Here is a clutch of articles from our latest Happiness At Work collection that offer ideas for achieving/improving/maintaining/regaining productivity in our super-driven multi-connected 21st century lives…
Google “productivity” and you’ll be dished up more than 200 million search results. Scroll around and you’ll find blogs, websites, apps, browser plug-ins, essays, subreddits, consulting firms, publishing houses, podcasts, and scientific studies devoted to productivity.
What’s the obsession? Our modern lives are inundated with more information than ever before, with pressure to do more, better, faster. There are productivity hacks (wake up early; develop a routine) abound to help us squeeze more high-quality work out of less high-quality time.
But here’s the thing: the secret to productivity is actually super simple. Ready for it?
Manage your willpower.
How do you do that exactly? Systems and routines. Omer Perchik, founder of Any.do, writes about how reserving your willpower for truly impactful decisions and activity helps safeguard your productivity potential throughout the day:
Willpower is not something that you just create more of. In any given day, willpower is a limited resource, and truly productive people make sure they preserve it for the things that matter…. When you learn how to manage your willpower, you’re not only able to cut out extraneous work and decisions, but also more adept at choosing the decisions that matter. That’s a key understanding that highly productive people live by.
Systems to minimize “ego depletion,” Perchik’s term for willpower, include The 10-Minute Rule (break down all tasks into 10-minute mini-tasks), the Pomodoro Technique (focus on one task for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break),automation of as many tasks as possible, and building smarter to-do lists.
Simply add a system, with an adjustment to your routine, for maximal willpower protection. Easily distracted by your open office environment? Make it a habit to take a laptop into a closed room at a certain time each day. Get sidetracked by email overload in the morning? Don’t check it until the afternoon, and set up rules in your inbox to file away messages by topic or urgency. It’s all about minimizing decision fatigue and knowing your habits and preferences well enough to adjust. Whatever works best for you, adopt it. Your willpower stores will stay fully stocked so you don’t need to dip in for anything that doesn’t move your work forward.
The best part is that the better you get at maintaining your willpower, it’s not only your work that will benefit; so will your personal life. With more willpower not being wasted on things like what to order at Starbucks or how to respond to someone’s cryptic email, you’ll have much more mental energy to tackle personal goals (read 100 books this year), make healthy decisions (make it to the gym after work), and carve out time for side projects. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Get after it.
The Productivity Habits author Ben Elijah suggests just three ways to help you boost efficiency and effectiveness in your organisation:
One of the most effective ways to boost your team’s productivity is getting into the habit of capturing information…
Encourage your staff to capture information whenever it comes to their attention. It’s one of the most powerful habits they’ll ever pick up. They could use a piece of paper, a smartphone or a dedicated task management tool – it doesn’t really matter. Once your team gets into the habit of putting all key actions from email, conversations, meetings and calls into a single task system, it’ll be easy for them to decide which task to do. After all, their brains are for decision-making, not storage.
Does your working environment help your people to produce their best work, or does it hinder them?
I use a concept called The Context Triangle to answer this question. It’s a mechanism which helps you to decide how a situation – a particular combination of space, time and thought – defines the kind of work. Encourage managers in your business to think about the kind of work their teams do, and select an environment accordingly.
The Context Triangle also links mood to attention. Mood is as much a part of your people’s environment as physical space and resources. It’s fairly intuitive – when feeling tired or low the kind of work someone can produce will be different than the high-attention tasks they can perform when happy and energetic. Of course, it’s important to do what you can to ensure your team is happy. But by acknowledging that people sometimes need to defocus and zone-out, you can train them to use those moments for low-attention work, like quick bits of admin.
Different sources of information, such as social media, phone calls, and emails, can be described as “channels”. Each channel has different levels of relevance, volume, and urgency. If we focus on volume and urgency we can determine how often employees should review a channel. Your staff probably receive a high volume of email so it’s more efficient to batch-process them. Most emails are also low urgency – new messages probably aren’t the most important thing in your universe right now. Therefore, does email need to be checked every five minutes? Do emails even deserve the right to make a sound or a buzz, which notifies you to their presence?
Encourage your people to find a cadence for checking email, which reflects the volume and urgency of the messages they receive.
By encouraging your people to capture information habitually, you will make it easier for them to carry out their commitments. By thinking strategically about the kind of tasks your working environments lend themselves to, you can empower staff to make the most of their working situations. And by educating your people to give emails the attention they deserve (i.e., less attention than they’re probably giving them right now), they can free up time and attention for more important work.
If you are like us, you often find yourself working on weekends and are criticised by somebody (your spouse, a friend, a colleague) who thinks there is something inherently wrong in spending some time over the weekend on work-related activities. Do they have a point? We thought there might be some truth to their criticism. And since we are scientists, we’ve looked for empirical data that would help us understand this phenomenon (and ourselves). What we’ve found is that many of us work on weekends for a very simple reason: We enjoy it. Think of it as a productivity high. But research shows that we often overdo it and that it may be more costly than we realise. Let’s dig a little deeper into the data.
One reason so many of us work on the weekend is that we receive pleasure from feeling productive. In a recent study, one of us (Francesca) asked a group of over 500 employed individuals to think about and describe one of four experiences: a time when they felt productive at work, very busy, unproductive, or not busy at all. When people wrote about a time when they felt productive, they reported feeling at their best and happy with life — more so than in any other condition. It is by feeling productive, these data suggest, that we believe we are making some sort of a difference in the world.
But research also suggests another answer to the question of why we work when we’re supposed to be taking it easy: We tend to forego leisure in favour of working and earning beyond our needs. In a series of laboratory studies, Christopher K. Hsee of the University of Chicago and his collaborators showed this was true even when they eliminated possible reasons participants could use for over-earning, such as uncertainty about the future and a desire to pass on money to others…
Now, you may be thinking that for many people, work isn’t painful. It is certainly true for us (at least on most days). As long as you love what you do, what’s the problem with working on the weekend?
Turning again to research for an answer, we find that our cognitive resources are a scarce resource that gets depleted and has to be refilled over time. Cognitive resources are important, allowing us to control our behaviours, desires, and emotions…
Demanding jobs have the potential to energise and motivate employees, but the pressure employees face may make them focus more on maintaining performance on their primary tasks (e.g., patient assessment, medication distribution) and less on other tasks, particularly when they are fatigued. For hospital caregivers, hand-washing may be viewed as a low-priority task, leading them to diverge from hand-hygiene guidelines as the workday progresses.
In fact, depleting our cognitive resources can make it more difficult for us to follow our moral compass. In a series of studies one of us (Francesca) conducted, when participants’ cognitive resources had been depleted, they were more likely to cheat and behave dishonestly on a variety of tasks as compared to those in a control condition.
Our passion for our work and the pleasure we gain from feeling productive may explain why we so often work on the weekend, but we still need to be sure to make time to recharge. Tony Schwartz, CEO of the Energy Project and author of the book The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, offers some good advice on this point: Applying “fierce intentionality” to all that we do can benefit both our work and personal lives. When you’re working, make sure you’re really working; and when you’re renewing, make sure you’re really renewing.
by Michael Bunting, a specialist in executive development, and co-author of Extraordinary Leadership
A new report from the Australian Psychological Society indicates that one in four workers felt moderately to severely distressed in the past year alone.
The things workers stress over include the burden of a heavy workload, a difficult boss, the concept of change that eats up even more of their day, and worries about losing their jobs.
Buddhist monk and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Thich Nhat Hanh describes mindfulness as “the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment.”
For an employee, it means being fully present in a moment, thinking only of the task at hand, not what is piled up in the inbox or what might appear there in the future. It is the energy of being aware of what is really happening and of refocusing on your work and its purpose.
Mindfulness involves the intentional and non-judgmental focus of our attention on our emotions, sensations and thoughts in the here and now. According to a Pennsylvania State University Study, it provides emotional regulation, decreased reactivity, increased response flexibility, interpersonal benefits and intrapersonal benefits.
Here are some ways to practise mindfulness in your workplace:
1. Make time for mindfulness
In times of greatest stress remember the Zen proverb that suggests you should meditate quietly for 20 minutes a day. If you are too busy to do that, you should meditate for an hour.
2. Accept your co-workers regardless of their strengths and weaknesses
The people who work with you have their own strengths and weaknesses. No matter where you go, there will be people you naturally warm to and those who upset you. Do not judge the latter. Just like you they have had to undergo an upbringing and you have no idea how it moulded their character. Do your best to recognise people for where they are now in the present, not for who they were yesterday or who they might become in the future.
3. Practice mindful breathing to restore your centre of calm
When you feel stressed, it can be extremely helpful to experience mindful breathing. Simply breath in and out three times, focused on nothing but your breath. Eliminate all other thoughts and just let calm return to the present.
4. Cultivate a habit of abundance
Express gratitude for the good things people around you are doing.
5. Do one routine task mindfully
Return your attention to the current moment. Abandon your concerns about the future or the past. Choose a task you have to do and do it focusing completing on the task. See it in a new way.
6. Email mindfully
Type out your email and then step away from your keyboard. Take three deep breaths and focus only on your breath. Return to the email and re-read it. Do you still feel that way? Imagine how the person reading it will feel. Is that the reaction you want to achieve?
If you would like to learn more about 21st century time management techniques and approaches, here is a workshop I am running in London at the end of April…
This course will help you improve your work habits and manage your time more effectivity. You will learn how to build long-lasting solutions to match the demands and challenges of your current environment.
By the end of training course you will:
- Be able to recognise and use your unique ‘natural’ strengths & preferred ways of working
- Understand how to achieve a good balance in your work and life – whatever this means to you personally.
- Be able to select and utilise the 21st century time management approaches best suited to you, such as managing emails and beating procrastination.
- Have learned a toolkit of contemporary techniques for increasing your sense of being in control, changing bad habits and being more proactive.
- Have been given fresh ideas and solutions for managing multiple relationships and staying on top of your priorities.
‘It was an inspiring session – I found it really useful.’ Daisy Dockrill, Apples and Snakes
This course is aimed at anyone who wants to make better use of their time and improve their ability to manage their workload, productivity, work-life balance or the competing demands made on them.
The course will be based around the latest thinking in performance and work management coupled with practical exercises designed to be adaptable to the practical, everyday needs of individual participants. Course notes and reference material are provided.
Mark Trezona is Managing Director of BridgeBuilders STG Ltd and has years of experience delivering leadership, team, communications and strategic training programmes for arts, charity and public sector professionals. He is an expert in happiness and resilience at work. He is an associate and sound designer with Shaky Isles Theatre and has an MA in Performance Making and an MA in Management Leadership & Learning.
£125+VAT (£150) for ITC members and £175+VAT (£210) for non-members.
The Albany, Douglas Way, London, SE8 4AG