@lvnatikk via Unsplash

Cat videos are the prototypical example of wasted on-the-job time. Only goof-offs and slackers waste worktime surfing YouTube for videos of kittens wearing hats or puppies meeting piglets, right?

Maybe not.

Believe it or not, a study run by four Japanese researchers found that looking at videos or pictures of cute animals may actually help make you more focused and more careful when completing tasks that require deliberateness and precision. Here's what you need to know.

For Skimmers:

  • The set up: Researchers asked a group of students to play a game similar to Operation. With tweezers, each study participant would remove tiny plastic toys from holes on a game board made to look like a patient's body without touching the sides of the holes with the tweezers. Students were instructed to spend as much time as they needed to obtain the best possible score.
  • The twist: Before playing the game, half the students were shown extremely cute pictures of baby animals. The other students viewed pictures of adult animals (also cute, but not nearly as furry/fuzzy/huggable as the baby animals).
  • The findings: Participants who looked at cute animals scored higher and worked more deliberately than participants who viewed photos of adult animals. Researchers ran two additional experiments with slightly different study designs, both of which confirmed their initial conclusions: seeing cute animals improves focus and carefulness on subsequent tasks.

The Science of Cute

Why in the world would this be true? How can cute animals boost our focus and make us more careful? Isn't this just another "interesting, but probably unreliable" bit of social science research?

Nope. There's actually some pretty strong evolutionary theory behind the cuteness/carefulness effect.

As a species, we're programmed to respond attentively to certain physical features common in human babies (e.g. big head, high forehead, large eyes, button nose, small mouth). That's because over the course of our evolution, parents who appreciated these features spent more time parenting their babies. Because of this, these babies were more likely to survive to adulthood and therefore more likely to pass that cuteness/attention trait along.

Gradually, the love of cuteness spread through the entire human gene pool. That's why most people have a similar response to traditionally infantile features: attentiveness.

Viewing cute animals puts the brain in a careful, focused mindset. Because of our evolutionary history, we're more likely to be careful and deliberate after seeing something cute. And you can harness that impulse to boost your productivity.

So, if you're working on a task that requires focus and care, taking a gander at a picture of puppies with party hats or a video of kittens in Kleenex boxes may help trick your brain into sharpening its attentional facilities.

Bootstrapping your evolutionary coding by watching cute videos? That's one of the most enjoyable productivity hacks I've ever suggested!

@breather via Unsplash

Fights over the office thermostat are as inevitable as the seasons.

If you work in an office, chances are you've surreptitiously tweaked the temperature dial, only to find your change undone by one of your equally sneaky coworkers. Thermostat battles can lead to heated disagreements and icy stares.

Those who prefer a warmer workplace will be happy to know that they have a group of Cornell researchers on their side.

Their study found that turning up the thermostat can be great for productivity. Here's what you need to know.

For Skimmers

  • The setup: Researchers outfitted a group of office workers at an insurance company in Orlando, Florida, with portable temperature sensors and loaded their computers with productivity tracking software that measured total time spent typing and typing errors, among other things. Measurements were taken every 15 minutes for more than three weeks.
  • The findings: Higher temperatures (around 77 degrees) were associated with greater productivity than lower temperatures (around 68 degrees). Warmer workers typed 150% more and made 44% fewer mistakes than their chillier colleagues.
  • The takeaway: Warm offices can help spur productivity hot streaks.

Some Like It Hot

The researchers didn't hypothesize why warmer offices could lead to more productivity. But I did some digging and came up with a theory that I think could explain these findings.

There's some compelling evidence that warmer temperatures produce more positive emotions. One study demonstrated that when rating products, individuals give better assessments when they are warm than when they're cold. In another study, researchers found that people exposed to warmth were more likely to be friendly and generous than people exposed to cold.

In general, warm temperatures promote positive feelings. And happy workers are hard workers. That could be why warm offices are more productive.

Of course, this is probably only true up to a point. If your office is a sweltering sauna, employees won't be happy, and they sure won't be productive. But keeping your office toward the warmer side of comfortable could help spur employees' positive feelings, which in turn could boost productivity.

So, if you'd like to enhance your productivity, turning up the thermostat is worth a try. But you'll have to warm your coworkers up to the idea first.

Get This In Your Inbox!

Let's say you're trying to come up with a big idea—a creative blockbuster that will really shake things up.

What's the first thing you do? If you're like most leaders, you pull your team together and start brainstorming. If two heads are better than one, than a group of heads must be fantastic, right?

Turns out, jumping right to group brainstorming could be stunting your collective creative process. A recent study might make you rethink your brainstorming strategy.

For Skimmers

  • The setup: In their first experiment, researchers placed a group of college students in a room and asked them to brainstorm ways to improve their campus. Half the individuals brainstormed in groups of four, while half the individuals brainstormed alone.
  • The findings: The loner brainstormers produced significantly more novel ideas (44% more in the first 5 minutes) than group brainstormers.
  • The reason: Why were groups less effective than individuals at brainstorming? Probably because of something known as "fixation effects." Group brainstormers seem to subconsciously gravitate toward ideas that are similar to ones that have already been suggested by others in the group. By fixating on ideas already proposed, group brainstormers generate fewer new ideas than individual brainstormers.
  • The takeaway: If you're looking to increase the novelty of ideas produced in your brainstorming sessions, you'll have to find a way to avoid these fixation effects.

Think Alone, Share in a Group

Group brainstorming definitely has some flaws. But it's popular for a reason. Group brainstorming can lead to deep, collaborative creativity and can produce ideas with a level of nuance and complexity that could be hard for an individual brainstormer to match.

Group brainstorming shouldn't be eliminated. But, as this study shows, it definitely needs some fixes. So, what should you do?

Try a two-step brainstorming process!

  • First, allow individuals to brainstorm for 10-15 minutes on their own, and ask them to write down every idea they come up with.
  • Then, come together as a group, share the written-down ideas, and see if the group can collectively riff off any of the proposed ideas.
  • The two-step brainstorming process gives you the best of individual brainstorming (varied and innovative ideas unrestricted by fixation effects) and the best of group brainstorming (complex ideas created through creative cooperation).

Avoid the fixation trap by splitting your brainstorming sessions into two! It could help turn your brainstorms into idea-generating hurricanes.

@chrisbair via Unsplash

Humblebragging sucks. It mixes the worst parts of cockiness and false modesty into one irritating, cringe-inducing cocktail.

But it turns out humblebragging isn't just irritating; it's also ineffective. As a recently published study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Harvard Business School has shown, humblebragging is a terrible strategy for building interpersonal goodwill. Here's why.

For Skimmers

  • Over the course of nine different experiments, researchers exposed subjects to humblebrags (defined as "bragging masked by a complaint or humility") and askedthem to describe their feelings toward the person doing the bragging.
  • Subjects consistently rated humblebraggers as less likable and less competent than non-humblebraggers. Humblebragging made individuals seem both irritating and incompetent (quite the one-two punch of negative qualities).
  • What's more, researchers found that humblebraggers actually scored lower on perceived likability and competency than normal braggers. Translation? Humblebragging is even more alienating than regular old bragging!

Honesty is the Best Policy

It's that last part of the study that I think is the most interesting. People dislike humblebraggers even more than regular braggers. Humblebragging isn't just bad—it's the worst.

People humblebrag because they think that covering some of their cockiness in self-deprecation will make their braggadocio more palatable. But this study rejects that theory. Covered cockiness is even more irritating.

If you're going to toot your own horn, you might as well own up to it. Braggers are grating, but at least they're upfront about their boasting.

So, humblebraggers of the world take note! Your bashful boasting is backfiring. Time to try something new.

So Much Social Media

@vitaliy77 via Unsplash

For most of my life, I approached creative projects like a mountain climber preparing to summit Everest.

Before I started, I would obsessively check my gear. Stacks of notes? Check. Oodles of time? Check. Pens, paper, computer, charger, stress ball, coffee, power bar, and white board? Check, check, check, check, check, check, check, and check.

I wanted to make sure I had everything I could possibly need at my fingertips. Once I started climbing my creative mountain, I didn't want anything impeding my journey. I wanted to create without limitation.

Turns out, that's a bad idea. Limitations are actually great for creativity. To understand why, we'll need to explore something called the "paradox of choice." And to understand the paradox of choice, let's talk about jam.

For Skimmers:

  • In a famous study, researchers set up two booths at a Northern California supermarket. Each booth offered free samples of a variety of jams. The only difference was in the number of flavor samples available. While one booth offered 24 flavors, the other offered only 6.
  • Researchers wanted to see which booth spurred more jam sales. Most people would assume the booth that offered more flavor options would sell more jam, right?
  • Turns out the 6-choice booth destroyed the 24-choice booth. Customers with fewer options bought jam 30% of the time, while customers with more options purchased jam only 3% of the time. What's more, researchers found that individuals who were offered more choices were actually less happy with their final decision.
  • That's the paradox of choice: Having more choices can actually hinder decision making.
Keep reading... Show less
@priscilladupreez via Unsplash

Class clowns everywhere, rejoice!

A new study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology has demonstrated that short breaks for humor can actually help sharpen focus and strengthen concentration. Turns out, when you were cracking up the kids in your class you weren't being distracting—you were helping create a robust learning environment.Here's what you jokesters need to know.

For Skimmers

  • Researchers assigned 124 Australian college students to groups. One group watched a humorous video (an 8-minute clip from one of the Mr. Bean movies), while the other two groups watched non-humorous videos (an educational video and a travel video of a beach).
  • Participants in all three groups were then given a specially designed persistence test that included an unsolvable problem. Researchers measured how long they worked on that impossible problem before giving up.
  • Individuals who had watched the humorous video before starting the impossible task worked, on average, more than 50% longer than individuals who watched the non-humorous videos. In short? Humor made them more persistent!
Keep reading... Show less

Lightbulb moments of creativity are kind of amazing. You're in the shower or taking a walk or folding laundry, and then BAM! A great idea drops out of the sky. It's like winning a mini creativity lottery. And it feels fantastic.

If you love lightbulb moments as much as I do, I think you'll be excited about a study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. It showed there's a simple way to make these lightbulb moments of creativity more likely: dim the lights. Here's what you need to know.

For Skimmers:

  • Researchers conducted a series of experiments to explore the impact that darkness has on creativity. In one study, participants were divided up into three different groups. The first group was placed in a dimly lit room (imagine a dark room with a single small reading lamp), the second in a normally lit room (imagine a typically lit coffee shop), and the third in a brightly lit room (imagine a brightly lit jewelry store). Each group was then given brain teasers that required creative insight (lightbulb moments) to solve.
  • In analyzing the scores of individuals in different groups, researchers reached a clear conclusion: darkness improves creativity. Individuals who worked in dark rooms had more creative insights than individuals who worked in well-lit rooms.
  • If you're trying to turn up your creative wattage, try turning down the lights. As this study shows, it's easier to spark a lightbulb moment in the dark. But why is that?
Keep reading... Show less

Get This In Your Inbox!


Ever wondered what successful CEO's do all day?

Researchersexamined the schedules of 1,000 CEOs from across the world and used a machine learning algorithm to try to figure out how the most successful CEOs spent their time. Here's what they found.

For Skimmers

  • The average CEO works 50 hours a week: 25% of the day working alone, 10% on personal matters, 8% in transit, and 56% working with others (often in meetings).
  • CEOs spend more than half their days in meetings. But not all meetings are created equal. Researchers found a simple difference between successful CEOs and their less successful counterparts.
  • Successful CEOs have more high-level meetings than less successful CEOs.

Great CEOs Fly High

Researchers broke down the CEOs they studied into two broad categories: general managers and operating managers.

The quintessential general managerleads from 20,000 feet. General managers meet mostly with multiple executives at a time, delegate day-to-day tasks to others, and focus on promoting good communication at the highest level of the organization.

Operating managers, in contrast, spend a lot of their time in on-on-one meetings and put more focus on perfecting the individual pieces rather than focusing on the company atlarge. These are the CEOs who get into the weeds.

No one management style will ever be perfect for every firm. But this study's conclusions are clear: on average, big-picture CEOs are more likely to have big success.

A good CEO is a lot like a symphony conductor. They don't spend their time tuning individual instruments; they delegate these operational tasks so that they can focus to the ebb and flow of the company's concerto as a whole.

As a result, a successful CEO is one who can keep everyone playing to the same beat—even if they can't play all the instruments.

See you!


@ripato via Unsplash

A coat of paint could turn your office into a productivity dojo.

Researchers at the University of British Columbiaran a study to see whether looking at the colors blue or red could meaningfully impact task efficiency. Here's what they found.

For Skimmers:

  • Researchers had a group of participants complete a battery of tasks after having been exposed to eitherred or blue.
  • Individuals who viewed the color red performed better on tasks that measured precision (detail-oriented tasks), while individuals exposed to blue performed better on tasks that measured creativity (flexibility-oriented tasks)
  • Harnessing the power of color is an easy way to enhance your performance. Surround yourself with the color best suited to your task and you could give yourself a competitive advantage.
Keep reading... Show less
@johnschno via Unsplash

Want to focus more and stress less? Pausing your email might be the key.

Working without access to email can significantly increase focus and decrease stress, says a study run by researchers from the University of California, Irvine, and the U.S. Army. Here's what you need to know.

For Skimmers:

  • Researchers studied a group of office workers for a week. Half the workers had their email access cut off entirely, while the other half were allowed to continue using their email normally.
  • Researchers monitored participants' work output and online behavior during the duration of the study to see how the differences in email access impacted performance. Participants in both groups wore monitors to measure their stress levels through heartrate variation (the more variation in heartrate, the more stressed the individual).
  • Participants without access to email blew their email-using colleagues out of the water; "email-free" individuals focused longer and stressed less. These findings suggest that working without the disruption of email could have some serious productivity benefits.
Keep reading... Show less
Jenelle Ball via Unsplash

Boring work is a part of life.

Dry reports must be read, messy files organized, and mind-numbing meetings attended. I hope that these tasks are few and far between for you, but unfortunately, almost all jobs (even the creative ones) involve some amount of boredom.

If you've been thinking of your boring tasks as wasted time, you could be missing out. According to two researchers from the U.K., your boring tasks can be harnessed to help increase your creativity. Here's what you need to know.

Keep reading... Show less
Mike Wilson via Unsplash


Stuck on a difficult problem? Try approaching it step by step.

Researchers writing in the Journal of Experimental Psychology examined the impact of walking on creativity. Here's what they found.

For Skimmers

  • Researchers assigned study participants to a handful of experimental groups (i.e. walking inside, walking outside, walking then sitting, only sitting) and then measured their performance on a battery of creative tasks.
  • When ranking groups by their creative performance, researcher noticed two significant trends. Walking groups were consistently more creative than sedentary groups, and outdoor groups were more creative than their indoor counterparts.
  • Walkers were more creative both during their walks and after. So, if you're stuck on a difficult problem, take a stroll. It may help jog your creativity and keep you sharp.
Keep reading... Show less

So Much Social Media

@lubomirkin via unsplash

What do earmuffs, trampolines, and popsicles have in common? Give up? They were all invented by kids!

Childhood is a creativity hotspot. When I was a kid, my friends and I were innovation machines. We invented triple-decker pancake flippers, underwater airplanes, and edible T-shirts. I've never felt quite as creative as I did back then.

That's why I was so excited to read this study. Turns out, that creative childhood spark might not be lost to time. If you want to reinvigorate your creativity, all you have to do is think like a kid.

For Skimmers

  • Researchers divided study participants into two groups. Both groups were asked to brainstorm what they would do on a day off, but one of the groups was asked to imagine planning for that day as if they were seven years old. After brainstorming, both groups were then asked to complete a creativity test.
  • The participants who had first imagined themselves as 7-year-olds produced significantly more original responses on the creativity test than the control group did.
  • This research suggests that thinking like a kid can help boost spontaneity, reduce inhibition, and increase creative originality.
Keep reading... Show less
@alicegrace via Unsplash

Let me draw you a mental picture.

A paint-speckled artist stands in his studio. He is racked by despair; his paramour has just died a tragic and untimely death. Now, he will turn that suffering into magic. He dips his brush and reaches toward the canvas. This will be his masterpiece.

Except, it probably won't be.

A new study, authored by two economists, shows that the "tortured artist" trope is baloney. Here's what you need to know.

For Skimmers:

  • Researchers examined more than 15,000 paintings created by 33 French and 15 American artists from the early 20th century. Each of these artists experienced, at some point in their professional career, a significant personal loss (defined as the death of a friend or relative).
  • Researchers found that the paintings created in the year after a loss were, on average, less valuable and less likely to be included in a major museum's collection than works crafted during periods of emotional stability.
  • Don't let yourself fall into the trap of the tortured artist. You don't need to suffer to succeed.
Keep reading... Show less
@charles_forerunner via Unsplash

This post originally appeared in Fast Company.

You already know that networking is a relationships game–that you're supposed to give with no immediate expectation of getting. That's the wise starting premise, anyhow, of Scott Gerber and Ryan Paugh's forthcoming book, Superconnector: Stop Networking and Start Building Relationships That Matter.

But if you're looking to grow your network in quality rather than just quantity, "I'd love to grab coffee and pick your brain" will only take you so far. So as you double down on those career resolutions for the year ahead, try these creative tactics–based on Gerber and Paugh's relationship-focused advice–to deepen and expand your network.

Keep reading... Show less
@dougswinson via Unsplash

You may be using the day to do some chores. You may even try and enlist some of your family members to help. But how can you best inspire people to help you?

Imagine I'm trying to convince you to help me clean out my garage. There are 10 boxes in the garage that I don't particularly feel like moving, and I'm willing to pay you $10 to get them out.

I could pay you this money in two ways: I could give you $1 per box after you move them, or I could offer you $10 up front and then dock you $1 for every box you don't move.

Financially these offers are identical. But according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, one is much more motivating. Here's what you need to know.

For Skimmers:

  • Researchers wanted to study how the wording of incentives impacted motivation. Study participants were asked to solve relatively impossible word puzzles, and were motivated either by a gain-focused incentive (i.e. you'll get 25 cents for each correctly unscrambled word, up to $1.50) or by a loss-focused incentive (i.e. you'll get $1.50 at the start and each word you fail to unscramble will cost you 25 cents).
  • Participants who were given the loss-focused incentive worked harder, spending 60% longer on the two impossible scrambles than participants given the gain-focused incentive.
  • These findings suggest that the desire to avoid a loss is a stronger motivating factor than the desire to achieve a gain. If you're trying to motivate yourself to accomplish a difficult task, try using the risk of loss instead of the promise of a reward.
Keep reading... Show less
@jakeufkes via Unsplash

Tired of being told all the reasons you need to sleep more? Sorry, here's another.

In a recently published study, researchers from the University of Washington and Indiana University examined how lack of sleep impacts perceived hostility between leaders and followers. Here's the rundown.

For Skimmers

  • Researchers administered surveys to more than 120 pairs of bosses and employees. Survey questions asked individuals to record how much sleep they got the past night, how positive or negative their interactions that day were with their leader/follower, the level of hostility they perceived in those interactions, and other similar questions.
  • Researchers found that lower levels of sleep led to higher levels of perceived hostility. For example, if your boss stayed up all night surfing YouTube, it's likely that their interactions with you the next day would seem more hostile. The same is true if you skimp on shut-eye; if you don't get good sleep, your boss will perceive you to be more hostile.
  • Both leaders and followers were unaware of how their sleepiness was being perceived. Sleepy individuals didn't rate their interactions as more hostile, even though others consistently did.
Keep reading... Show less
@quinoal via Unsplash

In sports movies, motivating a team is easy. You walk into the locker room, shout some stuff about "heart" and how "today is your day," and then watch as your team succeeds.

I've always found motivational speeches challenging. What seems simple in the on-screen locker room is a lot harder in the real-life conference room.

Thankfully, a new study was recently published that offers some insight into crafting the perfect motivational speech. Here's what you need to know.

For Skimmers

  • In a series of experiments, researchers found that teams that are expected to win (favorites) react best to loss-focused encouragement (i.e. "Let's not lose!"), while teams that don't expect to win (underdogs) react best to win-focused encouragement (i.e. "Let's go win!").
  • It's important to give your team the right type of motivation. The most successful motivational appeals help favorites avoid cockiness and help underdogs avoid hopelessness.
  • It's important for leaders to tailor their motivational messages to the group they're addressing. Figuring out how a group sees itself is an important first step in any motivational strategy.
Keep reading... Show less
@benwhitephotography via Unsplash

When the chicken crossed the road, what did its coworkers think?

In a recently published study, researchers at the Wharton School of Business and the Harvard Business School set out to explore how jokes impact perceptions of competency and confidence in the workplace. Here's what they found.

For Skimmers

  • Researchers found that telling funny, appropriate jokes increase both perceptions of confidence and competency.
  • More interesting, even appropriate jokes that are not funny increased perceptions of confidence.
  • Inappropriate jokes, on the other hand, made the subjects look incompetent even if they're funny.
Keep reading... Show less

I'm sure many of you will be partaking in some champagne this evening. If you're like me, a drink or two might make you *think* you're a good dancer. While it doesn't actually do that, it turns out, a drink can also make you a better problem solver!

According to a study published this year in the Creativity Research Journal, low levels of intoxication make creative problem solving easier.

For Skimmers:

  • Researchers divided study participants into two groups. Participants in the first group were given enough alcoholic beer to raise their blood alcohol content to 0.03 (somewhere between one and two drinks, depending on the gender and weight of the individual) while participants in the second group were given a similar amount of non-alcoholic beer. Both groups then completed a battery of creativity tests.
  • The buzzed participants performed better than their sober counterparts on these creative, problem solving tasks. Researchers theorized that this occurred because of a decrease in executive control; low levels of intoxication made the mind more flexible and increased the likelihood of "aha!" moments during problem solving.
  • Next time you're stuck, consider loosening up your brain with a little with a creativity cocktail.
Keep reading... Show less
@reddangelo via Unsplash

Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday! I am currently in-hiding from carbs (the cookies were as good as they looked).

For today's newsletter, we're going to be talking about noise. According to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, moderate levels of ambient noise can significantly boost creative thinking ability. But why?

For Skimmers:

  • Researchers ran an experiment with a group of undergraduate students at the University of British Columbia to study the effect of background noise on creativity.
  • Subjects in this experiment were asked to complete a traditional test of creativity with ambient noise played in the background at three different levels: low (50dB), medium (65dB), and high (80dB).
  • The study found that moderate levels of ambient noise (an average coffee shop) are more conducive to creative thought than either low (a hushed library) or high (a packed restaurant) levels of noise.
  • Researchers concluded that moderate levels of ambient noise encourage creative thinking by causing subtle distractions which increase the likelihood of higher level abstract processing by making it hard to over-focus on the details.
Keep reading... Show less


I run a company called TrackMaven and wrote a book coming out in June from Penguin Random House about how anyone can have moments of creative genius.

This blog is my musings on how you can identify your potential and act on it.

Every Wednesday and Sunday I send a "creative brief" with creativity hacks and tips backed by real-world science and case studies.

Join the family below.

All the Socials