Feeling Busier Than Ever? Stay Ahead of the Game with These Simple Tricks
Life in the 21st century can be crazy, fun, frenetic, enlightening, and overwhelming all at once. In our professional lives, we’re expected to multitask now more than ever, keeping things interesting but making it hard to stay on top of it all. In our personal lives, we’re expected to stay social both online and off, all while keeping the house clean, the kids fed, the dog groomed, and more. As the cherry on top, we’re exposed to information at an unprecedented rate—it’s almost impossible to ignore the news, and while it’s not a bad idea to stay abreast of current events, the sheer volume of data and opinion to process can be a lot to handle.
If you’re teetering on the edge of burnout and looking for a few ways to rein things in without letting your performance suffer, consider the following five tips.
Productivity Booster 1: Look at Photos of Puppies
No, really. The boost in positive emotions you feel from looking at photos of cute baby animals can help improve how well and how quickly you perform certain tasks.
A trio of 2012 experiments, as summed up in the paper, “The Power of Kawaii,” found that looking at photos of baby animals substantially increased participants’ proficiency at tasks requiring concentration and fine motor skills versus looking at food or “neutral objects.”
And it’s not just fine motor skills that get a boost; according to the results in the second experiment, looking at cute animal photos “also increases carefulness in the perceptual domain.” In this experiment, participants orally communicated the location of a digit within a matrix of digits while under a time limit. They did this twice, over two trials. As in the first experiment, between trials participants were variably exposed to images ranked for cuteness, pleasantness, and excitement. The results show that “the increase in the number of correct trials...was positively correlated with the mean cuteness and infantility rating scores of each participant.”
In other words, those who looked at a picture of something they deemed adorable—like puppies and kittens—between trials did noticeably better on their second trial than those who looked at other types of stimulating imagery; the cuteness boost led to an improvement in both speed and accuracy of perception-based skills.
Productivity Booster 2: Make the Bed Every Morning
Admiral William H. McRaven famously stated in his 2014 UT Austin Commencement Address, “If you wanna change the world, start off by making your bed.” He makes the case for this habit by suggesting that starting off the morning by completing a small task like this gives you a “small sense of pride and will encourage you to do another task...and another...and another.” And so on.
McRaven goes on to note that making the bed reflects a respect for the little things in life, and “If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right.”
Socio-economist Randall Bell, Ph.D.—who’s made a profession of studying success—has a similar opinion on habitual bed making. According to his research, people who make the bed every morning are “206.8 percent more likely to be millionaires.” Like McRaven, Bell links making the bed with getting into a productive mindset.
Judy Dutton over at Psychology Today points out comparable findings from a Hunch.com survey of 68,000 participants. She sums up the results as follows: “71 percent of bed makers consider themselves happy; while 62 percent of non-bed-makers admit to being unhappy. Bed makers are also more likely to like their jobs, own a home, exercise regularly, and feel well rested, whereas non-bed-makers hate their jobs, rent apartments, avoid the gym, and wake up tired.”
While survey data may be seen as, in part, subjective, anecdotal, and correlative (rather than establishing direct causality), these impressive figures are nothing to shrug off. If you’re not a bed maker already, it may be time to give it a go and see how your day progresses.
Productivity Booster 3: Simplify Your Wardrobe
Decision fatigue is real, and it can impact not only how you make choices throughout the day, but your behavior in general. As John Tierney writes in The New York Times Magazine, “The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts.” These shortcuts tend to take one of two forms: reckless, impulsive behavior or avoidance of doing anything at all.
Given the constant barrage of decisions we face in the 21st century, it’s a great idea to look for strategies to minimize daily decision making. One such way may be to purge your wardrobe down to key items you can wear on the daily—no more, no less.
The extreme version of this is known as a “capsule wardrobe,” a term coined by boutique owner Susie Faux. Kathleen Elkins writing for Business Insider paraphrases the idea behind the capsule wardrobe as thus: “A minimal wardrobe composed of 30 to 40 high-quality, versatile items that will meet your needs for a given time amount of time.”
Having personally given the capsule wardrobe idea a spin for a month, Elkins notes that she decided to carry the behavior on beyond her trial period. She found it saved her time, money, and space, all while helping her feel more put together every morning.
As she writes, “I quickly found that choosing what to wear to work each day became infinitely easier, simply because I had so few clothes to choose from. It was also nice knowing that I couldn't really go wrong with my decision—after all, I filled my capsule with my favorite, highest-quality items.”
Elkins goes on to mention famed closet minimalists, Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama, and repeats Obama’s widely shared 2012 statement on his decision to maintain a simple wardrobe: “You'll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I'm trying to pare down decisions. I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
If you’re not ready to pare down your closet as aggressively as Elkins did, at least consider a move toward establishing a “work uniform.” Writing for The New York Times, Brian Moylan cites a 2012 study that links wearing perceived professional attire with an increase in the attentiveness we pay to performing certain tasks. Moylan paraphrases the study’s lead researcher as thus: “When we wear certain clothes, particularly uniforms, we take on the characteristics associated with those uniforms.” Your coworkers take notice, too, and are more likely to treat you accordingly. It all gets back to that age-old wisdom—dress for the job you want, not the job you have.
Moylan goes on to share advice from several other professionals on building the perfect work uniform: keep it simple; keep it appropriate to the office in question (a tech agency will likely have a different “success” look than a corporate office); stick to high-quality pieces; and “customize the details” (for women, invest in some stand-out jewelry pieces; for men, “consider a rotation of lapel pins, colorful socks and shiny shoes to mix things up”).
Productivity Booster 4: Go for a Midday Stroll
I know we recommend establishing a regular exercise regimen a lot here on the SciLife BioSciences blog. We stand by those recommendations and can’t stress enough the importance of getting in some physical activity every day.
To be sure, you don’t always need to pump iron or run a 5k to reap the health benefits of physical activity; something as simple as spending time during your lunch hour to get a quick walk in can have a big impact on your productivity levels.
A recent study out of the University of Birmingham monitored how participants felt after a 30-minute lunchtime walk as compared to a control group who stayed sedentary during this time. The results suggest that “on the afternoons after a lunchtime stroll, walkers said they felt considerably more enthusiastic, less tense, and generally more relaxed and able to cope than on afternoons when they hadn’t walked and even compared with their own moods from a morning before a walk.”
A separate study out of Stanford also breaks down the benefits of walking, noting that location—inside or outside—is less important than the act of walking itself when it comes to helping workers solve problems. The researchers note that 100% of the time, “creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter.”
If you’re struggling to get through a particularly tough problem at work, go for a quick stroll and give those creative, problem-solving juices flowing. It may be just what you need to solve your current work puzzle and get the job done.
Productivity Booster 5: Ensure You’re Getting the Right Nutrients
Eating well is critical for keeping productivity levels high. As Ron Friedman over at Harvard Business Review notes, our brains are fueled by what we eat. As such, “Food has a direct impact on our cognitive performance, which is why a poor decision at lunch can derail an entire afternoon.”
Friedman recommends a number of solutions to make eating well easier, including mapping out restaurant meals in advance, eating small meals throughout the day, and keeping healthy snacks at arm’s reach all day long.
Some may find these strategies easier to implement than others. Habits like Sunday meal prep can go a long way toward ensuring healthy meal choices are on hand throughout the week, but for those who just aren’t ready to go that far with meal planning, it’s worthwhile to at least focus on getting a few key nutrients in to support your brain on day-to-day basis.
The fine folks over at Healthline know the value of fueling your body right and pinpoint some major nutrients to consider when it comes to brain health. After all, poor nutrition can lead to a number of mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression, and more.
Nutrients known “to improve brain health and overall productivity levels” include folate (“found in meat, beans, and greens”), omega-3 fatty acids (“found in fish, flaxseed, walnuts, and some types of eggs”), vitamin C (“found in berries, bell peppers, and citrus fruits”), and vitamin E “found in nuts and vegetable oils”).
Notably, our VitaYears™ Anti-Aging Multivitamin includes three of these four key nutrients for brain health—folic acid (which is, in essence, an easier-to-absorb version of folate), vitamin C and vitamin E. In addition, the Multivitamin—formulated specifically to supplement our busy, multitasking modern-day lifestyles—includes these brain-boosting nutrients and more:
- Vitamin D3 (a deficiency in which has been shown to lead to “reduced employee work productivity”)
- Vitamin B6 (a key nutrient in brain development and hormone regulation)
- Zinc (which may have a positive impact on memory and immune functions)
- Magnesium (which may help with nutrient absorption, anxiety, bone health, and more)
Bring Your Multivitamin into the 21st Century
Life isn’t easy, especially in these modern times when we’ve got more on our plates than ever. The surest way to feel like your best self? Make certain your diet features a full nutritional profile of vitamins and minerals. The VitaYears™ Anti-Aging Multivitamin helps fill in the gaps your diet leaves behind. Featuring more active ingredients than any other on the market, its built for your modern lifestyle.