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5 Simple Scientific Ways to Be More Productive

By Adam C. Uzialko, B2B Staff Writer
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Productivity tips
Credit: kan_chana/Shutterstock

A business only runs as well as its employees, but, unfortunately, it's easy for people to become stressed or sidetracked. Luckily, science can help you conquer some of the influences that make your employees feel sluggish and help them perform at peak capacity.

Whether it's small details like interior design and color or workflow processes like when and how employees take breaks, organizing the workplace has a lot to do with the overall productivity of your employees. Some of it depends on their personal behaviors, but much of it depends on the workplace environment you, as an employer, provide.

Here are five simple, proven ways to increase productivity in the workplace.

Let in natural light

Let the sunshine in. Employers can boost productivity in the workplace by ensuring their employees are exposed to plenty of natural light throughout the day. This is especially important for employees who find themselves in an office every day, stuck at a desk beneath the glow of fluorescent lights.

Research from the Interdepartmental Neuroscience program at Chicago's Northwestern University shows that employees who worked in offices with windows were exposed to 173 percent more white light than those who worked in windowless offices, according to Psychology Today. The study also found that employees working in windowed offices slept an average of 46 minutes more per night, experienced better sleep quality and reported higher quality of life scores than those who did not. Employees working in windowless offices reported more sleep disturbances and daytime dysfunction. This is because the lack of natural light can disrupt your body's circadian rhythms and even cause seasonal affective disorder.

If your office or cubicle doesn't have a window nearby, you can purchase light boxes or therapy lamps that mimic natural outdoor light.

Decorate with the right colors

It might seem minor, but decorating and painting with the right colors can make all the difference. A splash of color instead of all white or off-white walls could brighten the atmosphere and psychologically spur your employees on, even if they don't realize it.

A University of Texas study that looked at the impact of color on productivity found that white walls are bad for productivity and quality of work. The study tested three groups of people by having them work in three different colored rooms – red, aqua and white. Subjects made more errors in the white room than in the other colored rooms, Fast Company reported.

"White doesn't help us be productive, and most work environments are white, off-white or gray," said researcher Nancy Kwallek, noting that shades of blue or blue-green seem to be the best choices for an office color scheme.

Another study by the University of British Columbia found that red can increase performance in employees with detail-oriented assignments, while blue is calming and promotes creativity and communication. Green is also great for inspiring creativity and innovation; however, yellow can cause anxiety and frustration, and gray can lead to energy loss and depression. [10 Inspiring Must-Follow Home Office Pinterest Boards]

Try taking 'coffee naps'

You might be asking yourself "What is a coffee nap?" It's exactly what it sounds like. A coffee nap is a 15- to 20-minute snooze session that follows a cup of coffee. It might seem like dosing up with caffeine just to take a nap defeats the purpose, but there's a scientific reason as to why coffee naps make us bounce back more productive than before.

Drinking a cup of coffee and then taking a nap is helpful for a few reasons, according to Vox. Caffeine works by blocking adenosine (high levels of adenosine make you feel tired) in the brain to keep you awake, but it can't block adenosine from all your brain's receptors. That's where the nap comes in, as sleep also naturally clears adenosine from the brain. Napping for 15 to 20 minutes ensures that you'll get a little rest without falling into a deep sleep, and you'll wake up just in time for the caffeine to start kicking in (with less adenosine in the way.)

A study from the Sleep Research Laboratory at Loughborough University in England found that the combination of caffeine and a short nap was more effective in combatting drowsiness and driving impairments than caffeine or naps alone, Vox reported.

And a study from Hiroshima University found that the combination was the most effective for increasing performance, with the effects lasting for about an hour upon waking up. So, employers, you may want to invest in a nap room.

Try new seating arrangements

You never know what kind of innovation and refreshment a simple change of seating could lead to. Changing where your employees sit can boost creativity and productivity, according to Christian Catalini, assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management. Catalini told the Wall Street Journal that grouping workers together by department can foster focus and efficiency, but mixing them up can also lead to innovation.

Sigal Barsade, a University of Pennsylvania management professor, said that workers' dispositions can actually be contagious, so grouping people based on their temperament can really have an impact on a company's work environment.

"People literally catch emotions from one another like a virus," Barsade said, adding that if you want to cheer up a stressed-out employee, grouping that worker with cheerful, energetic employees is the best strategy.

The Wall Street Journal also reported on several companies that have experimented with different seating arrangements and have seen interesting results. Representatives from HubSpot found that grouping their executives together made employees feel like they were too far removed from the company, for example. And Kayak.com's co-founder Paul English found that placing new hires in specific areas based on their personalities and work habits could really change the dynamic of different groups in the office.

Take breaks together

Breaks aren't just important from a compliance standpoint, they're essential to boosting productivity as well. And, as it turns out, taking a break with your co-workers can have a huge, positive impact on your performance, as opposed to taking your breaks alone.

When co-workers take their breaks together, it often decreases stress and leads to an increase in productivity as a result, according to a study conducted by Humanyze (formerly Sociometric Solutions), a Massachusetts-based management services business. The study, which tracked employees at a Bank of America call center for three months, found a 15 to 20 percent bump in productivity, a decrease in turnover (from 40 to 12 percent,) and a 19 percent drop in stress levels among employees who were allowed to take breaks together. These communal breaks gave employees the opportunity to let off steam and share tips about customer service, Phys.org reported.

Ben Waber, the co-founder and president of Humanyze, told Phys.org that changes like this can produce, on average, a 20 percent boost in employee satisfaction and productivity as well as a similar decrease in turnover.

So whether it means redecorating the office a bit or allowing employees the space for mid-day socializing or coffee naps, employers can leverage these scientific findings to improve the productivity of their workplace. Offering nap rooms or multiple out-of-office breaks isn't just nice, it's scientifically proven to make your business run more efficiently, reduce turnover and keep your employees more productive for longer periods of time.

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