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7 Surprising Things That Could Improve Your Productivity

Don't bitch about your colleagues, but do joke around in meetings.

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1. Avoid open offices like the plague.

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There's such a long list of the terrible things that come with working in an open office it's hard to know where to begin. There are more interruptions, you feel more stressed, it's harder to concentrate (one study found that background office noise impaired participants ability to do mental arithmetic), there are fewer opportunities for private conversations, and people take more sick days – all adding up to you not getting as much done as you'd like.

"The open-plan proponents' argument that open-plan improves morale and productivity appears to have no basis in the research literature," write the authors of a paper published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

For many people who work in an open office there's probably no way to get around this easily. But if you can carve out some peace and privacy in a quiet corner, even just for an afternoon, your work will thank you for it.

2. Actually, just stay at home.

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Nicholas Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford University, conducted an experiment at CTrip, a Chinese travel agency, where call-centre workers who volunteered to work from home were randomly assigned to working in the office or from home for nine months. The work was published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics this year.

Bloom told the Harvard Business Review:

We found that people working from home completed 13.5% more calls than the staff in the office did—meaning that Ctrip got almost an extra workday a week out of them. They also quit at half the rate of people in the office—way beyond what we anticipated. And predictably, at-home workers reported much higher job satisfaction.

3. Become actual friends with your colleagues.

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According to Ron Friedman, social psychologist and author of The Best Place to Work, having a work best friend actually increases productivity.

In this extract from his book, Friedman writes:

Research suggests that workplace friendships yield more productive employees, and it's not just because friends are easier to work with. It's also because there is more on the line. Feeling a connection with colleagues can motivate employees to work harder for a simple reason. When colleagues are close, a poor effort means more than a dissatisfied customer or an unhappy manager. It means letting down your friends. The social pressure to do a good job can often serve as a stronger motivator than anything a boss can say.

People with close friends at work also tend to stick around at their company for longer too.

4. Stop moaning.

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Focusing on the negatives at work can be emotionally draining, according to research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Always being on the lookout for something to complain about can use up your mental resources. "Such a constant state of vigilance is depleting," write the authors.

Not that you should pretend that everything is sunshine and roses when it's not. But instead of complaining about how things are done at the moment, try suggesting a better way to do it. You'll be doing yourself a favour too.

5. Crack a few jokes in meetings.

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Joking around in the office could actually make teams more productive, according to research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. The study found that "humour patterns" (for example, when someone makes a joke, others laugh, and then someone else makes a joke) were associated with better performance in the long term.

But there's a catch – this better performance only showed up in teams with high job security. "While we found that almost all teams showed humor and humor-laughter patterns during their meetings, only those teams that felt relatively secure in their jobs experienced performance benefits of humor," lead author Dr Nale Lehmann-Willenbrock told BuzzFeed Science over email.

Lehmann-Willenbrock says that this could be because humour leads to healthy group behaviours, such as offering praise and encouraging participation, and also because team members are more likely to come up with new ideas after joking around.

The teams in this study were all fairly well-established, but Lehmann-Willenbrock is currently working on another study that will see how this differs in newly established teams.

6. Let your mind wander.

In his book The Wandering Mind, Michael Corballis, emeritus professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, defends brain downtime and its ability to "incubate" ideas on one topic while you're thinking about something else entirely.

In an extract from his book, Corballis discusses a study done on this very topic:

People were given the task of inventing unusual uses for familiar objects, a task commonly used as a measure of creativity. After working on this for a short time, most of them were given a break. During the break, some engaged in a task demanding of memory, some in an undemanding task, and some simply sat quietly without doing anything. When the creativity task resumed, those who performed the undemanding task performed best, probably because their minds wandered; other research has shown that undemanding tasks are most likely to induce mind-wandering, more likely even than doing nothing.

So if you need to solve a problem, stop stressing over it and do the dishes – then let your mind do the rest.

7. Take a proper break.

It's no secret that taking a well-earned holiday from work means you come back feeling refreshed and more engaged, and yet people still don't do it enough. According to a 2014 report by Oxford Economics, 42% of Americans don't take all of the paid vacation days they're allowed, leaving on average eight days unused.

And stepping away from work for a while doesn't just make you feel better, it makes you work better too. According to this 2013 article from the New York Times:

In 2006, the accounting firm Ernst & Young did an internal study of its employees and found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings from supervisors (on a scale of one to five) improved by 8 percent.

So what are you waiting for? ✈️🍹😎