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Work Smarter, Not Just Harder For Increased Productivity

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Joblessness is still high, labor costs are down, and unemployment claims are up. When times are tough, businesses must do more with less.

It’s easy to characterize this environment as one of tragedy and even oppression. Just look at this quote from an article in The Village Voice, which is ominously titled Row Harder, Slaves! Productivity, Unemployment Claims Up, Costs Down:

Good news for whip-crackers: In the fourth quarter of 2009, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals, U.S. productivity rose at a 6.2 percent annualized rate — output up 7.2 percent, hours worked up one percent.

Put simply: The declining number of us who are still working are working harder and getting more done, and being not being compensated accordingly. But you probably knew that.

Millions of Americans would probably agree with the final sentiment from this piece. Yet there’s more involved in productivity than simply putting in more hours or moving faster. Rather, the economic downturn is also an opportunity to work smarter.

worker productivity during economic downturn

© Flickr user monterd

An article on INC. talked about five ways to work smarter, not harder. The full article is a good read, but we’ve included some of the main points below.

Take more breaks.

On average, your brain is able to remain focused for only 90 minutes, and then you need at least 15 minutes of rest. (The phenomenon is based on ultradian rhythms.) By taking breaks roughly every 90 minutes, you allow your mind and body to renew–and be ready to fire off another 90-minute period of high activity.

For some people, 15- to 20-minute breaks might be tough to pull off, but taking short breaks throughout the day can still help you to refresh your mind and reset your attention span.

Take naps.

Not only are naps beneficial for consolidating memories and helping you remember new information (handy if your job includes a lot of research during the day!), they’re also useful in helping you avoid burnout, since research shows burnout is a signal that you can’t take in more information in this part of your brain until you’ve had a chance to sleep.

Spend time in nature.

One experiment he mentions tested how relaxed people were when taking a walk down a city street versus in a quiet park. The study found that the level of attention needed to navigate a busy city street is high enough that the walk doesn’t let the brain relax enough to reset your focus level.

Move and work in blocks. 

Of course, you can sort out your task list however suits you best, but the important part to note is having a clear finishing point based on your task list rather than thetime you will move to a new location. And when you move, cycling or walking is a good way to go, according to Runyon:

Use this time to practice your Zen, take a break from your screen, and get some movement into your day. Keep your phone in your pocket, and move. Take a break away from work for at least 30 minutes.

If you’ve been putting off learning a new skill, upgrading your equipment, or organizing your files, now is a great time to make this change. If there is any time that you will need the extra time afforded by a more productive work environment, it’s during a recession.  If you’re a supervisor, be sure to recognize that your employees feel the strain as much as you do. Asking them to work harder will almost always be demoralizing. But supporting innovation, self-improvement and additional training during the “worst economic crisis since the Great Depression” will remind your team just how important they are to the organization.

Think beyond working harder. Work smarter. Contact our consultants today to learn more.

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