Working hard or hardly working? 3 handy office hacks to get the most out of your day

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Psychologists and cognitive neuroscientists use the term “vigilance” to describe the ability to concentrate on a task for an extended period of time –  although we all know this isn’t always easy! In this article we’ll be sharing 3 handy office hacks to help maximise your concentration and make sure you’re performing your best.

“The best way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” – Walt Disney

Goal habitation: regular breaks 1, attention span 0

Goal habituation theory is the idea that people cannot actively continue working towards the same objective for a prolonged period of time. We “habituate” to a goal, meaning it’s vital to refresh our interest with short breaks that stop us acclimatising and prevent a decline in performance. Research shows that subject’s concentration was improved when a vigilance task (pressing a computer key when a certain sized line appeared) was occasionally interrupted with a memory task (having to recall a sequence of digits.) These results suggest that taking regular scheduled breaks from a monotonous task refreshes us, meaning overall we perform better.

Desktime, a “real-time time tracking service that analyses productivity” evaluated their data and found those employees that perform best are those who work for around 52 minutes followed by 17 minute breaks. Other studies recommend using these break periods to get active and socialize, so make sure you get up and about, rather than just substituting one screen for another.

Close the laptop: open the mind

Massachusetts-based psychiatrist Dr Edward Hallowell once referred to multitasking as a “mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously”. Students who use laptops in lectures consistently perform worse when quizzed on lecture content afterwards. Not only that: those students sitting next to and behind the laptop users also demonstrated significantly lower test scores than their undistracted peers. Moral of the story? Making sure that laptops are closed in meetings might just save you from having to explain the same thing twice.

Not your cup of tea?

Good news for coffee lovers: caffeine really does seem to help performance at certain tasks. A study by Smith et al found that caffeine consumption is associated with faster reaction times, greater detection of targets in the cognitive vigilance task, and faster encoding of new information. Additionally, the study found those individuals from whom caffeine was withdrawn performed no worse in tasks than their peers who never consumed it. However, withdrawal from high doses of caffeine is associated with

headaches as well as sleepiness, irritability and even muscle aches. So while caffeine has been proved a valuable tool in your office armoury; like all the best things in life, it’s not something in which you should overindulge.

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