How Can You Increase Productivity in 2023? Be Less Busy
“Go hard or go home” is what many companies and individuals think is the recipe for financial success. We have heard this so many times, seen it in movies, and read it in success stories—it is ingrained into our thinking. In his influential book from 2005, “The World Is Flat,” Thomas Friedman articulates this mindset’s essence: “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion, or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle, or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better start running.”
The idea of a constant battle and the need to constantly work refutes an individual’s personal needs for the pursuit of success. The assumption is if you prioritize the long-term result, you will eventually reach the point where you can just stop and rest since you have arrived at some “promised land.” Does it actually work like that? Is it possible to sustain such a lifestyle, and will anyone be with you in the “promised land” once you reach it?
The toxicity of overworking is well-documented. Oddly, the research suggests it is actually counterproductive, and companies with a hustle culture have more employee turnover and slower growth. It’s like a car engine cranking—all that noise, and it can’t even start properly. Overwork leads to a loss of engagement, creativity, and loyalty—strengths that companies diminish by glorifying busyness. According to ISACA’s Tech Workforce 2020 report, 64% of the 3,500 technology employees surveyed reported experiencing burnout or stress—61% of those workers attributed the added pressure to heavy workloads.
Fortunately, some companies are bringing positive work habits into the tech space. Regpack, an online registration, payment, and user-management platform, aims to switch up corporate America’s usual modus operandi by encouraging employees and customers to slow down, relax, reflect, and set goals. They believe this mindset aligns with their company’s mission, which includes streamlining and reducing redundant work so that employees can do what only humans can do: create. This has paid off tremendously. Regpack is half the headcount of its competitors, with the same revenue and high profitability. The company encourages focused, smart, and creative work over busy work. Some of the ways Regpack achieves these outcomes are opposite to what you would think.
There Are No Boundaries; Everything Is Your Life
The common-sense approach to wellness and mental health is to set obvious boundaries. The idea is that whether you work a 9-to-5 job or own a business, you need clear start times and end times to enjoy the downtime when you are not working. The problem is that this approach doesn’t work. It creates anomalies, constant stress, and conflicts within the organization. This kind of culture ultimately labels your work and role as a professional as “outside” of your life.
The better approach is to see your work as part of your life—not the entirety of it, but a part just like the many other parts you have. It is not something you do in order to do something else. When you adopt this mindset, there is no longer a need for boundaries or set work hours. You can work early in the morning, take a break to go to the gym, continue until the afternoon, have lunch with your kids, and finish off the evening with a long creative session. Instead of isolating your work in its own little world, you should actually embed it into your life and make it a routine part of it.
This also means that there will be days you will be working many hours if needed or if you manage to enter “the zone” and need to ride the wave of productivity. On other days you will notice that you are just spinning your wheels—something that should take 20 minutes is taking more than an hour. On those days, it is time to stop and go walking in nature. When you are ready to try again, you will be able to complete the task in 20 minutes.
Do We Really Need to Meet?
Meetings are great but only in particular situations. Meetings force a schedule on the participants, and at least 50% of the meeting time is wasted. Change your company culture so that meetings are the beginning of a process or the end of it. They shouldn’t be the process itself, nor should they be the productive part of the work. Meetings work well for situations like brainstorming, hashing out creative ideas, learning a new topic, or explaining very complex business objectives.
It is important to understand your part in the meeting. Are you there to learn, to give feedback, or “just because?” (If it is the latter, skip the meeting.) Lastly, commuting to a meeting is as wasteful as it gets. If someone invites you to a physical meeting, ask them if being in person is required. I.e., will there be anything going on that needs both of you in the same room? If not, then it can be done over video conference. Changing how you view meetings and how and when you do them will free up many hours you can use in a much more productive way.
Stop Feeling Guilt
In the hustle culture, there is a strong connection between guilt and not working, guilt and self-care, and guilt and “unproductive” actions. This view needs to change if you really want to be productive while being less busy. Self-care, meditation, exercise, and spending time with your children, if you have any, are all actions that are part of your life. They help you focus and feel connected to what you love. If you also connect your work to your life, things will all work in tandem. When you take care of yourself, it will reflect on your creative work and your ability to produce good results. Your professional and personal lives do not have to conflict. In reality, they support each other.
Short, Focused Work is Better Than a Lot of Work
“He is the first in and last out.” This saying just means that he is most likely not very focused when working. Work is not about the amount of time you put into it; it is about the result, which is why I never understood why people charge by the hour. This applies mainly to creative workers.
In creative work, most of the time, you are searching for a solution to a complex problem. The answers you need will not come by “trying harder.” You’ll only see the solutions you need if you study the problem, understand it, and eventually see it for what it is. Then the answer is simple. Your knowledge and experience will do half of the work. The other half is the ability to focus and work in a quiet, distraction-free space.
Because busyness and hustle culture are so normalized, even valued, in our society, they can be hard principles to shake. When we’ve got too much on our plate, our bodies and brains react, impacting every aspect of our life. Stay sharp and focused by eliminating busy work and taking care of your goals.
Written by Brian Wallace.
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