I don’t know about you, but I often feel an enormous amount of pressure to produce more. No matter how efficient I am, I’m always looking for ways to increase the quality and quantity of positive results in the workplace.
There are eight significant factors that influence your productivity, but there are ways to improve on these factors, to unlock your potential and become an unstoppable force in whatever you’re trying to achieve.
What influences productivity?
- Criticism: Both positive and negative feedback have been shown to increase productivity and performance.
- Stress: People who are less stressed are more productive than their stressed-out counterparts.
- Energy: Not surprisingly, having lots of energy may result in increased productivity and alertness.
- Technology: With the right tools and business processes, you can transform a good team into an unstoppable one.
- Purpose: With a sense of meaning and an understanding of why you do something, you’ll be more satisfied in your workplace.
- Attitude: Happy people perform better and see a boost in career success.
- Personal bias: Different people work better under different conditions.
- Distractions: Obviously.
Here are some techniques to help you increase your output while maintaining a high standard:
Criticism—both positive and negative—can influence your productivity.
A great rule is one my mum used to tell me: “For every mean thing you say, say 10 nice things.” Oddly enough, this may hold true when motivating your team. When you structure criticism, consider combining praise with feedback in order to soften the blow.
Present the feedback in a constructive way. For example, you could say, “I feel that this could be improved” or “I think you may find it more effective to do it like this. What are your thoughts?” Notice the emphasis on “I”—don’t take an accusatory approach that makes your employee feel like they’re being blamed. Similarly, by asking them how they’d improve upon their work, you create a dialogue that may lead to a future boost in performance.
Regularly ask your team what they feel you do well, what you can improve upon and what their workplace experience is like, and actually listen to and take action based on the responses. Being a leader doesn’t mean you’re perfect; it just means you make the decisions.
2. Stress influences productivity
Stress can be brutal on people’s psyches. Interestingly enough, our brains have yet to evolve to realize that coming face to face with a saber-toothed tiger is not the same as completing a piece of work on time. But the brain treats both situations as the same.
During an amygdala hijack—that is, when your fight-or-flight response is activated by strong emotions, even if there’s no actual threat—or other periods of high stress, your brain may make less future-oriented decisions and find difficulty engaging in creativity and overall cognitive functioning.
A good example of this was when my friend was constantly working overtime to complete a data interpretation tool. He would code the program late into the night for weeks. One weekend, he had had enough and decided to relax. The following Monday, he went into the office, looked at his code, thought This is terrible and rewrote it in a matter of hours.
It was only after my friend’s stress levels had decreased that he could see the project’s issues.
To mitigate stress in yourself and others, try creating and emphasizing rules and activities that may help you and your team adopt a solid work-life balance. For example, create a “no emails after 6 p.m.” rule, plan monthly work happy hours or organize frequent out-of-work activities.
Energy plays a huge role in influencing productivity, but you needn’t be as radical as enforcing a company-wide nap time. A better idea is to ensure you and your team have access to healthy snacks.
By “healthy” snacks, we’re talking about food that isn’t overly processed. Complex carbohydrates such as legumes and whole grains are fantastic because they take longer for the body to break down, providing a consistent energy release.
Exercise has also been shown to increase both cognitive performance and energy levels. It’s unlikely your team would abuse a “go for a 30-minute stroll if you feel sleepy” policy, as it’s a perk few, if any, businesses offer.
Your team’s energy levels may peak at different times throughout the day. Use this to your advantage by getting your team to do tasks that require a lot of mental energy when they’re feeling the most energetic and productive, then ask them to do less demanding, more enjoyable tasks as they begin to flag.
Having a slow computer may negatively influence productivity in ways a lot of people don’t even realize. Obviously there’s the cost of being unable to work while programs open, internet pages load and data transfers. But what do you do while you’re waiting (and sometimes even while you’re working)? Scroll mindlessly through your phone or play on your computer. If your brain is no longer on task, it must be reminded of what to focus on.
Build an upgrade schedule and include it in your budget. If you predict that you’ll need a new laptop in three years, set aside money each month now so it won’t be a surprise expense down the road.
Also, make sure your business technology and awareness are up to date. Consider things such as marketing avenues, trends in the industry and how your competitors are operating. Regularly evaluate and update your business processes—annually is fine. This may be easier to implement with a small business because everyone can have a say in what they think works and what doesn’t. However, remember that your role is to make the decisions, so listen to your team without letting them determine how to run your business.
Feeling like your actions have meaning and impact improves job satisfaction. But to achieve this, you need to ensure every member of your team knows why they do what they do.
Encourage everyone to set their own goals with a number and a time limit. Tweak their goals if you feel they aren’t reaching their full potential. Goal setting with time constraints gives them a target to aim for and will hopefully keep them committed to doing the planned amount of work in the allotted time frame.
At a more personal level, think about what you’re trying to do with your life. Spend some time reflecting on what you want and how you’re going to get it. Constantly remind yourself by writing your major goals on pieces of paper and posting them in places you will see all the time.
6. Attitude influences productivity
Attitude is one of the things you can’t directly change about someone. Realistically, the only thing you can do with people who have a negative attitude they don’t appear inclined to change, or that is harming the attitudes of others in the workplace, is get rid of them.
When someone says something that appears destructive, question them about it. If they can back up their statement with solid reasons, listen to them, thank them and ask what they’d do instead.
One of the ways you can influence attitude is to lead by example; that is, treat people the way you’d want them to treat you. Try to do things with your team in a nonwork setting—get to know them and allow them to get to know you. You’re a team after all; act like it.
One way to create a healthy attitude in yourself is to be willing to identify holes in your knowledge and learn new things. Intellectual humility requires a willingness to “[recognize] that there are gaps in one’s knowledge and that one’s current beliefs might be incorrect,” according to a research review published in Nature Reviews Psychology. The same review found that “intellectually humbler people seem to be more curious and better liked as leaders, and tend to make more thorough, well-informed decisions. Intellectually humbler people also seem to be more open to cooperating with those whose views differ from their own.”
7. Personal bias
There is huge variance when it comes to things such as:
- Attention span
- What stirs emotion inside us
- Things we care about
- Energy cycle
Some people work better at night and some work better in the mornings. Some people can concentrate for a long time and others can’t. Your only question should be “Are they performing their role well?”
If you want to get your team to be productive, let them decide how they work. Use their goals as a metric. If they fail to reach their goal, step in and advise them on how to improve.
Get to know people. What makes them tick? Offering a financial bonus to one team member might make them work harder, but fall flat on another. That other team member might value a paid vacation more.
Again, it’s important to figure this stuff out about yourself, too. Once you know what incentives you prefer, when your energy ebbs and how long you can concentrate for, you can start mitigating any deficits in yourself and working to your strengths.
8. Distractions influence productivity
The banes of any productive person are distraction and being interrupted when they are in the middle of doing something. A phone call, a conversation, an email marked “urgent” all take your eyes off of your work. But the nature of running a business means you can’t stop any of this from happening.
So instead of trying to stop it completely, how can leaders begin to mitigate this in the workplace?
Don’t pressure your team to respond to things immediately. If you need something that minute, you should’ve asked for it yesterday. Similarly, if you really, really need it, go and talk to them about it in person.
Try giving your team “quiet time” for an hour where they aren’t obligated to answer the phone or talk to anyone. Rotate the privilege around your team.
Additionally, have everyone spend 10 minutes making a to-do list for the day. That way, if a task is finished and you go to type “Facebook” into the address bar, you can reference your list and stay on track.
Increasing your and your team’s productivity is all about figuring out how people work. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to becoming more productive. Seek to understand your own processes and document how you went about it. Share that discovery process with your team and encourage them to go through their own version of the process.
Here are some questions to help you get started:
- What is the best way someone can tell you to do something better?
- What are your three favorite ways of relaxing?
- Which nonwork activities perk you up and help you feel awake?
- What is the single biggest technological time suck?
- Other than financial gain, why do you do what you do?
- How can you improve the lives of the people around you?
- What factors help you work best?
This article was updated June 2023. Photo by Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock