Would you consider yourself a bit disorganized, maybe someone who doesn’t function before their first coffee? Or maybe someone who loves to schedule every minute of the day and track each detail down to a tee? No matter who you are or what your natural tendencies are, one thing is clear: we aren’t programmed to operate like machines. Therefore our individual productivity may vary by day, and ultimately affect our overall performance.
This post explores some common factors that influence productivity and shares some hacks to help you work as efficiently and effectively as possible.
“By changing the fulcrum of our mindset and lengthening our lever of possibility, we change what is possible. It’s not the weight of the world that determines what we can accomplish. It is our fulcrum and lever.”
– Shawn Achor
I recently came across a TEDtalk by best-selling author, and expert on happiness and success, Shawn Archor. In “The Happy Secret to Better Work”, Shawn discusses the importance of happiness and how it relates to productivity. Shawn’s research team has found that the underlying issue at many organizations and schools is that we follow a misguided mantra: If I work harder, I’ll be more successful. If I’m more successful then I’ll be happier.
Additionally, defining subjective goals such as “happiness” and “success” is dangerous where we fail to define these as concrete values. Especially given our propensity to increase expectations over time, in effect making these goals moving targets. Shawn suggests readjustment of our perception and encourages individuals to find happiness in the present in order to increase productivity.
In his research, he found that the impact of IQ on productivity only accounts generally for 25% of the total — the other 75% corresponds to an individual’s level of optimism, social support and ability to see stress as a challenge rather than a threat.
We often mistake external circumstances as key contributors to happiness, assuming that if an individual has an ideal situation, that they should automatically be content and productive. However, in reality, happiness levels are dependent on how each individual perceives their own life and how their brain processes the things they see around them.
In Shawn’s talk, he focuses greatly on the idea of rewiring our brains in order to view the world through a more positive lens. He says that if we change our formula for happiness and success, we can change the way we affect reality.
Why is this so important?
The happiness advantage has a tremendous effect on productivity and overall well-being. Shawn shared a couple of examples: “Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed. You’re 37% better at sales. Doctors are 19% faster, [and] more accurate at coming up with the correct diagnosis…”
In order to enable our brains function at their highest potential, we need to rewire our perception to view external circumstances with a positive mindset. In doing so, we’ll potentially work harder, faster and happier because we’ll be flooding our brains with dopamine. Dopamine not only makes us feel happier, but it also switches on the learning centers in our brain.
Shawn suggests a few tried and true activities that can help us train our brains to reach a positive state of mind:
By performing these activities regularly, you’ll make a habit of training your brain to be more positive, thus opening up the door to perform at a higher level.
On the other side of the scale, we have stress… something we have all experienced at some point or another. When one’s body is under stress the brain releases cortisol which causes cloudy thinking and can be incredibly unhealthy at certain levels, especially if stress is experienced for prolonged periods.
Whenever possible, stress should be avoided; as it is not only unhealthy but has also been named in numerous studies as a leading factor in causing unhappiness and disengagement in the workplace. While at times unavoidable, there are actions individuals can take to understand and control negative feelings.
The Yerkes–Dodson law, illustrated below, states that performance increases with arousal, but only to a certain point:
The shape of the curve will vary by task and familiarity, but psychologists Yerkes & Dodson found that there is a point of optimal balance between arousal and productivity. Noradrenaline, which is released within the brain when we feel stressed, can increase arousal and alertness. While it can negatively impact individuals by causing increased restlessness or anxiety, it also has the ability to improve memory and focus attention.
If we follow Shawn Archor’s example above and we can reframe our thinking to perceive stressful situations as challenges, it may help us to stay on the healthy side of the scale and allow us to take on difficult tasks head on, with a clearer mind.
If your stress level, however, has surpassed the optimal level of arousal for strong performance and has you feeling overwhelmed, try these simple activities to relax and get your mind back on track:
“The productivity of a work group seems to depend on how the group members see their own goals in relation to the goals of the organization.”
– Ken Blanchard
We’ve already learned that meeting objectives should not equate to happiness, as our criteria for this concept is always moving and we may just find ourselves yearning for more: a better car, a promotion, etc. However, if we use objectives to strategically monitor productivity, we can identify when and why we are not productive and therefore make changes to help us become increasingly effective.
The key is to set realistic objectives that truly tie into our overall performance goals. If, for example, we know we are going to need X new qualified leads in 2017 in order to reach our sales goal, we shouldn’t work solely towards that number. We should map out micro-objectives across a timeline and develop lead generation initiatives to enable us to meet these.
By focusing on smaller, more attainable goal, individuals are able to autonomously manage their timing and efforts in accordance with their goals, while simultaneously contributing to the organization’s objectives. This allows them to avoid unwarranted amounts of stress which can be associated with stretch goals, or objectives that are seemingly impossible to reach.
The law of effect is a widely referenced principle on behavior conditioning that states that; if results are favorable, the more likely we are to expand on and repeat the actions taken when reaching that positive outcome. Unfortunately, the same is true if the results are negative.
In conjunction with your strategic goals or just daily planning, you may choose to practice the rule of 3. The rule itself is simple, at the beginning of every period, irrespective of whether it’s daily, weekly, or quarterly, decide on the 3 things you’d like to accomplish by the end of that period.
In doing so, you’re focusing on three specific things that you’ve already identified as priorities. You’ll also be able to better organize yourself and learn your limits. For example, you may overestimate the amount of time and energy needed for any given task, however, the more you employ this rule, the more in tune you’ll be with your needs, constraints and abilities. Therefore, the better you’ll be at planning how to prioritize tasks in working towards your 3 objectives in the future.
It’s vital that organizations have effective channels and communication practices in place to enable all team members to best perform their required function, share expertise or receive feedback.
One way organizations can encourage communication and productivity is by regularly scheduling or providing feedback sessions. Executives who openly engage in conversations or request feedback around their performance may find they are more easily able to communicate their needs, goals, and aspirations. If one is able to communicate their needs, they are more likely to stay on track to reach their goals and to maintain a transparent workflow.
Furthermore, where individuals are regularly informed about their contribution to the overall success of the company, the more likely they are to gain a sense of pride in their work, which will encourage them to take ownership of their individual performance. If, however, employees feel as though they are wading in the water and just being swept away with the tide, they are less likely to be engaged in their daily tasks.
In conclusion, our overall performance is only as strong as the impact of each individual contributing to our goals, and the collective results of the team. So if you’d like to optimize your productivity, or that of your team, set clear objectives, facilitate multilateral communication, put strategies in place to manage stress and encourage positive thinking.
How do you keep yourself on track to meet your objectives? Do you have any productivity hacks?
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