Productivity – it’s a buzzword that’s persistently thrown around the business world. Everyone is looking to get an edge on their competitors by increasing output. Many companies implement wellness programs with the goal of increasing productivity, which, according to research, works. However, few companies actually teach their employees how to be productive. There’s almost this underlying assumption that employees are naturally productive if we can simply keep them healthy and happy. But perhaps, for some people, productivity doesn’t come naturally. Not everyone knows how to best organize their time. The study of productivity is a prolific field for a reason. Researchers are continually trying to determine what steps a person can take to be more efficient. And chances are your employees don’t have the time to stay current on the latest research. To increase your company’s productivity, try teaching your workforce the skills required. Here are some research-backed strategies.

Encourage your employees to:

  • Take breaks. If employees work intensely for 90 minutes, they should take a break by walking around or stepping outside so they can return to work energized and refocused. The brain can only stay focused for so long. According to Nathaniel Kleitman, our bodies operate in 90-minute rhythms throughout the day. Some researchers refer to this as our ultradian rhythm – as opposed to our circadian rhythm that drives sleep. Our bodies tell us when we need a break with signals such as fidgeting, hunger, drowsiness and lack of focus. Most of the time we ignore them and go for caffeine or sugary foods to get an energy boost. When we override cues for a break, our brain moves into sympathetic arousal, which is more commonly referred to as “fight or flight” mode, making us less capable of clear thinking, reflection and seeing the larger picture. When people take a break after 90 minutes of hard work, they’re able to focus more during times of exertion.
  • Set aside a 90-minute block of time. As a result of these ultradian rhythms, everyone should schedule one 90-minute block of uninterrupted time each day to focus on a challenging project or important task, preferably in the morning. Most adults’ cognitive performance is better in the late morning.
  • Plan ahead. Productivity is more often the result of intelligent planning than working more. Teach employees how to plot out their responsibilities at the beginning of the week and to take a few minutes every morning to plan their day and prioritize tasks. Employees should also be encouraged to plan healthy meals and workouts ahead of time so they’re more likely to make healthy choices throughout the week.
  • Get enough sleep – seven to nine hours. Employees who get too little sleep tend to take more sick days. Small amounts of sleep deprivation can take a toll on a person’s health, mood, memory, cognitive abilities and productivity. Studies have found sleep deprivation may lead to worse cognitive performance than drunkenness. Drunk employees certainly aren’t tolerated; sleep-deprived employees shouldn’t be encouraged either. A recent Harvard study estimates U.S. companies lose over $63 billion in productivity each year as a result of sleep deprivation, which translates into over $3,000 per employee.
  • Take naps. A nap that’s the correct length, about 20 minutes, can help regulate energy and boost task performance. Additionally, a study out of the University of Michigan found naps can decrease impulsive behavior and increase tolerance for frustration, both valuable traits in the workplace. Based on our bodies’ natural low point determined by our circadian rhythm, around 3 p.m. is the smartest time to nap. A caffeine nap, which entails drinking a cup of coffee followed by a 15-minute nap, may be even better. A nap can combat sleepiness, and caffeine takes about 20 minutes to kick in; a series of studies has shown combining the two is more restorative than either one alone.
  • Go on vacation. Taking a vacation can improve mental health and increase performance upon the employee’s return.
  • Discourage multitasking. Research has revealed multitasking can increase mistakes. Switching between many tasks can lead to a person not performing any of them well.
  • Create a daily routine. Our brains are wired to execute patterns. When people create a pattern for accomplishing routine tasks, they become more efficient completing them. For example, if people standardize their morning routines, it can help them have a more relaxed start to their day while still getting out the door on time.
  • Eat the right foods. The food we eat directly impacts cognitive performance. Food is converted into energy our brain needs to focus. Low glucose levels can make it a struggle to concentrate. Additionally, our bodies process various foods differently. Simple carbohydrates deliver a boost of energy and then cause us to crash. High-fat meals tax our digestive system, reducing oxygen levels to the brain, which can lead to grogginess. Here are tips for eating for productivity:
    • People should decide what they’re going to eat before they’re hungry. If they wait until they’re really hungry, they’re more likely to make selections high in salt, fat and calories.
    • Eating smaller meals and snacks throughout the day can prevent great fluctuations in glucose levels, which compromise cognition and productivity. To prevent glucose dips, it’s best to keep healthy snacks convenient, such as nuts or fruit. There are many automated snack subscriptions available that deliver healthy snacks to help remain stocked. Perhaps you can provide this type of service for your organization.
    • Eat lots of fruits and veggies – in addition to boosting physical health, they’re good for the mind. According to a study in the British Journal of Health Psychology, the more fruits and vegetables a person ate, the more engaged, creative and happy they tended to be.
  • Establish healthy boundaries for smartphone use. Constant smartphone checking can dampen productivity. Even if people don’t check their phone when they receive notifications, it still causes their minds to wander.
  • Consume caffeine. If someone has a task that requires sustained focus, caffeine can help by increasing output and concentration. The timing should be considered though; caffeine should not be consumed too close to bedtime.
  • Get sunshine. An office with a view sounds like it would be distracting, but access to sunshine can increase competency. According to a study by the California Energy Commission, workers who sat near a window performed better. If someone doesn’t have a view, stepping outside occasionally for exposure to natural sunlight can also boost productivity.
  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity boosts health as well as output. It not only improves physical health, it improves concentration, mental stamina, memory and creativity, and leads to faster learning and lower stress. Employees should add workouts to their calendars at the beginning of the week to make it easier to fit in the recommended amount of physical activity.
  • Relax. Taking naps, going on nature walks, meditating and allocating downtime for hobbies can increase performance, retention and creativity while solidifying memories.
  • Listen to music. One study found music can help people stay on task while boosting their mood.
  • Declutter their desk. A recent study in the Harvard Business Review found people with cluttered desks were less efficient and persistent — and more weary and frustrated in accomplishing their work — than those with tidy workspaces. In fact, study participants who were exposed to a clean work environment were able to stick with a task 1 ½ times longer. Declare a declutter day at your workplace to encourage employees to spend a few hours spiffing up their space.
  • Avoid working long hours. A study out of Stanford University found output is proportional to time spent working until you reach 49 hours. After that, output per hour begins to sharply decline.

Productivity is good for business and your employees’ wellbeing. If you help your employees get a handle on their work, they’re likely to feel more capable and accomplished throughout the workday and satisfied with their job. Additionally, their work is less likely to seep into other areas of life, leaving them refreshed when they’re in the workplace.