Over the last few years, employee productivity has become one of those ubiquitous business buzzwords like company culture and employee engagement. I can tell you that when we share posts on social media, the ones dealing with productivity outperform the others by a wide margin. Why is that?
Let’s start by defining productivity as performance of stated goals and objectives within a specified time frame. This is an important frame, because it is easy for many of us to work 40, 50 or even 60 hours a week without moving forward on any of our high leverage tasks. Only progress on short-term goals and long-term objectives should count towards productivity, not just busy-work.
Our two main metrics for success are money and power, and they drive us to work longer hours, sleep with our phones and tablets, miss important moments with our families and impacts our health.
The problem is two-fold: 1) Without processes and help from leadership, people can work long and hard without being very productive. That is, without completing the projects that will actually create desired outcomes like increased revenue and profitability. 2) Along the way, the misguided desire to contribute value at all costs can lead to negative consequences like employee burnout and poor health. Here too, leadership must set the example of sustainable productivity.
Below are a handful of tips from entrepreneurs and business leaders, as well as practical advice sourced from the world’s most productive companies, to help you sustain the highest levels of productivity throughout your own workday:
By: Srinivas Rao
Waking up to your smart phone’s alarm rarely ends there. How many times have you started reading email or checked your calendar before even getting out of bed? How did this become the new normal?
Workplace productivity begins with self-care at home. Rao says no to everything but his essential priorities every morning. He says that the most valuable creative output is produced in the first three hours of the day, because (among other things) the mind is less scattered and you can start the day with a sense of accomplishment.
While not everyone has the luxury of dedicating their first few hours to themselves (because children), there are small steps that every person can take to restructure their morning in order to increase productivity throughout the day.
By: Carol Roth
Try as you might, some of you will never be able to follow the advice in the first article above. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s a matter of will and discipline, or if you just aren’t designed to greet the dawn.
Roth shares the stories of several successful late-rising entrepreneurs who have learned that getting proper sleep is paramount. What’s the point of waking at 6 am when you’ll be operating at 50% for the remainder of the day? Roth shares advice from Ross Andrew Paquette, founder and CEO of Maropost:
If your best ideas come at night, work at night. Take sleepless nights as a sign you have something worth working on, then take those sleepless nights to work on it.
Another powerful productivity hack shared is one of time-blocking, where you dedicate separate blocks of time to ideating, focused work, and communication with stakeholders inside and outside of your company.
Perhaps the most valuable piece of advice Roth offers is managing your schedule. This also includes planning out the next day as the last task you perform each day. This practice can stave off the desire to check your schedule immediately upon rising, which can cascade into WFB (working from bed). Instead feeling sure about your schedule can free you up to start your day with a meditation, journaling, or exercise.
By: Srini Pillay
We productivity junkies place a high premium on focus. This includes everything from creating to-do lists and setting timetables, to practicing mindfulness in order to regulate emotions and make sense of the past. But according to Dr. Pillay, exhausting our focus can drain our energy and make us less helpful:
The brain operates optimally when it toggles between focus and unfocus, allowing you to develop resilience, enhance creativity, and make better decisions too.
Unfocusing activates the Default Mode Network (DMN) which uses 20% of our energy when we are at rest. It activates memories and let’s us move back and forth through our personal timeline to improve our decision making. Dr. Pillay recommends practices like Positive Constructive Daydreaming (PCD) to access the DMN and “boost creativity, strengthen leadership ability, and also-re-energize the brain”.
By: Advance Systems
Ok, let’s leave the soft skills aside for a minute. In line with the philosophy of “what gets measured gets managed”, here are some of the eleven pieces of practical management advice for fostering and measuring workplace productivity:
1. Start by setting a baseline
2. Identify benchmarks and targets
3. Define the tasks that translate into productivity
4. Track individual progress
5. Solicit employee feedback to give people a voice
Even though this article stresses the metrics and data side of performance, they clearly include the human factor. Leaders who view their employees as mere cogs or assets will soon see productivity decline.
By: Stephanie Vozza
Speaking of data, research from Bain & Company found that Apple, Netflix, Google and Dell are 40% more productive than average. And no, it’s not because they can afford to hire the best employees. These companies start out with the same percentage of A-players. It’s what they do with them that matters.
According to Bain & Company partner Michael Mankins, the average company distributes its top talent across all roles. These top companies do it differently:
They select a handful of roles that are business critical, affecting the success of the company’s strategy and execution, and they fill 95% of these roles with A-level quality.
That’s why Apple was able to deploy iOS 10 with six-hundred engineers in less than two years, while it took Microsoft ten-thousand engineers five years to debut (and eventually retract) Vista.
So why are productivity posts so popular? Employees know that getting sh*t done is one of the most important leverage points for their career advancement. There’s also a tremendous sense of fulfillment that comes from adding real value and checking goals off the list. And managers and other company leaders are drawn to finding new ways to motivate their employees to consistently produce stellar work-product.
In the end, there’s no magic universal formula for sustainably maintaining high workplace productivity. The key elements are knowing what works for each individual, being outcome focused, caring about the personal well-being of each employee, and measuring performance along the way.
David is Content Manager at 15Five, a lightweight weekly check-in that delivers a full suite of integrated tools – including continuous employee feedback, OKRs, pulse surveys, 1-on-1 meeting agendas, and peer recognition. David’s articles have appeared in TNW, TalentCulture, and Startups.co. Follow him @davidmizne.
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