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5-a-Week: 5 Scientifically proven ways to work smarter


We all work hard, but we can still work smarter.

This week’s 5-a-Week comes from an article by Belle Beth Cooper, content crafter at Buffer, and also co-founder of, who offers us some ways in which we can work smarter.

Belle writes how hard it can be to switch off at the end of the day or take time out on the weekend and stop thinking about work, especially for those juggling multiple responsibilities or commitments (probably most of us!). She writes how it can be easy to fall into a pattern of 'always working' rather than working smart, and offers us five ways to avoid that trap:

1. Take more breaks. On average our brains are only able to remain focused for 90-120 minutes, then we need at least 15 minutes rest (a phenomenon based on our Ultradian rhythms or cycle).  By taking breaks roughly every 90 minutes you allow your mind and body to renew, and be ready for another 90-minute period of high activity.

2. Take naps. Research shows naps lead to improvement in cognitive function, creative thinking, and memory performance, as well as benefiting the learning process. New memories are first recorded in the hippocampus, which does not retain them for long.  During sleep, these new memories get ‘uploaded’ to the neocortex, the brain’s more permanent storage system. ‘Power-napping’ derived from this research, and we now see ‘sleep pods’ popping-up in many cities, where workers can rent a pod for an hour and grab a nap (unless you're a top Exec, in which case you probably have a couch in your office!).

3. Spend time in nature. Daniel Goleman suggests spending time in nature can help us reset our attention span and relax our minds.

His studies showed how relaxed people were when taking a walk down a city street versus in a quiet park. The study found that the level of attention needed to navigate a busy city street is high enough that the walk doesn’t let the brain relax enough to reset our focus levels. Urban environments are filled with stimulation that captures attention dramatically and additionally requires directed attention (e.g. to avoid being hit by a car), making them less restorative.

Spending time in nature, however, allows your mind to fully relax and unwind and helps you focus longer when you return to work. Other research has found that for students' motivation to learn is higher when they are outside instead of in a classroom (how many training providers offer ‘training retreats’ in the country, and ever thought about why we often prefer off-site training courses, rather than in-house? We offer training retreat NLP courses BTW ;-).

4. Move and work in blocks. This works well for those of us who work remotely.  Start with a clear, thought out to-do list and create a plan for what you will accomplish at each location so you can immediately jump into those tasks.  One suggestion is to divide your to-do list into sections – one per location that you plan to visit (this could be coffee bars, I-net café’s, libraries etc.); you then set clear tasks per location.

Once you’ve got through the group of tasks, you move on to the next location. Moving between work locations gives you a natural break, especially if you can walk between them, providing the brain with down-time (although avoid busy urban areas as much as possible!).

You can sort out your task list however suits you best, but the important part to note is having a clear finishing point based on your task list rather than the time you will move to a new location. This system has proven to result in increased productivity, and with working fewer hours.

5. Check your email first thing. This one is fairly counter-intuitive; basically everyone says not to check email right away, but Belle claims she finds it extremely useful and helps her to be more productive during the day.  This is especially true of remote teams, where it’s important to check in before you start your workday and make sure you’re on the same page as everyone else.

So what's stopping you working smarter this week?  Do you have any other tips to offer to make the working week go a little smoother?

The original article can be viewed at

Rob Jones is a NLP trainer and coach, providing business-focused NLP courses for PMO, Change Management and L&D Specialists.  He also works with Braintree Group, helping school, college and University leavers to increase their confidence and get into meaningful and fulfilling job roles.

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