Productive work is oftentimes unattainable. Very often we end up doing futile work on things unrelated to our productivity. And, by all standards, work should be productive. Yet, other than procrastination, there are countless reasons why it’s tough to do productive work. Most of the time, work inertia makes it hard to change things for the better. Chiefly, having spend so much time training to do things a certain way makes us reluctant to change.
Imagine, however, that you could bring forth change with a few tiny tweaks. Nothing too complex, no relearning or brain rewiring. Instead of huge changes that might not even work for you, try the shortest path to change. Tiny tweaks for productive work means that you invest as little as possible to get the greatest possible return.
Here are 5 tiny tweaks that make productive work a reality for most individuals and teams. In addition, many of them have variants, or flavors to consider. To that end, it is important to note that trying out new things can be just what your team needs.
1. Declutter your workspace
Decluttering is the way to achieve focus, clarity, and enhanced productivity. Even the act of cleaning your desk goes a long way into refreshing your focus. In fact, decluttering is so effective that there is a whole book on how to declutter.
There are two ways to go about decluttering. The first would be to simply clear up your desk and stash everything away in some drawer. The second would be to take a systemic approach, analyze your behaviors, and make committed decisions about your workspace. Most people fall in-between these two solutions. To this end, they might do some cleaning. But not the “Monica from Friends” -level of cleaning. Yet, it is not as extreme and beneficial as completely clearing out the desk. And there is a cognitive science explanation for that.
Even clearing up your desk for the day can boost your focus. Why? Because messy, cluttered, desks are a great distraction. When confronted with messy desks, your brain tries to multitask. And multitasking is a myth. There is no way to do more than one thing at a time with 100% performance and dedication. In fact, task switching is very costly to your focus. Task switching produces a dramatic decline in behavioral performance, this study finds.
The other way to declutter is complex. Write down whatever gets on your desk and why. Keep track of how long it stays on your desk and why. See what happens when you clear your desk, and what space you use to stash your mess. After a few weeks, patterns will emerge. Hence, try and make some committed decisions about what you need to give up. There must be a few habits you can correct. Or new skills to be more effective.
2. Have zero tolerance for motivation dampers
Motivation dampers are frequent. Some would argue that people are motivation dampers. In fact, it is always how people behave. Motivation dampers are demotivating behaviors. Indeed, there are several behaviors and attitudes that demotivate and affect everyone at work.
There should be no surprise here. After all, random acts of kindness spread and positively affect people. And if reciprocal altruism does it, so does commiseration. Indeed, people that work together affect each other in many ways. They can inspire and motivate each other or they can severely demotivate each other. Sure, aligning employees has some limits. But it is often frustrating that you work so hard to build motivation, only to see it vanish because of toxic behavior.
Toxic people de-energize, put down team members and can even make them feel very demotivated and uncooperative. Sure, you can avoid hiring toxic employees. In fact, try this guide on how to hire the best people for your start-up. And sometimes people are difficult, not toxic. The key difference here is that toxicity spreads.
So, here is a simple solution. Make it an office policy that there is zero tolerance for toxicity. Do your best to make it clear that toxicity will not be tolerated. And, most of all, reward positive behaviors and kindness. In fact, investing in happiness at work is a great way to do so. And if none of this works, here is a guide on how to survive toxic workplaces. Finally, clearing the air makes room for productive work. This is easy to understand. Toxicity weighs down on the workplace. And reducing work pressure is a huge win.
3. Gamify productive work at two levels
Go beyond intrinsic motivation. Cultivate pretexts to finish work on time. Gamification is the way you can self-motivate. Moreover, it is a great way to motivate teams.
Gamification for productive work means that you take design patterns and principles from games and overlap them on productive work. And it works if you follow the rules. Of course, you might already have insight into gamification. To put it another way, if you ever spent time playing as a child, you know how it works.
Gamification at team level
To gamify teamwork and, in effect, productive work, a few extra steps are necessary:
- Get everyone on board. Get the whole team to enjoy the gamified experience. To do so, consider brainstorming the rules of the game. Firstly, have everyone share input on how to gamify.
- Test gamification on a specific project. Especially if you are worried it won’t work.
- Create visual displays of performance. If your team uses KPI boards, that’s perfect. Alternatively, simply use any type of board on which you can show individual performances and team progress.
- Make sure you use team rewards. There are many rewards you can use that would fit your team perfectly. From going out to offering brunch at the office. Of course, what you want to reward is progress.
There is no game progress without some form of “achievement unlocked.” And you do not have to go big. There are many things you can use. From badges, to progress lines or tiny chocolates. Moreover, showing appreciation for achievement works great with team goals.
Gamification individual level
To gamify your work, use some of these tips Oxford students employed to gamify learning:
- Incorporate a narrative. This essentially means that you should use your storytelling skills to fit in tasks. Some may be tedious, and the storytelling context helps. When you are on a quest, you are on a quest.
- Use reward schemes and performance boards. Reward yourself with anything from strategic breaks to coffee or fruit. Or, for that matter, anything you might consider rewarding. You can get a read of the full article here.
- Ask and get instant feedback on your work. In some of the most addictive video games ever made, you can instantly see the results of your efforts. This can help you improve. Moreover, it takes work pressure out of the way. You don’t have to worry waiting for results.
Essentially, what you do is make sure you keep yourself motivated. At times it might feel silly, childish even. The reality, however, is that gamification works.
4. Set goals for productive work
Goal setting is a motivational technique that works. And it works no matter who sets the goals. From goals set by supervisors to goals set by teams. When it comes to productive work, nothing beats goal setting. Moreover, goal setting boosts creativity when creative goals are set.
In fact, more than 35 years of empirical research on goal-setting theory tell the same story. Markedly, goal setting leads to boosting productivity. Yet, you don’t have to be an expert in goal setting to increase productive work. In fact, go ahead and use your current workflow with the following tiny tweaks.
Set goals for the day
Set goals for the day ahead of you. Firstly, make a quick to do list of what you need to accomplish today. Secondly, make sure all of these are things you can achieve today. Finally, add one extra item that is a bit of a challenge. Setting goals that are specific and challenging ensures enhanced performance.
It is particularly easy to make daily goals specific. Most of the time, these are relatively simple tasks. Occasionally, you might deal with something a bit more complex. However, most will be generic tasks.
You can go as far as taking goals to the micro level. This is not the same thing as micro-goals. Using goal-setting is efficient when performing any sort of task. Every task can be broken down into objectives which need to be accomplished. Above all, this approach ensures you have a clear-set path.
Goals at all levels affect performance. They direct attention and improve focus, mobilize effort and boost resilience. Making goals challenging at a task level might require some self-management. Nonetheless, it is worth the effort. They are incredibly effective motivation tools and self-motivation tools.
Work with team goals
Goal setting alone is sufficient to enhance performance. Surprisingly, team feedback and peer feedback can build on that effect. One study even tested the effects of extrinsic and intrinsic feedback alongside or without goal-setting. Performance measurements overall indicated soaring productivity. More significantly, evaluative feedback from peers seems to further boost goal setting effects on productive work.
Comparing effectiveness between goal setting to team building remains inconclusive. Nevertheless, it should be rather obvious that teamwork has positive effects on goal-driven productive work. Besides, adding evaluative feedback might also improve team resilience.
5. Strive for balance
Balance nowadays is a lot like chasing rainbows. Seemingly within grasp, yet always out of reach. And the world around us unquestionably makes things more difficult. Borders between work and life are obstructed by smart devices. This ripples through how we conduct our lives. Undeniably, there are plenty advantages. New technologies create a sea of opportunity. Yet, navigating this sea and saying afloat is no easy feat.
Get better sleep
One in three working adults in the United States are not getting enough sleep. This happens on a regular basis and is very unhealthy. Considering how the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults sleep at least 7 hours each night, this is very concerning. Find this unbelievable? It’s right out of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
Moreover, the minimal necessary sleep has been revisited. Apparently, adults need more than 7 hours of sleep per night. Hence, the issue is more widespread. Add to this the fact that not sleeping enough has detrimental effects on health, mood, and work performance. The main concern, however, is burnout due to sleep debt. So, here is a great article on how to avoid burnout.
Without a doubt, sometimes we need to fight exhaustion and stay productive at work. Here is how to do it. In case you’re wondering how to balance work and life through better sleep, read this article. Overall, sleeping enough and resting well is how you get productive work done. Moreover, read about how to sleep better and improve your work-life balance.
Balance life and work
If you ever feel like work is bleeding in your life and the other way around, don’t worry. Nowadays this is the norm. What’s important to realize, however, is that you should still set some boundaries. Changing everything about your work-life balance is hard. Tweaking it with boundaries should be easier.
Delimitations of any kind create the space you need to thrive. You obviously can’t let your emotions overcome you at work. This is why it’s a great idea to spend time meditating or working out. Finding ways to channel your emotions is how you compartmentalize. Here are some more ways to manage feelings and emotions at work.
Similarly, you should not let work bite through your personal life. Already our brains spend time solving work-issues in our off-hours. In fact, our brains continue to work in the strangest of situations. It’s hard to distance yourself from something you do, 8-12 hours a day. Such breaks, however, are the healthy way to re-energize. Unless things such as brainwave entrainment and meditation really work for you. To most people, balance means you should sleep well, eat healthy, work out, go out, and socialize. Yet, this is precisely how people reset for productive work. And somehow, this aspect is most often overlooked.
Doing more, however, is not doing better. Overworked people are less healthy and oftentimes underperform. Hence, it makes perfect sense to stack productive work on a balanced life.
To make productive work a reality, you need to take care of several basic rules. After all, productivity cannot happen without getting some things out of the way. Granted, decluttering seems to do the trick for productive work. However, proper productive work gamification significantly helps. And if you have a zero-tolerance policy for motivation dampers, productive work is sure to happen.
Last but not least, do not forget that goal setting is a game changer. Goal setting works at all levels, from individual tasks to team strategy. Most of all, research shows that goal setting generally improves performance and boosts productivity. Coupled with other productive work tweaks, the effect is guaranteed. Finally, always stack productive work on a balanced work-life relation. Otherwise, nothing is sustainable.