Academic Papers and Research Related to Optimizing Workflows

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Academic Papers and Research Related to Optimizing Workflows

Four research studies, five expert articles and blogs, and three platforms have been identified and summarized below as resources for optimizing workflows for deep work and mental resilience. Academic studies were limited, and thus some are older. Platforms were also limited, with most content on productivity being found in blogs/websites or YouTube videos.

Academic Research

Self‐reflection, growth goals, and academic outcomes: A qualitative study

  • Self‐reflection, growth goals, and academic outcomes: A qualitative study was published by Cheryl J. Travers, Dominique Morisano, and Edwin A. Locke in the British Journal of Educational Psychology. The study "summarizes existing quantitative research and then employs a qualitative approach to exploring academic growth via an in‐depth reflective growth goal‐setting methodology."
  • The focus group of the study was "92 UK final‐year students enrolled in an elective advanced interpersonal skills and personal development module, with self‐reflection and growth goal setting at its core."
  • The study found that by regularly completing diary entries and writing down goals, students were able to improve their academic achievement, even when the goals were only indirectly-related to academics. Additionally, the study found that even after the official program stopped, it continued to have an impact on student success.
  • The researchers concluded that "academic growth can result from both academically direct and indirect growth goals, and growth goal setting appears to be aided by the process of simultaneous growth reflection."

The Productivity of Working Hours

  • The Productivity of Working Hours, written by John Pencavel of Stanford University, examines the relationship between working hours and output. The research reviewed the output of munitions workers during the First World War in Britain, when the government suspended all regulations on working hours in an effort to increase production.
  • The study found that reducing the number of hours the munitions workers worked during the First World War in Britain would not have reduced output by a noticeable amount. In summary, Pencavel wrote "below an hours threshold, output is proportional to hours; above a threshold, output rises at a decreasing rate as hours increase."
  • In relation to today, the authors found that slightly reduced hours also do not reduce productivity, and that workers working long hours are more susceptible to burnout from fatigue, as well as workplace safety violations and accidents. Additionally, the author notes that employers may not even consider that reducing hours can be done without reducing output, and could save businesses money due to lower payroll and operating costs.

The Motivational Potential of Meaningful Work: Relationships with Strengths Use, Work Engagement, and Performance

  • This article was written by Jessica Van Wingerden and Joost Van der Stoep and published in 2018. The focus of the study was to "examine the complex linkage between meaningful work and performance."
  • The researchers used a "sample of 459 professionals working at a global operating organization for health technology" and then conducted "structural equation modeling" on that sample.
  • The researchers found that meaningful work and strong performance are related and, therefore, employers should attempt to increase the availability of meaningful work for employees. Some ways to do this include to change the perceptions of what is meaningful, for example "by clearly communicating the goals, values, and practical contributions of the organization outside the organization." Additionally, they found that meaningful work can reduce burnout.

Resilience training in the workplace from 2003 to 2014: A systematic review

  • The review, written by Ivan T. Robertson, Cary L. Cooper, Mustafa Sarkar, and Thomas Curran in the Journal of Occupational Organizational Psychology, provides a "systematic review of work‐based resilience training interventions."
  • In this review, they found that "resilience training can improve personal resilience and is a useful means of developing mental health and subjective well‐being in employees...[and] that resilience training has a number of wider benefits that include enhanced psychosocial functioning and improved performance."
  • Additionally, the researchers noted that further study on the most effective content and format for resilience training is needed, as this area has not been adequately explored. Also, more study is needed on if certain groups of people respond better or worse to resilience training and why.


Optimize Yourself

  • The Optimize Yourself website is authored by Zack Arnold, who developed the Optimize Yourself program. He is also an award-winning film & television editor, having worked on shows such as Burn Notice, Empire, Shooter, and Glee, a member of the American Cinema Editors, and the director of GO FAR: The Christopher Rush Story.
  • The mission of the blog is to "help ambitious creative professionals... who live sedentary lifestyles learn how to more efficiently manage [their] time, energy, and attention so [they] can maximize [their] focus and creativity, minimize depression and burnout, and become the optimized version of [themselves]."
  • The website features a free guidebook on increasing productivity and avoiding burnout, blog content about optimizing one's career, health, productivity, and mindset, a podcast, and courses in productivity.

Complete Guide to Deep Work

  • The Complete Guide to Deep Work is an extensive online article written by Doist. Doist is a "top-ranked productivity app that helps millions of people organize life."
  • The post centers around the idea of "Deep Work", which was first written about by Cal Newport, an author and computer science professor at Georgetown University, in 2012. In Newport's words, Deep Work is "professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate."
  • The article focuses on teaching how to perform deep work, improving one's ability to do deep work, and removing digital distractions and shallow work from one's life. Lastly, the article provides a direct checklist for beginning one's own Deep Work practice.


  • LifeDev is an online blog dedicated to helping "creatives and digital nomads to hone their personal productivity."
  • The site content includes articles, essays and product reviews. Popular articles include those titled "Taking Better Breaks", "Time Management Software", "GTD Workflow Cheatsheet", "Quarterly Planning — What You Need to Know to Be Successful", and "Idea Capture Tools."
  • One of the main focuses of the site is the Getting Things Done system from David Allen. The idea behind this system is about organizing tasks into those that must be acted upon, or stored for later. By using this system, people can free up their "mind’s RAM (or resources)" in order to be more productive.

Study Hacks Blog

  • Cal Newport, inventor of Deep Work and author of six books, authors the blog Study Hacks, which focuses on the "intersection of digital technology and culture" and how digital tools can be used to increase productivity.
  • Newport focuses on his "Deep Life philosophy", which is about "focusing with energetic intention on things that really matter — in work, at home, and in your soul — and not wasting too much attention on things that don’t." There are four areas of life, according to Newport, that deserve attention: community, craft, constitution, and contemplation.
  • In addition to Deep Work, Newport focuses on the ideas of digital minimalism, attention capital, career capital, the Straight-A Method, and The Zen Valedictorian.

Barking Up The Wrong Tree

  • Barking Up The Wrong Tree is a blog dedicated to "provid[ing] science based insights on how to be awesome at life."
  • Recent topics include improving mental resilience during the pandemic, overcoming impostor syndrome, and neuroscience secrets that can improve emotional intelligence.
  • The blog is published by Eric Barker, and has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Wired Magazine and Time Magazine.

Online Platforms

Reddit Productivity Subreddit

  • The Productivity subreddit has 412,000 members and is focused on "tips and tricks for being more productive."
  • Posts focus on how to stay motivated, how to be productive, productivity apps, productivity playlists, book recommendations, and more.
  • There are multiple posts per day and most posts receive multiple comments in response.


  • There are multiple productivity-focused channels on YouTube, the video sharing platform.
  • Thomas Frank, who has been posting videos on YouTube since 2006, is the founder of the College Info Geek website. The channel is focused on effective learning techniques. It has had over 89.7 million views, with the most popular video — How to Learn Faster with the Feynman Technique — having more than four million views.
  • Keep Productive was started in 2011 and has 98,500 subscribers. The videos focus on reviews of productivity apps and software.
  • Carl Pullein's channel was started in 2013 and is focused on "productivity, time management, and self-development."


  • Facebook has multiple productivity-focused groups including The Tech Productivity Group, which focuses on increasing productivity for people involved in tech.
  • Another Facebook group includes Insane Productivity, which has over 10,000 members discussing Darren Hardy's productivity mentoring.