There is a lot of advice these days about how to be more productive, such as getting up earlier to start your day, meditating, cutting out sweets and caffeine and dumping your smartphone.
But do any of these strategies really work?
Chris Bailey decided to find out. After graduating from college and receiving two full-time job offers, he instead opted to spend a year trying out various productivity advice to see what worked.
His conclusion: Much of the productivity advice out there is bunk.
“I interviewed a lot of so-called productivity gurus, but most really aren’t,” he says.
In his new book chronicling his project, Bailey says he found some of the most helpful advice came from successful executives.
“What I discovered is that these people are the most deliberate about what they do. Even on a moment-to-moment basis,” he says. “They don’t work faster or longer – they’re just really focused on what is important.”
He also discovered that many people confuse “busyness” – such an dealing with emails – with productivity. “When busyness doesn’t lead you to accomplish anything, then that’s laziness,” he says.
So what other habits or strategies don’t lead to productivity? Among the experiments Bailey tried:
- Working more, sleeping less. For every hour of sleep you give up, you lose at least two hours of productivity.
- Giving up caffeine. When you drink caffeine habitually, your productivity eventually flatlines after your body adapts to how much caffeine you consume. But when you don’t give it up completely and drink it strategically, your productivity jumps because you benefit from bringing more energy and attention to the task.
- Living in isolation for 10 days. Bailey says this is the experiment he learned from the most because he came to realize that “without people around me, my motivation to get work done plummeted.” Without social connections, research has shown workers are less happy, engaged and driven to accomplish more at work.
- Working longer hours. While working 90-hour weeks, Bailey discovered that he accomplished “only a bit more” than when he worked 20-hour weeks. “When you work consistently long hours, or spend too much time on tasks, that’s usually not a sign that you have too much to do – it’s a sign that you’re not spending your energy and attention wisely.”
- Starting work at 5:30 a.m. Bailey – a self-professed night owl – found that he was groggy the first two hours of his day and got tired of missing out on time with friends because he had to go to bed early. Research shows there is “absolutely no difference in socioeconomic standing between someone who is an early riser and someone who is a night owl – we are all wired differently, and one routine is not inherently better than another.”
On the other hand, Bailey found there were several productivity tips that were valuable: