Productivity

Three Studies That Changed The Way We Think About Productivity

The team at 99Ufollows productivity trends on a daily basis and noticed that every few years, a research study comes along that fundamentally changes the way we think about work. These studies are often conducted over decades and follow people across their careers to offer the rest of us a template to follow for our day-to-day lives. Below are three studies that are behind much of the productivity and creativity advice you read every day.

The Marshmallow Test

In this landmark 1972 study of delayed gratification, Stanford researchers selected a group of children and offered them a deal: the child could be given a single marshmallow immediately or, if they chose to wait 15 minutes, they would be rewarded with two marshmallows.

This simple test of willpower ended up being a powerful indicator of the child’s future success. In a follow up, the children who were able to wait for the second marshmallow were shown to have higher grades and better SAT scores. What’s this mean for us? First, thankfully, dozens of people have reenacted the test on YouTube. More importantly, willpower is vital to our success, but we have a limited supply so use yours on stuff that matters.

The 10,000 Hours Rule

Popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, this 1993 study by Florida State Researcher Dr. K. Anders Ericsson suggested that to truly master our craft we need to spend 10,000 hours practising.

And not just any practice, deliberate practice. Top performers select the difficult aspects of their work and repeat them endlessly until they are ingrained as habit. Think of Shaquille O’Neal practising his free throws — his weak point — rather than practising slam dunks.

The Grit Scale Indicator

Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania and Christopher Peterson of the University of Michigan took the Stanford Marshmallow test to the next level. In 2007, they developed a test that would measure a person’s “grit,” that is, an unassailable desire to see a goal or project through to the end. The test asked participants to read questions like “I have achieved a goal that took years of work” and rate its truthfulness on a five point scale.

Those who were shown to have more “grit” outperformed their less gritty peers. High grit scores correlated to higher GPAs, spelling bee winners, and West Point graduates.

The study touched off an entirely new school of thought in education that believes a high I.Q. isn’t a predictor of success. And the good news is, as adults it’s never too late to increase our grit.

Whenever a new theory on productivity and work emerges, you can bet it has origins in studies like these. Luckily, writers and journalists comb through the science journals so you don’t have to. While studies will never replace the observations we get from our day to day lives, keep an ear out and see if they can inspire small tweaks or changes to your workday.

Studies
#1: http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/21/2/204/
#2: Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. Th., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363-406.
#3: http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~duckwort/images/Grit%20JPSP.pdf

This post is part of a monthly series by 99U that will deliver the action-oriented education that you didn’t get in school, highlighting real-world best practices for making your ideas happen.

Sean Blanda is the Associate Editor of 99U, the “think tank” of Behance. You can find him on Twitter at @SeanBlanda.