Productivity Hacks Aren't Created Equal


You’re probably tired of being told to meditate, but put aside the image of chanting hippies and take a look at the research: 

A 2010 study led by a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School investigated the effect of mindfulness meditation on brain grey matter concentration. Grey matter is the stuff that processes information, so it’s pretty important. The study showed that participants who spent eight weeks meditating for thirty minutes a day had increased grey matter in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory formation and learning.

In 2011, a number of professors from the University of Washington and the University of Arizona designed an experiment testing whether meditation made people multitask more effectively in a high-stress environment. The team recruited human resource managers and, over a period of eight weeks, gave one group training in meditation, one group training in body relaxation, and one group nothing. The meditators were less stressed and approached their work in a less fragmented fashion. 

A 2012 report from the University of California-Los Angeles Laboratory of Neuro Imaging found that long-term meditators had more gyrification, i.e. ridges and grooves on the surfaces of their brains. Gyrification is believed to make you better at processing information and forming memories. 

I could keep going. Meditation isn’t a cure-all, but why take breaks to stalk people on Facebook when you can take breaks to meditate? 

happy dog


Law students love to play the who’s-more-miserable game, but it’s probably not doing much for anyone’s productivity. A growing body of research has demonstrated that happier people work more effectively. That’s what a 2010 study led by a professor of economics at Warwick Business School demonstrated: In one part of the study, participants had to complete a series of addition problems in 10 minutes, with the knowledge that they’d be paid based on their performance; the group that a) first saw a 10-minute comedy film and b) reported higher levels of happiness afterward was 12% more productive. As with the meditation studies, I could keep going.

The problem is that a lot of people in law school complain as a form of bonding. You don’t want to look so obviously happy that everyone else hates you. Thankfully, there’s a book out there called “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.” One reviewer writes, “I came to this book with . . . a tendency to feel nauseous when encountering the positive thinking mantra. Before reading this book, I assumed that this made me a bad, ‘negative’ person, but after reading it I realized that, if anything, my so-called negativity was more beneficial to me than the positivity that many people are desperate to cultivate in themselves.” In the long run, being happy isn’t about telling yourself that the world is made up of cotton candy and unicorns—it’s actually about accepting that fact and making peace with it. 

So, there you go: Not all productivity hacks are gimmicky. Still, to properly test any of these methods out, you have to commit, even if it feels silly at first. A lot of people get to law school by relying on “IQ and adrenaline,” as George Mason School of Law Professor Michael Krauss wrote last month in his message to 1Ls. Being truly productive means breaking that habit. Red Bull can’t save you forever. 

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