Two years since COVID-19 was officially declared a global pandemic, and it’s become clear that striving for aggressive business growth simply cannot come at the expense of employee wellbeing.
From the burnout epidemic to the subsequent ‘Great Resignation‘, relentless productivity at all costs, plus blurred lines between personal and professional lives and multiple other challenges of working in distributed teams – it’s all too easy for there to be disastrous consequences for mental health and morale if ignored.
One of my favorite quotes of the pandemic is from Damian Barr: “We are in the same storm, but in different boats”. From CEOs to first-taste-of-workers, everyone within an organization has experienced upheaval over the last two years, but our experiences are far from the same; our stamina, resilience, and ways of working are therefore also unique to our circumstances.
In the ‘new normal’, the old rules of productivity can no longer apply – the pre-2020 culture of ‘at-all-costs’, ‘hustle’, ‘grind’, and toxic productivity must make way for realistic, sustainable practices that balance growth and health.
So, which so-called productivity tips are counterproductive? How can we get things done without sacrificing our sanity? Here are a few of my tried-and-tested ‘work hacks’ (that actually work).
Stop using so many tools
Although accumulating a treasure-trove of productivity apps may have initially seemed like the perfect way to keep on top of all our projects and tasks, evidence shows that using too many different tools can be overwhelming and distracts us from reaching a state of deep, focused work.
According to one study, it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back into a flow at work when you are interrupted. It might seem counterintuitive but you must strip back the number of apps you use.
Prioritizing software that brings all your work into one place enables you to get work done more efficiently without having to jump around between tools.
Don’t just focus on work – work on yourself too
Working harder is always better, right? Well, no.
Having your office and your home in the same space can encourage unhealthy hours and can be a recipe for burnout.
It’s critical you set aside time for self-care, rest, play, and whatever activities work best to nourish you. Have fun with it. Experiment. Read books, meditate, journal, dance, exercise, get outdoors, socialize, have time to yourself; truly invest in things that bring you back into the present and take your mind off your day-to-day work responsibilities.
Doing this will keep your mind clear and fresh, helping you return to your desk with an inspired mind and dynamic body. It will give you an energy and motivation boost, improve your cognitive ability and benefit your work!
Find time to go offline
It’s now widely accepted that being bombarded with constant notifications is detrimental to our ability to focus and can cause anxiety.
But hybrid working and the proliferation of tech to collaborate between teams still leans towards the ‘always on’ lifestyle, with emails, instant messaging apps, and other alerts coming in a steady stream, even throughout unsociable hours (how many times have you intended on going to sleep and found yourself 20 minutes later still scanning your inbox?).
Set distraction-free time in your day to turn off all communication tools and hyper-focus on completing tasks; carve the time out in your calendar and stick to it like you would with any work-related appointments.
Work to outcomes, not to hours at your desk
Similar to how the full-time daily commute is near obsolete, presenteeism and the rigid nine-to-five schedule can now largely be consigned to history.
One of the best things about hybrid and remote work is the flexibility it allows to work at our own pace, and during times that suit our own rhythms rather than when the rest of the team are chained to their desks – the global shift to adopting shorter work-weeks is proof that rigid traditional setups are being shelved in favor of progressive models that prioritize balance, morale and staff wellbeing.
Starting every day with a list or a plan for priorities and goals, and working towards them – rather than to the clock – is one of the best ways to boost productivity.
Set boundaries with colleagues
When your bandwidth is crunched, many of us tend to instinctively agree to take on more work to appear helpful, keen, and capable – and remote work has exacerbated this problem, as not being constantly ‘visible’ to colleagues can drive us to overcompensate by responding instantly to every ask. It’s vital to be assertive when setting boundaries.
Communicating these boundaries to colleagues can, of course, be done in polite and constructive ways (i.e. nobody likes receiving a blunt, one-word ‘no’ in an email), but it’s important to remember that consistently taking on more than you can comfortably handle is a sure-fire route to burnout, resentment and heightened anxiety.
After all, it’s impossible to be truly efficient when you’re buried under too much work.
To drive business growth in 2022 and beyond, all of us need to embrace a kinder, more human-focused approach to productivity. Tomorrow’s successful businesses will be the ones that understand how poor mental health in their workforce equals poor productivity.
It’s no longer just about ‘getting the job done faster’; it’s about striking the elusive balance between achieving growth and results while also nurturing mental fitness, wellbeing, and sustainability.
None of us are machines, and in today’s increasingly tech-led world, acknowledging our humanity and all its vulnerabilities can end up being our greatest source of strength and resilience.