Inspiration from the Past: Be Less Productive

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The last century witnessed multiple calls for shorter work days (8 hours!) and more vacation time; this century we’ve been focussed on helping companies make more money. We presently live in a culture that values “productivity” over all else and many take it as a point of pride that they have little leisure time. What if we changed that and set our sites on making our working lives easier? That’s the question being asked over at The Week, and it’s worth considering.

I am struck by this unquestioning assumption that people ought to make their choices based on “business logic.” Is the idea that the government ought to help us carve out the time and space to dip our toes in the ocean or watch birds at the park just for the sake of it so inappropriate or bizarre?

It wasn’t always this way. More than 100 years ago, states began listening to workers’ demands and limiting the hours employers could make people work. Later, in the 1930s and ’40s, the federal government did the same thing on the national level. And governments didn’t just guarantee people the free time to pay attention to things one might deem “unproductive” — they also helped them find unproductive things to do. Indeed, early 20th-century political leaders made playgrounds and public spaces a priority. Teddy Roosevelt, who helped create the national parks system, ensuring Americans’ access to wild and beautiful places, frequently described the power of nature in decidedly non-instrumental terms. “There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm,” he once wrote.

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Four Day Work Weeks Increase Productivity, Decrease Stress

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Working a job that is free of stress is rare, however there’s an easy way to make your current job less stressful: work four days instead of five. This is obvious, but what might not be obvious to some is that a four day work week is just as productive as a five day week. One of the largest companies in New Zealand tested a four day week with their employees and found great success and now other companies are looking to them to learn about it.

Analysis of one of the biggest trials yet of the four-day working week has revealed no fall in output, reduced stress and increased staff engagement, fuelling hopes that a better work-life balance for millions could be in sight.

Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand financial services company, switched its 240 staff from a five-day to a four-day week last November and maintained their pay. Productivity increased in the four days they worked so there was no drop in the total amount of work done, a study of the trial released on Tuesday has revealed.

The trial was monitored by academics at the University of Auckland and Auckland University of Technology. Among the Perpetual Guardian staff they found scores given by workers about leadership, stimulation, empowerment and commitment all increased compared with a 2017 survey.


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If You’re a Nice Person You Likely Have More Fun Than Others

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Some people think that the way to get ahead in life is to be a pushy jerk, and those people are wrong. What you should be is nice. Yup, that’s all it takes. Don’t be like that stereotypical Gordon Gecko wannabe, instead just be.

There is now more research that being a nice person can make your life happier and even more productive.

Notwithstanding the prominent examples today in political and popular culture, the best available research still clearly shows that in everyday life the nice people, not the creeps, do the best at work, in love and in happiness.

Let’s start with the job market. This has been another brutal year in which to graduate. Research from the Economic Policy Institute finds that young college graduates’ underemployment rate is nearly a third higher today than it was in 2007. Everyone is looking for an edge.

That edge is being pleasant and friendly. In one 2015 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, a team of scholars from France and the U.S. looked at the impact of civility and warmth to colleagues on perceived leadership and job performance. In addition to being seen as natural leaders by co-workers, nice employees performed significantly better than others in performance reviews by senior supervisors. For those who make it to leadership, niceness is also a key to success. A 2015 NBC poll found that most people would take a nicer boss over a 10% pay increase.

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Email, Productivity, And How You Feel

Dealing with an endless stream of emails is challenge in any office environment – even just socially it can be rather taxing. The solution to email always seems to be just around the corner with a new startup from Silicon Valley appearing every year to “save” us from email. Here’s an idea it’s not that the problem is email itself rather it’s how we think about email.

Be free from the chains of email oppression by approaching email as something actionable rather than something to be organized. It’ll make you feel better rather than feeling pushed around by other people’s desires via email.

And that is the one way that email, in the sense of the tools and programs we use to process it, is at fault: technology has made it easier and easier to ask people to do more and more things, without giving us better tools or training to deal with the increasingly huge array of demands on our time. It’s easier than ever to say “hey could you do this for me” and harder than ever to just say “no, too busy”.

Decide you are not going to do those tasks, and simply delete them. Sometimes, a task’s entire life-cycle is to be created from an email, exist for ten minutes, and then have you come back to look at it and then delete it. This might feel pointless, but in going through that process, you are learning something extremely valuable: you are learning what sorts of things are not actually important enough to do you do.

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Look at Nature and be More Productive

Go ahead and let your gaze look out that window while you work. If you get caught, tell your boss that you’re just getting ready to be more productive!

The challenge: Can looking at nature—even just a scenic screen saver—really improve your focus? How much can 40 seconds of staring at grass actually help? Ms. Lee, defend your research.

Lee: We implicitly sense that nature is good for us, and there has been a lot of research into its extensive social, health, and mental benefits and the mechanisms through which they occur. Our findings suggest that engaging in these green microbreaks—taking time to look at nature through the window, on a walk outside, or even on a screen saver—can be really helpful for improving attention and performance in the workplace.

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