Productivity, willpower, motivation. These three things can make or break someone’s success. Elusive, and at times they can seem unattainable but when those slippery bursts of creative energy come pouring out of us, we feel like we’re the captain of our own destiny and the pilot to our own success, powerful and in control of everything. There have been lots of misconceptions and myths around the subject of how to harness these emotions and attempt in some way to maintain them. With people suggesting everything from gratitude affirmations to vigorous exercise regimes, this post will look at the science to see what the studies say about productivity and success.  

Rewards and Performance

Rewarding yourself for good behaviour or progress is nothing new, the notion of providing yourself with a treat after completing a difficult task has been around for a long time. I’m sure many of you are aware that this can be a very valuable tool for increasing productivity, but studies suggest that it is in fact one of the best ways to get things done. 

Studies by Milkman, Minson and Volpp using three different study groups to monitor how rewards contribute to productivity shows that the group with highest reward outperformed the group with no reward at a rate of 51%. Such a large disparity between the groups would suggest that our brains are more inclined to engage in a difficult activity if a reward is involved. By incorporating this into our lives we can get more done, and indulge in our favourite activities. By providing a reward for ourselves after difficult tasks like hitting the gym we can provide ourselves with a huge boost of motivation and get more done.

Planning and Visualising Success

Planning our lives is vital to our happiness. Daniel Gilbert’s research suggests that we spend over 45% of our waking time thinking about multiple tasks and activities which leads to unhappiness and stress. By planning out our day and establishing a routine we can prioritise and complete tasks in a structured way. 

Further research also yielded that telling people about our aspirations and visualising our success actually decreases the likelihood of achieving them. Studies by Gollwitzer suggests that telling people about our goals makes us feel as though we have already achieved them and in turn reduces our motivation to actually get them done. 

Discovering Passions and Strengths

There are many studies out there showing that when we are good at something we are more likely to engage in that particular activity. Data from the gallup-healthways well-being index, suggests that happiness increases when people are engaging with activities that are closely tied to their signature strengths and competencies.

By applying your strengths to every activity at work we can get more down and feel happier while we’re doing it. We can create new signature strengths by learning new skills by reading and researching topics we wish to become competent in, and become more well rounded in our particular field. By incorporating our strengths into activities and by being creative at completing tasks we can enjoy them more and possibly increase our output.

Cutting out Bad Habits or Replacing Them

Addiction studies on bad habits suggests if we quit them cold turkey we are supposedly more likely to pick them up again, these studies suggest the best way to remove bad habits from our lives is to find a positive substitute for them. 

We can incorporate this into our life by chewing a piece of gum when we crave that seductive cigarette or hitting the gym when we find ourselves looking at our games consoles longingly. By replacing a bad habit with a good habit we can learn more, while shedding the things that have been holding us back, it’s a win win! 


Ok I couldn’t resist… I love my coffee, and I genuinely believe that it helps me stay on track and be productive. Of course this is most likely some sort of placebo effect generated by my brain or perhaps I just tell myself this because I’m addicted. To my surprise I actually found some studies which support the use of caffeine to generate productivity and a more motivated mindset!

Some studies are beginning to show that coffee actually helps you maintain willpower throughout the day and increase mental alertness when completing tasks. With all this in mind coffee is definitely not a bad habit I’m going to replace…