their headquarters—and for good reason too. Naps can improve your mood, reaction time, logical reasoning and symbol recognition, according to a review published in the Journal of Sleep Research.

Another study from the University of Michigan discovered that people who woke from a 60-minute midday nap were less impulsive and had a higher tolerance for frustration than those who watched an hour-long documentary. This is because you start to enter R.E.M. sleep—the stage associated with that deep, dreamy state—once you hit that 60-minute mark. While your best bet is a 90-minute nap, which will give you a full sleep cycle, any period of nap can help you stay alert to get through the rest of the day. If you can, sneak out at lunchtime to take a short snooze in your car or a nearby park. You’ll return feeling ready to tackle the rest of the day.

8. Breaks

While it might seem impossible to step away from your desk or email, working for long stretches of time without taking a break can lead to exhaustion and built-up stress. Research found that “aha moments” came more often to those who took breathers. So if you’re feeling totally stuck, run errands for an hour, take 10 minutes to catch up with your coworker about her weekend or watch an inspiring TED talk on YouTube.

And get this: Research by the University of California, Irvine found occasionally “grazing” social sites like Facebook can work as a mood booster and mental palate cleanser and allow you to return to a task feeling refreshed. Don’t feel bad about jumping on Insta every now and again. It could be just the distraction you need.

But you can also take the ultimate break—a vacation. Studies show that long periods of time away from your normal routine can reboot your cognitive energy and let you return able to solve big problems with full attention.

9. Chatting

Got a work wife? Good! Researchers at the University of Michigan found that those who spent 10 minutes making small talk with people in the office could perform significantly better on a cognitive test. The researchers saw improvements specifically in the area of executive functioning, the part of the brain that controls focus, planning, prioritizing and organization.

A separate survey from Globoforce found that 98 percent of respondents said work anniversaries were more positive when publicly acknowledged and celebrated with colleagues. So be an advocate and push for those Thirsty Thursdays and birthday blowouts. They matter for your health!

10. Shorter work hours

Easier said than done, right? Maybe, but research shows working less can lead to greater productivity and happiness overall. A study that followed nurses in Sweden found that the workers in this high-stress profession were happier, healthier and more energetic when they worked six-hour days instead of eight. The nurses also took 4.7 percent fewer sick days and had fewer work absences than when they worked eight-hour days. So take that vacation time, leave when your coworkers leave and remember that the work will always be there when you return. Your happiness is valuable—don’t sacrifice it!


Emily is a recent graduate and proud Midwesterner who just moved to the big city to start her career in magazine journalism. When she isn't commuting between Brooklyn and Manhattan, she enjoys browsing bookstores for her next read, sipping chai tea lattes at local coffee shops, and playing tourist in the city she always dreamed of living in.