Our Productivity Ninja, Hayley, is often asked by delegates in our time management workshops how managers can make their organization or their teams more productive. Like all things that relate to productivity and wellbeing, there isn’t just one answer, one thing that you can do to help solve the existing problems and challenges. It’s a combination of lots of little things.
As a manager or someone in a leadership role, you do have more influence to create the right environment for yourself, your team, and others in your organization to increase their productivity and wellbeing. This improves morale, helps retain staff and it aids people to do a better job for your customers.
For Hayley, there are 2 things that you can do that will make a huge impact. The first is to model good habits around your own productivity and wellbeing. It really is no use you saying to people that you don’t expect them to stay until 10 pm most evenings if they see you doing that and are receiving emails from you in the evening and at the weekend.
The second thing that you can do, is to create a culture where it’s not just ok to talk about these challenges, but where it’s expected. By creating an environment where people are able to challenge the norm, where people can ask the question ‘why do we do it like this?’, you are setting the conditions to help people to develop their working habits and cultural practices in a way that will enhance productivity for everyone in the team.
Individuals can work in a productive way in terms of their own workloads and see a benefit to this. We know this is true from the thousands of people we have trained over the years. Hayley is also convinced this is made easier where the culture and the attitude of the managers are more receptive to people working in ways that enhance their productivity and wellbeing:
I hear so many delegates talking in our time management training about managing a high volume of emails and demanding workloads, and about how they can’t do something or find it difficult because their manager won’t approve.
But, what do we actually suggest you do? Changing culture and modelling behavior aren’t necessarily easy things to do. They are however very worthwhile if you are looking to improve your productivity and that of your team.
Modelling Good Habits
Working styles differ, and that is where modelling exemplary habits can be difficult. These suggestions are fairly universal and you can apply them to most knowledge work situations.
1) Don’t send an email if you need a reply or for something to do be done urgently. By urgently I mean right away or within a day or 2. Pick up the phone, or speak in person, or via Skype etc.
2) Don’t reply to emails instantly. Turn off the notifications and go into your inbox when you choose to process them.
3) Spend some time working away from your desk, or have some time each day or week where you should only be disturbed in the event of an emergency. Be clear about what you consider to be an emergency.
4) Encourage your people to solve problems themselves. Next time someone comes to you looking for a solution, don’t offer one. Ask them what they think the options are. You might even ask them to go away and think about the options. Then ask them which option they think is best and why. Either support their decision, or highlight the challenges, then ask them again what they think they might do. Yes, this might take longer the first few times you try it. Eventually people will start to do this thinking before they come to you, and eventually will figure it out for themselves.
5) If you are committed to taking the above approach, you could let your direct reports know this is what you will be doing from now on, and instead of coming to you with problems, they should come to you with suggested solutions as well.
6) Take breaks from your work. That means, spending some time during the working day where you stop working. That could be for a lunch break, it could be to stop and chat with others. The times where you are busiest are often the most important times to take breaks. A lunch break should ideally be away from your desk, and your inbox. We all make less mistakes when we are well rested and encouraging your team to do this will help everyone to be more effective.
7) Finishing on time. We often speak to managers who will say things like “they all stay til late, which I know isn’t good for their wellbeing and productivity”. But if you are staying late too, it doesn’t matter what you say to your people, they will perceive this to be the culture of the organisation. Hayley knows one leader who reduced the working week for her people once they had completed productivity training with us, because she recognized that people were working more effectively and wanted to reward this.
One of the challenges with this last point, is what if you work better in the evening? People, and often managers, will tell us that they are most effective in the evening. For some people, this is the time of day when their energy levels are naturally at their best. But, for most people, this is because they aren’t being interrupted, by calls, emails, colleagues and clients with questions. The answer then is to create this lack of interruptions throughout the working day.
Creating a Culture where People can be More Productive
If you, or others currently don’t feel the environment that you work in supports productivity and wellbeing, you can take steps to change this. It will take time. You will need to persevere, and be proactive in identifying where the challenges are.
1) Start by telling people you want to make some changes, but that you need their help. One of the things Hayley loves about our ‘How to be a Productivity Ninja’ seminar is that it’s very much about starting a conversation, about how individuals and teams can be more productive. That’s what you want to do. To start a conversation, that doesn’t focus on blame, that doesn’t look to justify why things are done in the way that they are. Find out what is, and what isn’t working for people.
2) Accept that there isn’t a one size fits all when it comes to productivity and wellbeing. Support people to state what they need to work more effectively. If you can’t offer it, find a way to improve on what you have already to make it a bit better.
3) Encourage flexible working.
4) Talk about your email culture, your meetings culture and your relationships with your mobile devices.
5) Create an expectation that people will not work while they are on holiday, in the evenings and at weekends (unless, of course, this a contracted part of their job). We know from research, that countries with higher working hours are less productive. So lets use this, and encourage people to switch off, knowing this will help them be more productive when they do work and less likely to lead to burn out and stress.
6) Keep the conversation going. Keep talking people, and finding ways to accommodate what people need to be more effective in what they do. Their job is to do the work, your role as a manager or leader is to create the right environment for that to happen.
7) Be prepared to experiment, to test out new ways of working and doing things. If it doesn’t work after a month, go back to the old way. But spend that month trying to make it work.
8) Talk openly about the fact that you all distract each other at work. How might you better deal with this? Help people to put things in place to protect their attention at the times of the day when they are most effective.
9) Keep listening, keep taking action, and allowing others to do so.
Do let us know how you get on, and please get in touch if you need any help or have any further questions.
Written by Hayley Watts
Hayley is Think Productive UK’s Productivity Ninja for London and the South East of England.
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