5 Ways To Increase Productivity And Still Be Happy

Michael Rander

Business Meeting --- Image by © Radius Images/CorbisWe all look for efficiency in our daily life. Wasting time is by definition seen as a negative thing, and packing more things into our already overloaded work schedules seems to be an everyday occurrence. How then do we manage the seemingly impossible task of getting even more done in less time, especially if we are to maintain our sanity and be happy at the same time?

What’s the secret to productivity?

Productivity is closely related to our physical abilities, of course, but just as important is our state of mind. If we can take little steps to improve our mental state while working, research shows that we can achieve dramatic increases in productivity. Steps such as looking at your personal working patterns, your company culture, and your employee goals in a new way and aligning your company management with a new way of motivating, engaging, and developing employees can help you increase productivity.

5 ways to increase productivity

To get started, here are 5 ways you can increase productivity in the workforce today:

  1. Stop what you’re doing and look out the window. Traditional wisdom says to stay fully focused on the task at hand to get work done efficiently, but researchers from the University of Melbourne recently showed an increase in test subjects’ productivity when taking frequent 40 second microbreaks to look at nature or even just pictures of nature. The study indicated improved attention and performance in performing tasks, and though more research is needed in terms of the needed frequency, length, and extended benefits of these “green” microbreaks, the results were promising, with a 6% increase in concentration, as opposed to the 8% drop in concentration for those looking at concrete instead of grass. If “wasting time” looking at nature makes you more productive, maybe we need to reconsider our view on time spent and time wasted in the workplace. Are we encouraging a workday where the well-being of the employee is seen as a key driver of productivity?
  1. Use happiness as a productivity tool. Adding new tasks to employees’ already-full plates rarely have the effect of making them content. As it turns out, we might need to rethink that equation somewhat. A 2014 study from the University of Warwick, U.K., and IZA in Bonn, Germany showed that we might need to look for happiness first in order to increase efficiency since the people in their experiments who were happy showed a 12% greater productivity over those who were not. Whether your personal happiness is increased by free lunches, job security, workplace flexibility, vacation time, new responsibilities, or the ability to follow your passions through your work, the ability to tap into these “happiness” factors prior to adding more to your employees’ workloads seems to have a positive effect. The challenge lies in identifying highly personal definitions of happiness, and this sets a high bar for managers everywhere.
  1. Improve workplace relationships. According to a trial using Humanyze Smart Work Badges in Bank of America call centers to analyze how much and how loudly people talk, as well as their tone of voice and interactions with others, the way we speak to colleagues makes a big difference on productivity. The trial saw increased productivity linked to better interpersonal workplace relationships, and something as simple as a 15-minute coffee break each day boosted productivity by 10% and reduced staff turnover by 70%. While there’s a larger discussion about privacy concerns in gathering this type of information from employees, workplace atmosphere and employee relationships does have a profound impact on our productivity and efficiency. This isse is often not a company-wide priority, nor is it acted on across department lines, and is instead left up to individual managers to deal with.
  1. Get into a “flow” state of mind. Author Steven Kotler defines flow as an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” It’s a mental state where our focus is solely on the task at hand, to the point where everything else fades in the background and performance is massively increased. Typically associated with high-performing athletes, the transition to the workplace is still highly relevant in that it allows you to get to a creative state where you absorb, synthesize, and integrate information at a much higher rate, thus massively increasing productivity. One of the key paths to flow, outlined in an HBR article by Kotler, is the challenge/skills ratio, which states that the relationship between the difficulty of what we are doing and our ability to find the right way to perform that particular task is critical. Basically, if the task is too easy we let our mind wander, and if the challenge is too difficult we let fear get the best of us, or we simply give up. Finding projects that will push employee,s but not break them, is key to reaching this higher state of productivity, but it also requires a strong relationship and understanding between managers and employees. If done right, the results can be tremendous. To illustrate the point, Kotler points to a 10-year study by McKinsey showing that executives in flow were 5 times more productive — that means that if they could spend a full day in flow, they could achieve what would take “non-flow” colleagues a week. Talk about a time saver.
  1. Don’t underestimate the effect of employee engagement. Over the last few years, we have seen a multitude of worrisome statistics regarding the very low employee engagement in the workplace across industries. Regardless of the specific percentage of employees who are actively disengaged (some claim up to 70%), the impact remains huge. Disengaged employees might take breaks and look out the window, but the problem is that the window-gazing isn’t confined to microbreaks, and they certainly aren’t in flow, happy, or in a positive state of mind, all of which affects productivity. Aligning employee passions with actual work tasks, work-life balance with the actual work environment, and the flexibility for individual adjustments with the corporate objectives are all key to a higher level of engagement. However, critically it comes down to management leading these changes by example and creating an open, two-way dialogue with employees about what truly drives engagement for them.

The future of work might be about shifting demographics, technological change, dynamic workforces, and accelerating globalization, but the search for increased productivity will always continue. The mental shift we need to consider in this ongoing search is the way we perceive and change traditional work patterns, as well as the interaction between employees and management when it comes to setting personal goals, enabling work-life balance and a work environment that favors increased productivity, and getting engagement on an everyday basis.

I’d love to hear from you about any steps you are taking to improve productivity, both as an individual and on a company level. What works for you, and how are you implementing it?

To learn more about increasing productivity and building an employee engagement strategy, check out our latest Future of Work research.

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About Michael Rander

Michael Rander is the Global Research Director for Future of Work at SAP. He is an experienced project manager, strategic and competitive market researcher, and operations manager, as well as an avid photographer, athlete, traveler, and entrepreneur.