Sometimes, productivity science seems like an organized conspiracy to justify laziness.
Clicking through photos of cute small animals at work? That's not silly procrastination, Hiroshima University researchers said. Looking at adorable pictures of kittens rolling helplessly in balls of yarn heightens our focus, and the "tenderness elicited by cute images" improves our motor function on the computer.
Going on long vacations? You're not running away from your responsibilities. Studies show that long breaks from the office reboot your cognitive energy to solve big problems with the mental dexterity they deserve.
Working from home? Shut down your boss's rude accusations that you're too slothful to put on a pair of pants in the morning by handing him this 2013 study of Chinese call-center employees, which found that "tele-commuting" improved company performance. (Actually, don't hand it to him. That would require going into the office.)
The scientific observation underlying these nearly-too-good-to-be-true findings is that the brain is a muscle that, like every muscle, tires from repeated stress. Many of us have a cultural image of industriousness that includes first-in-last-out workers, all-nighters, and marathon work sessions. Indeed, there are many perfectly productive people that go to the office early, leave late, and never seem to stop working. But the truth about productivity for the rest of us is that more hours doesn't mean better work. Rather, like a runner starting to flag after a few miles, our ability to perform tasks has diminishing returns over time. We need breaks strategically served between our work sessions.