Posted by Glenn Gibson
Productivity has become the new mantra of the modern workplace. Technology has allowed us to do things quicker, easier and more efficiently than ever before. There are 10 million smartphones currently circulating Australia, and 2.6 million tablets. Meanwhile there are 3.7 million apps available worldwide, all promising to help make our working and social lives easier.
But when it comes to productivity, what actually works?
If you look at some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, it’s hard to get a clear answer.
Richard Branson swears by exercise, saying that working out gives him at least four additional hours of productive time each day. Meanwhile Arianna Huffington prioritises a good night’s sleep and credits adequate shut-eye as the secret to her success. Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz has no-meeting Wednesdays, allowing him to concentrate on important project work.
It appears that the factors motivating ‘productivity’ can be deeply personal to each individual. We’ve scoured the globe looking to unlock some of the secrets that may help employees reach their full productivity potential.
Tony Schwartz, Founder of The Energy Project says that the eight hour work day requiring people to be chained to their desks for long periods is not only unrealistic, it’s physically impossible. “The human body is hard wired to pulse,” he says. “To operate at our best, we need to renew our energy at 90 minute intervals.”
He recommends managing our energy, not our time, by breaking up our day with 90 minutes of concentrated work, followed by 20 minutes of rest.
Most people will say that they hate busywork such as filing, responding to emails or data entry. But research paints a very different picture about our attitudes to busywork.
A study led by the University of California found employees were actually happiest when performing the mundane tasks usually associated with ‘busywork’. Why is busywork secretly so enjoyable? It’s because completing busywork gives you a feeling of accomplishment without the corresponding stress which comes along with more challenging tasks.
The study, led by Gloria Mark along with colleagues at Microsoft Research, examined how employees’ mood and attention change when performing various activities at work, such as responding to email or checking Facebook.
“With rote work, you get a feeling of accomplishment, but you haven’t exerted a lot of mental activity,” says Dr. Mark. “It gives you a feeling of fulfilment, but there’s not frustration or stress.”
Busywork offers the ‘quick wins’ we look for throughout the day, and can build a wave of momentum to fuel a productive day - as long as you remember to move onto those important tasks before too long.
Not literally, of course, but metaphorically. The idea of ‘eating the frog’ was first used by iconic American author Mark Twain, but it was popularised by professional development guru Brian Tracy as a productivity concept. Eating the frog is the idea that by tackling your worst, most despised task first (the ‘frog’), the rest of your day becomes infinitely easier and manageable.
“Mark Twain once said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worse thing that is going to happen to you all day long,” Tracy says on his blog.. “Your ‘frog’ is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it.”
Try eating your ‘frog’ at the start of each work day and see if it helps the flow of your remaining tasks.
Researchers in New Zealand found that workplaces that encourage organised exercise break amongst its staff reported a 25% increase in staff productivity. A separate study revealed that taking four short walks a day can boost a person’s mood for as long as 11 hours. Exercise releases endorphins and promotes oxygen to the brain, making for a happier, healthier and more energised workforce. Work with your HR team to devise ways organised exercise can become a regular part of your working week and make it easier for employees to get exercise during their lunch breaks.
Case studies by New Zealand at Work found that productive workplaces generally make use of innovative technology, and that these companies make an effort to solicit employee feedback on what technology is useful to them, train their employees to use new technology effectively, and generally maintain an attitude that is open to innovation.
This is something we have seen first hand at Fuji Xerox when introducing Server-less On-demand Printing (SODP) to our clients.
Research suggests that 37% of SME staff lose up to two hours per week on printing related issues. This includes server and printing queues. That adds up to 100 hours each year, per staff member. However, SODP makes a print job available at up-to five different devices. If the nearest printer is occupied, the staff member can simply go to another and release their job. It eliminates the hassle of waiting for their original printer to become available, or re-printing their work.
Companies using SODPs report that their workflows are more streamlined and individual teams are enjoying higher productivity rates from the improved efficiency. The transition towards new printing technology has also prepared their businesses for bigger technological innovations, including mobile computing.