As employee burnout has been on the rise, so too has a new productivity trend. Well, it’s not exactly new, but it is making a comeback. Slow productivity is focused on ensuring that employees’ volume of work is kept at a sustainable level.
The classic view of productivity has always been the more output, the better. But is this necessarily true for every role, for every industry? Naturally, the unique and varying nature of different industries would require different approaches to productivity.
The slow productivity approach may not be for everyone, but it is especially suitable for those whose levels of employee burnout have soared since COVID: knowledge-based industries.
Due to the nature of many knowledge-based professions, longer timelines with objectives focused on fewer, high-quality tasks are completely within the realm of possibility. In fact, any industry that relies heavily on innovation and creativity will do well to switch to a mindset of sustainable productivity.
So how can you foster a sustainable productivity approach in your teams? What new work habits do you need to help them cultivate? How can employee productivity software help?
Read on to find out!
11 Work Habits to Foster a Sustainable Productivity Mindset in your Team
Switching to a new mindset overnight is not plausible. So keep in mind that you will need to actively coach your team to shift their perspective and install new work habits.
A great way to do this is to design and lead a workshop to introduce what sustainable productivity is, why you think it is a better approach for your team, and how they can cultivate new work habits centered around it.
#1 Slow Down & Stop Multitasking
The first work habit to cultivate in your team may seem like an obvious one for slow productivity, but it’s easier said than done. Keep in mind that most of us have been taught that in order to maximize our productivity, we have to buckle down and grind.
So for slow productivity to be effective, the first step is to encourage your employees to shift their perspective and to let go of the notion that constant underlying anxiety is a necessary driving force for them to be productive.
Start by addressing the myth of multitasking. When an employee has many outstanding tasks at once they feel inclined to work faster on multiple things simultaneously. But this is not an effective way to work; when constantly switching between tasks, efficiency is lost. So coach your team on how to work deliberately, focusing on one task at a time.
Share the following tips with your team to prevent multitasking:
- Set aside time for distraction. Looking at your phone or pulling up social media immediately after waking up puts you in a reactive rather than a proactive state of mind. Wait until you have time to plan your day, and set aside a specific time to engage in distracting activities so it doesn’t interrupt your deep work time.
- Prioritize your tasks. Make a list of priorities. When it comes to work tasks, choose at least three that will bring the most value and prioritize those.
- Keep your workspace clean. Mess is distracting. It will be difficult for you to focus in a chaotic, distracting environment. Always keep your desk clean.
#2 Shorten the Time Spent on Tasks
Coach your team on how to cater their time management to a slow productivity approach. Though it may again seem counterintuitive, by limiting the amount of time they dedicate to an important task, they will create a greater sense of urgency around it that will motivate them to do deep work and avoid procrastination.
By consistently working this way, your team will reduce the total number of hours spent working while enhancing the quality of their work. This time saving-technique will improve not only productivity, but also well-being and morale.
Tip: Most of us are unaware of how much time we actually spend on different tasks. This is where software to monitor employee productivity can really come in handy. Not only are employee productivity tracking tools useful for you as a manager, but you can also provide a productivity analysis report to each member of your team so they can understand their own productive habits, like how much time they spend on different tasks and when.
After all, the best way to track employee productivity is to enable them to track it themselves and learn how to maximize their own productivity.
When it comes to sustainable productivity, the first step to effectively prioritizing is to de-prioritize. That is, deem more tasks as unimportant. Most people feel inclined to switch over to smaller tasks and get them out of the way so they don’t feel the weight of them hanging over their heads before they move to more important tasks.
But when small inconsequential tasks pop up throughout the day, they can add up and eat away at your productive hours before you know it. So for your team to avoid finishing their day and wondering where all their time has gone, teach them to prioritize only a few tasks per day that will bring the most value. After all, not all tasks are created equal.
Tip: Employees should schedule their tasks in a way that is most suitable to their natural working rhythm. For example, understanding when you are the most focused will be extremely useful for knowing when to work on top priority vs. lower priority tasks. Top priority tasks should be scheduled during the time you are most focused.
By using employee productivity tracking software and giving your team access to their own employee productivity dashboard, they will be able to use their own historical data to get a better understanding of when they are most productive. This will help them better prioritize their activities.
#4 Learn to Say No
This is a big one. Coaching your team on how to maintain a sustainable workload by learning to simply say no to additional tasks and requests can make a significant difference. Because many employees want to prove themselves capable and as team players, they will routinely take on more than they can realistically manage - which is a fast path to burnout.
Discuss with employees how to protect their time and energy and express it in a diplomatic way. For example, when presented with a request, coach them to follow these steps:
- Assess the request: Don’t just say yes right away - first, get details about what is actually needed. Ex. What are the parameters? When is the deadline? How important is the task? How much time and energy will it require?
- Know your priorities: This is where it is important to know your priorities; when presented with a request you should already have an idea of what you need to accomplish that day and how pressing it is. Understanding your own priorities will help you communicate them to others.
- Be straightforward: Don’t just make excuses for why you can’t do something. Be honest that you simply don’t have the capacity to take on new tasks right now. When training your team on the sustainable productivity approach, it will be important to stress this so that your team can communicate about it easily and with empathy.
- Propose a different solution: If you are unable to take on the requested task right now, offer an alternative time when you would have the capacity to help or offer to take over a part of the task.
- Build trust with colleagues: When you create boundaries to protect the integrity of your work and protect your wellbeing, this will be apparent to your colleagues. You will create a reputation for yourself not just as a “yes” person but as someone who values producing quality work.
- Practice how to say no: It sounds silly, but it can make saying no much more comfortable. Practicing saying no diplomatically is a good exercise to include in a slow productivity workshop.
#5 Stop Being a Perfectionist
The need for perfectionism can drain our time and energy. And the reality is that perfection is never really expected of us anyway. It’s natural to create work that will require changes, no matter how hard you strive to complete something “perfectly.”
We can be pretty hard on ourselves, so advise your team to seek feedback from others before slaving away trying to make something perfect. Oftentimes, what you see as imperfect, your colleagues will see as quality work. Sometimes we need this new perspective to pull ourselves out of the perfectionist quicksand.
Remember the Pareto Principle, which is a staple philosophy behind slow productivity - 80% of results typically stem from only 20% of the work. So learn to be comfortable with imperfection.
#6 Keep Distractions at a Distance
Literally. Psychological studies have shown that if potential distractions (people, phones, snacks) are moved outside a distance that takes more than 20 seconds to get to, our focus is more likely to remain on our task and efficiency increases. So advise your team to keep their environment free of distractions by moving them out of a range that is easily accessible.
#7 Avoid Busywork
Busywork tricks us into believing we are productive simply because we are busy. The problem with busywork is that it yields little actual value. Busywork is really an avoidance strategy, another form of procrastination that allows us to put off important work without feeling like we’ve been unproductive.
Remind your teams to be weary of busywork and to remember to always put tasks first that create the most value. Don’t get lured in by the illusion of productivity.
Tip: Productivity monitoring tools can again be utilized here to help your team understand exactly how much time they may be spending on activities that bring no real value. Monitoring productivity offers valuable, actionable insights for both leadership and employees.
#8 Don’t just Do - Think
With slow productivity, “thinking” is valued as much, if not more, than “doing.” This is another reason why sustainable productivity is suitable for so many knowledge-based industries. Coach your team to think before they act, and reflect on the purpose of their activities and what exactly they are trying to accomplish. Doing so will ensure they’ve prioritized their time correctly and remain on track to produce work with value.
#9 Enjoy Your Work
Work shouldn’t be a burden. As a manager, you can help your team enjoy their work by breaking up long work weeks with team-building or other social activities to unwind. You may also consider with your team how to change up your work environment to make it more inviting and fun. Frequent breaks are essential to effective slow productivity.
Activities focused on stepping outside of strict “work mode” can also provide opportunities to discuss work topics with colleagues and casually bounce ideas off each other. With the pressure of producing ideas lifted, you may find that new ideas come rolling out naturally.
#10 Stay Ahead of the Game
Many people boast that they “work well under pressure,” mostly because this is something employers have traditionally liked to hear. But the fact is, no one truly works best under pressure. For this reason, it should be avoided as much as possible.
A sustainable productivity mindset has no room for procrastination. The goal is to allow yourself as much time as possible to create next-level quality work. But time alone isn’t enough, which is why it’s so important that managers coach their teams on how to properly embrace this mindset and make it work for them.
#11 Be Decisive
This goes along with not being such a perfectionist. Wasting time meticulously poring over decisions can get in the way of your ability to work proactively. Encourage your team to avoid endlessly analyzing options and to not be afraid to confidently make decisions and own them. This is another good exercise that can be practiced in a slow productivity workshop.