What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about productivity? Success? Time-management? Steve Jobs? Vats of coffee? (Same.)
Being productive means we’re meeting our goals and objectives for what needs to get done when it needs to get done. It means we feel in control. And on top of that, it means we’re doing our work efficiently and to a high quality, says Ted Baker, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.
As we all know, most days, that’s no small feat, and some days, it feels borderline impossible. (Because sometimes Stranger Things is more captivating than spreadsheets.) But there’s a surprising key to making productivity easier—your happiness. According to a growing body of positive psychology research, how happy you feel has a lot to do with how productive you are.
Let’s get into the productivity-happiness connection and give you three surprising ways to up your efficiency and your joy. Two birds. One stone. Let’s do it.
The Link Between Productivity and Happiness
Truth: We spend a lot of our hours at work, thinking about work, and sometimes stress dreaming about work. (That’s not just us, right?) But it turns out that when we’re happier at work, we’re also more productive.
Here’s what the science says:
- Researchers in Poland conducted a series of experiments in which they provided participants with a happiness boost (e.g., chocolate or a funny movie clip). They then measured their performance on various tasks. The results? Those who received the boost performed significantly better on productivity tasks than those who hadn’t.
- In another study, sales reps who were undergoing major workplace stress participated in a program to help them develop a positive attributional style. What? It means they worked on improving their interpretations of negative/stressful events. The results? The program participants showed higher self-esteem and job satisfaction and were less likely to quit than those who didn’t receive the training.
Why the Productivity-Happiness Connection Matters
Productivity isn’t all about increasing your company’s bottom line or trying to survive at an overwhelming job. It’s also about getting shit done so you have more time for the things you love, like your dog, that grueling boot-camp class, or your favorite craft ale. (We’re on team craft beer too.) More productivity = less time stressing over to-do lists or agonizing over email.
And we’re more likely to hit peak productivity, in our work and personal lives, when we feel better overall. Translation: If we want to be more productive, it’s essential that we tap into our positive emotions.
Research backs this up. In a classic study by positive psych scholar and author Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson, workers at a large tech corporation were asked to participate in a 7-week loving-kindness meditation workshop. The workshop participants reported experiencing more positive emotions, such as love, gratitude, joy, and contentment than control group participants who hadn’t joined the workshop.
So those good feelings can affect far more than just how much work you can do—they can even boost your mental health.
3 Surprising Ways to Up Your Productivity
These aren’t your typical productivity tips. These strategies are about how to connect your work with your happiness in meaningful ways, not just how to crank out more reports or over-structure your time. Here’s how to apply these positive psych skills to your own life and ramp up your productivity in the process:
1. Get your mindfulness on
Take a hint from Dr. Frederickson’s research to boost your productivity (and a whole lot of other things). Try out a mindfulness practice. Get started with these two resources:
- Loving-kindness meditation: Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley
- Guided meditations: UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center
There’s a boatload of research backing up the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. We won’t get into it all here, but suffice it to say that a daily meditation practice can help you reduce anxiety, stress, and depression; deal with insomnia; and even ease symptoms associated with chronic pain and certain health conditions, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Ease into your new mindfulness practice by listening to a guided meditation each morning before you get out of bed or before you leave the house for the day.
Pro tip: If you’re having “one of those days” at work and you need a quick pick-me-up, head out to the car or a private space, stick your headphones in, and listen to a quick guided meditation on-the-spot. You’re likely to feel more relaxed, focused, and ready to tackle work as soon as you’re done.
2. Be a source of positivity
The research on positive psychology and productivity is all about people feeling good at work, and there are some proven ways to help make this happen. How? Well, first of all, kick your own negative feelings and show others how to do the same by supporting them, encouraging them, and paying attention.
Really impressed with your colleague’s on-point presentation? Tell them. Notice someone’s cramming a little too much caffeine? Take them out to lunch and talk stress-busting strategies. Need some help on a project? Encourage others to collaborate and jump in with ideas.
If you’re somebody’s boss or you’re in a position of power, you’re in a great place to model this behavior and set the tone for others. Even if you’re not, your colleagues will most likely catch on, and your upbeat moves might cause a ripple effect. And that’s a good thing.
3. Re-think how you think (Negative → positive)
We know; it’s not easy. But it’s a worthy endeavor anyway. Start practicing reframing negative or stressful experiences—that whole positive attributional style thing from the sales rep experiment. Let’s say you blew it on a recent project, having a more positive attributional style means reframing how you look at it.
Instead of thinking things like: “I’m crap at my job” or, “I’m totally incapable of doing this type of work,” you’d flip your perspective. For example, “That was legitimately tough, and I was under a bananas deadline. It wasn’t perfect, but I gave it my best shot. Bonus: Now I know how I can do better next time.”
Being able to shift your perspective is about understanding that when bad things happen—even if they’re partially on you—they’re not a reflection of who you are as a person or your capabilities. Say it with us: Your mistakes, at work, at home, in life, don’t mean you’re a bad person. It’s about recognizing that:
- There are external factors at play (e.g., competing priorities and deadlines, stress from outside sources, a lack of experience).
- This was a limited-time thing and is not likely to happen again (since you’ve learned how you can handle the situation better next time).
- What happened was specific to this particular event or project and does not speak to how things will go in the future.
The research shows that having a positive attributional style at work can help you better deal with stress and tackle problems as they arise, which ultimately leads to better job satisfaction.
To sum it all up
Whether your goal is to be the next Sheryl Sandberg or just get home in time to catch your kid’s soccer game, think about what motivates you to maximize your productivity.
Then, employ these strategies from positive psych:
- Practice mindfulness daily (or as often as you can).
- Relate in positive ways with co-workers—e.g., recognize them for their work, show that you care, be a real human.
- Shift your perspective in a more positive direction: Remember that stressful or upsetting events are temporary and not a reflection of who you are. Because you’re awesome.
Now go into the world and make it happen. You can do this, we promise.
Your turn: How do your good vibes boost your productivity? Tell us in the comments below, and stop back in for more science-based connections between meaning and work.
Author: Ally Carlton-Smith MS
Ally Carlton-Smith is an editor and freelance writer with a master’s degree in Health Communication. She’s also a closeted circus performer. When she’s not busy wordsmithing, you can find her hanging upside down at her local aerial studio.