The Productivity Obsession
Lately, we’ve been bombarded with productivity advice. Software companies are creating productivity tools that can help you work faster. Writers are publishing books on how to be more productive. Your company is making you go to productivity seminars. Which probably makes you feel… pressured, but definitely not productive.
We’ve started mixing fast and right. The dynamic of the workplace is evolving so fast that we don’t have enough time to focus anymore, so we just pressure ourselves and others around us to get things done.
How do employees want to work?
Dropbox conducted a survey asking modern American teams how they want to work. In this survey, they interviewed a statistically significant sample of more than 500 knowledge workers across the US. They answered different kinds of questions about working styles, the tension in the workplace, collaboration, etc.
The most important thing they discovered is that 61% of workers said they wanted to “slow down to get things right” while only 41% wanted to “go fast to achieve more.” Moreover, 38% of respondents didn’t like the idea of going fast to achieve more. 76% prefer making sure work is done right and 71% prioritized the quality of work before the time it takes to complete it.
The pressure of productivity is exhausting us. What is worse, we’ve started putting even more pressure on ourselves without anyone else doing it, because we simply got used to being under pressure ALL THE TIME.
We create strict daily schedules for ourselves and feel disappointed if we hadn’t stuck to them. We feel like a failure if we don’t complete all the tasks that were on our list. We don’t give ourselves enough time to actually focus on the task. Instead, we function as a production line — simply producing new projects without dedicating enough time to each of them.
Finding the right balance
How do we solve this? The key is finding the right balance between rules and spontaneity. Yes, we should have our own values, but they shouldn’t be giving us too much pressure and tension.
Companies also need to understand that each individual is different and has a different working style. The perfect compromise would be to put an accent on the company’s rules while enabling individuals to adapt them to their own working style. This way the company will have its work done, and individuals would simply be happier.
Feeling comfortable and released from pressure can help professionals find a purpose in what they are doing. Professionals who have found a purpose completely dedicate themselves to achieving the best result. This sometimes means taking up more time to complete a project, but it also means having better results.
Individuals who are slowing down to get things right will eventually bring more value to the company than the ones who simply do more things faster without giving a purpose to their projects.
“Our industry has been really good at finding ways to make the treadmill go faster. We’re hiring people for their minds, and then we’re not giving them any space to think,” says Dropbox CEO Drew Houston.
The border between focus and collaboration
Next, the survey also discovered that 59% prefer having uninterrupted focus, but they would make an exception to help a colleague. This means that they feel more productive when they don’t get distracted, so we might want to think before interrupting our colleagues next time.
However, today we use so many communication and productivity tools that it’s almost impossible not to get interrupted. These tools often keep professionals captured even when they’re not at work — they feel obliged to answer every message and check every notification.
It seems like the more modern our way of working gets, the more distractions we get. Maybe companies should think about giving their workers more time to focus on a certain assignment or giving them space to disconnect in order to focus better.
Yes, tools are here to help us, but there should be a clear border between focus and collaboration.
Company rules should empower employees
Company culture should be the one clarifying this border, allowing employees to keep their focus when necessary.
Company rules are supposed to keep things organized. They shouldn’t be defined to keep the workers under pressure all the time. Company rules shouldn’t give companies control over their employees. Instead, they should be empowering.
We also often mention remote work as a part of the company culture that boosts the quality of work. Being in an office from nine to five doesn’t contribute to productivity at all. Some people feel more productive in the morning and some get more work done before going to bed. Both ways are okay, as long as the work is quality. Workers will feel less pressured if they have the possibility to organize their own time and choose when they want to work.
The workplace changes rapidly and people are the ones who keep adapting to it. Instead, what we need to do is study the way people are working and how they find meaning in their work. Understanding people’s working styles will help us design the workplaces of the future, where people will be working the best they can instead of doing the fastest they can.
What is important to always have in mind is that people have feelings. Companies can’t treat them like machines. There are times when they won’t be productive and that’s okay. There is so much information these days that sometimes our heads feel like they’re going to explode and we need to slow down.