The Theories Behind Productivity

by Jun 16, 2016

Ever since we began working, people have been looking for ways to do more in less time. With so many theories and advice growing around productivity, which method is best for you?

How do I become more productive? It’s a question that’s spawned thousands of articles, sold vast numbers of books, and kept app-developers busy ever since apps were invented. It’s easy to see why it’s a question that concerns people so much, in an increasingly hectic world working efficiently can be the key to having more time to yourself, or finishing that personal project you’ve dreamed about for years.

The majority of people want to work faster, cut down on the time they waste and produce better results. But with so much advice and hundreds of theories out there, it’s hard to know where to begin. This guide will take you through some of the main productivity hacks, and help you find out if they will work for you.

By far the oldest technique on the list, meditation has been around for thousands of years. For much of that time it’s been a primarily religious practice, but with scientifically proven benefits such as reduced stress, better sleep and higher productivity, it’s moved firmly into the secular world.

Corporate meditation and workplace wellbeing have really taken hold across various companies in recent years – including Google and The Huffington Post – and companies are embracing meditation as a way to make their employees both work harder and feel happier. Studies such as a test on fighter pilots that found that meditation increased their speed, accuracy and calmness of reactions by up to 40%, have eased meditations transition from a spiritual pursuit to a corporate mainstay.

Meditation is thought to increase productivity even in indirect ways. The University of Wisconsin demonstrated that people who are feeling positive are nearly ten times more engaged in work, and as meditation makes people feel happier and well-rested, this is thought to have an encouraging effect.

Meditation will work for you if…
You want to take some of the stress out of your working day, and you can motivate yourself to take up the practice.

Invented by Frederick Winslow Taylor in the 1880s, the Taylor System is a “Production efficiency methodology that breaks every action, job, or task into small and simple segments”. Taylor realised that simply working people to the bone is not conducive to productivity – something that is re-emerging in the modern consciousness as burnout and stress become pressing workplace issues.

Taylorism involves breaking down a working day into simple and easily achievable tasks. He also advocated a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, believing that as most workers were motivated by money, that being productive should be rewarded with a higher pay-packet.

You can apply these ideas by taking your job and splitting it into short, 15 minute tasks, and rewarding yourself in whichever way you choose for a good days work.

Taylorism will work for you if… 
You find it hard to concentrate on a particular task for too long, you like to plan your day, or you find it easier to become motivated if there’s the prospect of a reward.

The Pomodoro Technique
Fast forward about 100 years and you come to the invention of the Pomodoro Technique. It’s incredibly simple, you just set a timer for twenty five minutes and concentrate on work. Once the timer goes off, you take a five minute break, and start again. It’s something that takes a certain amount of discipline, but by allocating 5 minute slots where you can waste time you can focus better in “work time”.

The Pomodoro Technique will work for you if… 
You prefer a sprint to a marathon, particularly if you find yourself becoming distracted every half an hour at work.

The Six-Hour Working Day
Based around the notion that no one can fully concentrate for 8 hours, the six-hour working day gained a huge amount of press coverage when companies in Sweden began trialling the idea. Bought in by companies looking to promote a good work/life balance, like meditation it’s influenced by the idea that a happier workforce works harder.

Its slow progression into the mainstream can also be credited to increasing evidence that the longer people work, the less productive they become, both over the short and long term. 89% people admit to wasting time at work (and it’s pretty likely that the other 11% are lying – don’t they even have a five minute gossip with workmates?). While a third of the workforce say they waste an hour of work time, 16% admitted to procrastinating for up to two hours a day, and astonishingly 2% somehow manage to waste five hours.

A six hour working day is thought to force people to focus. Instead of thinking “oh, I have all day, I’ll just quickly check Facebook”, the idea is that people will concentrate harder and work faster. Especially as the reward will be far more time to spend on their own pursuits, life admin and hobbies.

The six hour working day will work for you if… 
You set your own working hours, you can convince your employers it’s a good idea, or you happen to live in Sweden.

Productivity Apps
There are hundreds of productivity apps out there. To-do list apps such as Wanderlust, Carrot and Pocket Lists are popular, while apps that aim to pester you until you complete a task are also something that people find useful. More convenient than list making (especially as most people carry a smartphone wherever they go), the only downside is that apps usually focus more on the planning part of productivity, rather than the bit where you actually get stuff done.

Productivity apps will work for you if…  
You’re never seen without your smartphone, or frequently manage multiple projects which are too complicated to keep track of in a traditional to-do list.

Whichever way you choose to become more productive, the most important thing is to remember that you are at your most productive when you are happy and well-rested. Saying no to unnecessary tasks and giving yourself the chance to rest may be the only productivity hack you need. Like most things in life, success comes in finding a balance.


Words by Holly Ashby. Check out Holly’s site here or give her a shout over on Twitter here.

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About Holly Ashby

Holly is a writer and illustrator who graduated from Liverpool John Moores University with a Graphic Arts degree. She has a passion for social media and content creation, and is part of a creative collective ShellsuitZombie, who aim to help young people nationwide in the creative industry.