There are points in life when you are working your butt off, yet still feel like you are being totally unproductive and as if you are wasting your energy. This can happen more often than one might think and it should be the moment for deep introspection. Maybe it’s because of overall job dissatisfaction, maybe it’s due to stress or personal issues, or maybe it’s just lack of time management skills. No matter what the reason is, the worst thing one could do is to do nothing and keep living with that type of discomfort.
Around 100 years ago, Frederick Taylor stressed the importance of efficiency and based on it developed a whole new science, today known as management. Since then, organizations have evolved a lot, but productivity as a KPI still provides us with important information for organizing both businesses and ourselves. That’s why 100 years later, productivity is still taken very seriously – it’s followed, measured and appropriately managed.
While there are numerous tips and tricks to help you stay focused and productive, none of them can be implemented if you haven’t mastered the fundamentals, so that’s what we’ll talk about. What are the four basic components you should take care of before trying out a new time management technique or a cool new app to track work hours?
The design of your office, whether it's the one in your home or in the actual office building will affect the productivity of your employees and yourself. If you and your team are working remotely, you should try to have a dedicated working space. Many remote companies provide allowances to employees, so they can get a new desk, an office chair, and other equipment they might need to create a perfect workspace. This dedicated piece of the apartment will help you feel like you’re at work, and since your brain will associate it with work, it will be easier to focus and stay productive.
When thinking of office design for collocated teams, you should carefully consider whether to have an open plan or not. Open-space offices have become increasingly popular in the last years, and one of the main reasons is the reduced cost of creating the office space. While open plans are great for collaboration, they can be a great source of distractions among employees.
The colors you choose for the walls, chairs, desks and carpets also affect employees’ mood, and they can have an impact on productivity. The green color is usually associated with nature, which is calming, and it’s also good if your employees spend their days in front of their computers. You can incorporate it into your office by adding more plants to the workspace, it’s a way of bringing nature and the calm inside. Blue also has a calming effect, because we’re usually associating it with the sky, and spending time outside. Some studies have shown that blue and green help with improving efficiency and focus.
Red is connected to high-energy levels, and a sense of urgency, which is why you shouldn’t use it in the main spaces, where employees spend a lot of time. You can use it in the hallways, bathrooms, break rooms, otherwise it could make your team feel anxious, and stressed. Yellow is great for keeping the spirits up, and keeping everyone happy at all times. Supposedly, it triggers innovation, so you should use it where your marketing and development team works at.
Invest in ergonomic equipment - desks, chairs, mice, keyboards. Your employees spend at least 40 hours every week sitting behind that desk, so you must make sure it’s comfortable. A major trend right now is an adjustable desk, which can turn into a standing desk, helping your employees stretch their legs a bit while still working. Ergonomic equipment can prevent injuries, and therefore keep your employees happy and healthy.
It’s not only the workspace you should think about - you should focus on the break rooms as well. Places for brakes should be separated rooms, or patios, where employees can really relax while eating lunch, instead of eating lunch with one hand and typing with the other. Breaks help us reenergize, they make us more productive, they help us connect with our team and be satisfied with our jobs.
Since distractions are a key reason for low productivity, you must find a way to minimize them. Open space offices aren’t really a distraction-free place, so you should invest in noise cancelling headphones, and allow your employees to tune out while working by using them.
Allow your team members to turn off their email or instant messaging notifications for a couple of hours per day, so they can really focus on what they’re doing instead of checking their inbox all the time. Create a general rule so that employees notify other team members when they want to be distraction-free, and make sure you’re all respecting that time.
Some people prefer their desks clean when they’re working, while others feel they’re doing their best work when they have notebooks, pens, markers, post-it notes all around them. Encourage employees to keep their desks the way it helps them stay focused, and keep in mind that not everyone works in the same way as you do.
In case that your team is working remotely, the chances of getting distracted are much higher. While there are no coworkers walking around, chatting about their weekend - there are kids, or roommates, or animals which can distract them. It’s impossible to get rid of all of these distractions, so every person must find a way to deal with them in the best way possible.
The way you and your team organize workload and collaboration will heavily affect your productivity and focus. While seeing people work and getting things done can be a great motivator, there should be a certain structure which will help you all achieve more.
Use a project management tool to create and delegate tasks among team members, encourage them to consult coworkers when they aren’t sure how to proceed. Make sure you have a prioritization system, and that all team members are aware of which tasks should be a priority. Encourage everyone to create their own schedules and stick with them. Let your team know it’s okay to test out different time management and productivity techniques which can help them become better at what they do.
Plan all activities, put them in a calendar or on your to-do list, and stick with them. Promote this way of organizing to your team. Not every tool or method will work the same for everyone, but that shouldn’t stop your employees from trying another technique that might be better for them.
We strongly recommend that you use some form of time tracking software, or a remote employee monitoring tool to stay on top of everyone’s activities without having to interrupt them and break their workflow.
4. State of Mind
Even though the state of our mind and body don’t affect our productivity in an obvious, measurable way, they certainly have a major impact on it. A study in the UK has found that there are more than 15 million sick days taken per year due to stress, depression or anxiety. What you as a manager and a business owner do, and the way you act heavily affect the way your employees feel, which in turn affects their productivity.
The same study found that employee engagement increases by 31% if a worker believes that their employer cares about their well-being. These show us that employers need to pay more attention to employees' mental health. We’re still working through the stigma around it, and many workers aren’t comfortable talking about these issues with their bosses. For example, team building exercises which are connected to company’s goals are a great way to make employees feel better and more engaged.
On the other hand, our physical health also affects the way we work. Working out reduces stress, and helps us blow off some steam after a hard day at work. Employees with poor dietary habits are usually 66% less productive than those who pay attention to what they’re eating.
Encourage healthy habits by paying your employees’ gym memberships, stock up the kitchen with healthy snacks, or host company lunches with a selection of healthy meals. You could also organize team basketball or soccer games - besides being a great team building activity, it’ll keep all of you healthy and happy. If that’s not really your team’s thing, you can organize a yoga class in the office, or other similar events which encourage movement.
No matter how hard we try, we’ll still get distracted by minor things, our focus won’t always be there, and our productivity will go up and down on a daily basis. As a manager or employer you must understand that this is normal, but you should also try to organize the working environment in such ways that it promotes productivity, efficiency and effectiveness of the entire team.
This article was originally written on May 3rd, 2016 by Marija Grgur, it was updated on May 18th, 2020 by Bojana Djordjevic.