Increase productivity without working more

In my article We are working harder. But are we better off for it?, I explored how we are working more, but being less productive.

A recent study by Stanford University by professor John Pencavel found that after you work for 50 hours per week, your productivity sharply falls. After 55 hours, productivity drops so much that putting in any more hours would be pointless. He further found that those who work 70 hours a week have the same output as those who put in 55.

If productivity isn’t just about doing more (more work, more hours) how might we increase productivity and improve our working experience at the same time?

Whilst pondering this, a few key areas sprang to mind that I thought would be interesting to explore that might help to improve productivity and engagement. These include:

Company policies, processes and procedures kill engagement 

When there are too many processes, meetings, procedures and administration, it can sap energy and enthusiasm to get the job done. Too much of this clutter and distraction from the real job at hand can create organisational drag and really stifle productivity.

Leaders need to eliminate unnecessary work, re-energise employees and refocus on priorities. Sometimes this involves redesigning the operating model and removing unhelpful policies and procedures. Sometimes it’s as simple as cutting out unnecessary meetings.

Keeping your ear close to the ground is vital in quickly recognising what things are sapping the vitality and energy from your staff and causing them to lose their focus and drive. 

Time spent commuting leads to burnout

The effects of long commuting time shouldn’t be underestimated. Not only are we spending more hours commuting, it is contributing to us feeling less fulfilled and less engaged when we are at work. 

The average weekly commuting time in Australia has increased considerably over the last decade. According to the latest Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, workers averaged 4.5 hours commuting time per week in 2017, up 20% since the beginning of the decade.

City workers typically spent more than an hour commuting each day with Sydney-siders averaging 71 minutes a day spent travelling to and from work. 

According to the survey, long-distance commuters (defined as two hours or more a day) are less likely than short-distance commuters (less than 60 minutes a day) to be satisfied with their jobs, work-life balance and even pay, equating to much lower levels of overall job satisfaction. One could further expect that longer commutes could also contribute to lower levels of engagement and productivity in the time spent at work. Organisations that look to minimise commuting times may enjoy higher levels of productivity and more engaged employees.

One thing we can be grateful for with Covid 19 is that it threw our commuting out the window while corporate Australia worked from home. Many businesses who are adapting a framework that allows staff to work-from-home all or some of the time will be freeing up some precious time in our busy lives, making for a happier, more rested workforce.

Considering the average Sydney-sider commutes 71 minutes a day, if they spent a full week working from home, they can claw back 6 hours a week. That’s certainly going to make staff more refreshed and energised at work.   

Technology and the amount of time spent trying to make it work kills productivity 

A lot of time can be wasted on inefficient technology. 

In fact, according to Intel, an older computer (one that’s more than five years old) takes extra time to boot up, load web pages, and run programs. In one Intel study, researchers found that slower computers decrease employee productivity by as much as 29%, potentially costing an employer up to $17,000 in lost productivity for each older computer in the workplace. This same study also estimated that waiting for an older PC to start up each morning can waste up to 11 hours a year.

With this in mind, investing in new computers could be a worthwhile endeavor for any business looking to increase productivity. 

Multi-tasking doesn’t make us more productive 

What a popular buzz word ‘multi-tasking’ is. Anyone looking at a job spec recently will testify to the fact that it is still a very sought-after quality in employees.

The truth is though, that when we are ‘multi-tasking’ we are actually just jumping from one task to the next. And when we switch from one task to another, our working pace really slows down, and when we come back to the task, a lot of time is lost in refocusing. We become more distracted and less productive. It is a much more productive use of time to do one task at a time, without distractions.

I know, easier said than done, but a good starting point is realising this fact and moving towards a work model where people can do one thing at a time wherever possible. Leaders who want their staff to be more productive should reassess how many jobs each person is doing, when they are doing them, and how many distractions are in place – like unnecessary meetings and email updates. 

Do you have any feedback on how we can increase productivity? I’d love to hear, leave a comment. Could your leadership team benefit from one of my tailored workshops? Please get in touch today. I’d love to help!

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