For many of us, when we think of getting ahead in our careers, we consider time-consuming and labor-intensive approaches—things like going to conferences, working with a coach, or expanding our knowledge by taking a course or getting another degree. And, while I certainly wouldn't argue against any of those methods, you don't always have to put in that kind of effort. Consider trying one of these research-based approaches—many of which take only a few minutes:
1. Clean up your desk.
When you're putting off a task, do you ever find yourself tidying up your desk? You might not have realized it, but research suggests that it can help you to be more efficient and focused. In a Princeton study, researchers conducted fMRIs on research subjects to assess brain activity as they completed tasks requiring attention. In the different experimental conditions, the study investigators varied the amount of visual stimuli to which people were exposed to see how it would affect their ability to perform the task. They found that the more visual distractions that were present, the more the subjects' attention was hampered. In other words, having to ignore visual distractions took mental energy, and this caused the subjects' performance to suffer. The take-away for you? Less clutter = better focus.
2. Mess up your desk.
If cleaning up your desk seems like too much effort, you can boost your performance in other ways by leaving your desk messy. One study found that individuals who were in a disorderly room showed greater creativity and were more attracted to novel options when compared to subjects who were in an orderly environment. So, if you need to be creative or innovative, your untidy workspace might be just what the doctor ordered.
3. Get a plant.
Need to be more productive? A plant could do the trick. A study found that employees were 15 percent more productive when plants were added to an office with a minimalist design. Further, if you have a stressful job, getting a plant could help to make your days a little brighter. A study of surgery patients found that those who had plants in their rooms reported lower pain, lower blood pressure, less anxiety, and less fatigue compared to a control group.
4. Choose the right outfit.
A fascinating line of research has shown that the clothes we wear can have an impact on how well we perform on various tasks. For example, in one study, subjects wearing formal business outfits performed better on tasks involving abstract reasoning than those who wore casual clothes. In another study, males who wore business suits earned greater profit in a negotiation simulation compared to those who were wearing sweats.
However, if the idea of wearing a conventional corporate uniform feels too constraining to you, take heart—a little bit of quirkiness can work in your favor. Harvard researchers found that a bit of uniqueness (e.g., a bearded professor in a T-shirt when compared to a clean-shaven one in a suit) can cause others to perceive you as having higher status—most likely because they reach the conclusion that you must have more status to be able to be a nonconformist.
5. Watch funny videos.
While you'll definitely want to set a time limit for this one, taking a break to watch something that makes you laugh can help your memory. In one study, older adults who watched either a Red Skelton comedy or a montage of America's Funniest Home Videos performed better on memory tasks than a control group who sat calmly for the same period of time. In addition, their cortisol (stress hormone) levels showed a greater decrease compared to controls. So, catch some funny clips on YouTube, comforted by the knowledge that if your boss walks by, you can tell him or her that science says that it is making you a more effective worker.
If you're having one of those days at work, then try out one of these easy, guilt-free tips and enjoy the benefits!