June 26, 2024

Is it time to take a chill pill? Let’s talk productivity at work!

What does it mean to be productive? Being productive at work isn’t just about keeping busy - it’s about getting stuff done and doing it well. Productivity is like hitting that sweet spot where you're cranking out tasks quickly and still doing a top-notch job. But is this sustainable long-term? How do you know if you’re being productive? How to inspire & teach productivity to others? Let’s find out!

What are the big employers doing?

As usual, let’s look at some good practices. What are the world’s famous companies doing to keep their employees productive, and, in turn, remain successful in highly competitive markets?

Google’s 20% Time Policy

Google allows its employees to spend 20% of their work time on projects they are passionate about. This policy has led to the development of major products like Gmail and Google News. This autonomy fosters creativity and keeps employees engaged, thus enhancing productivity. Atlassian has a similar practice – a once-a-quarter 24-hour hackathon for employees to work on whatever product they choose.

Microsoft’s Four-Day Work Week Experiment

In 2019, Microsoft Japan experimented with a four-day workweek, resulting in a 40% increase in productivity. Employees reported feeling more focused and efficient during their shorter workweeks, highlighting how work-life balance can positively impact productivity. Loads of companies reported good results after a four-day workweek, and an increasing number of companies are making this change permanent.

Spotify’s Agile Work Environment

Spotify employs an agile work environment where teams are organized into small, autonomous "squads" that focus on specific projects. This structure allows for quick decision-making, adaptability, and a sense of ownership among employees, leading to higher productivity.

How do you measure productivity?

Measuring productivity involves both quantitative and qualitative methods. Here are some common metrics, but the exact recipe will depend on your industry, goal, and the format of your output.

Output per hour:

The amount of work completed in an hour. This is a straightforward measure but may not capture the quality of work.

Task completion rates:

Tracking the number of tasks or projects completed within a set period. Again, this does not include the quality of the tasks completed.

Employee performance reviews:

This is a more comprehensive way to evaluate productivity, as it is based on specific performance criteria, providing a qualitative assessment of an employee’s work.

Revenue per employee:

A financial metric that divides total revenue by the number of employees, indicating how effectively a company is utilizing its workforce.

Quality assessments:

Regular reviews of work quality, such as customer feedback, error rates, and adherence to standards – a specific way will depend on your industry and type of work.

Time tracking:

Monitoring the time spent on different tasks to identify areas of inefficiency.

First-time right:

Measures how often tasks are completed correctly on the first attempt without the need for rework.

Every organization should set clear expectations for every employee about productivity and efficiency goals. And no, this does not mean that the employer will be following your every step or no time for a cup of coffee during the workday – it means understanding what is expected of you to find a way to reach it in the best way that works for you.

So, how to get efficient and stay productive?


Setting clear goals

As just mentioned, having specific, measurable goals provides direction and motivation. You should expect your manager to set your long-term goals, but it is your task to break larger projects into smaller, manageable tasks to maintain momentum.

Learning to prioritize

Use techniques like the Eisenhower Matrix to prioritize tasks based on urgency and importance, ensuring that critical activities receive the most attention. We’ve all worked in environments where every task is due and nothing can be left out of the urgent to-do list. You might have to say “no” occasionally, so learning to set boundaries in a respectful and professional way is also important.

Time management

Implement time management strategies such as the Pomodoro Technique, which involves working in focused intervals with short breaks, to maintain high levels of concentration. You really don’t have to wake up at 5AM daily to complete your tasks – it’s about what to do with your time that matters.

Minimizing distractions

Create a workspace that minimizes interruptions. This might involve setting boundaries for work hours, using apps that block distracting websites, or creating a physical environment conducive to focus. This might also mean putting your phone out of sight or locking your social media apps. We all have different weak spots when it comes to getting distracted but where is the will, there’s a way!

Taking regular breaks

Short breaks can prevent burnout and sustain productivity. Techniques like the Pomodoro Technique encourage regular intervals of rest to keep the mind fresh. It is easy to experiment with what amount of time works for you, and what to do during your break to get the best quality of rest. For one it’s a nap, for another – walking your dog.

Is productivity too glorified?

You might be thinking – there is nothing in this article I haven’t known before. The emphasis on productivity, especially in modern work culture, can sometimes be overwhelming and even the word "productivity" might induce stress for many people.

The glorification of productivity often leads to a "hustle culture," where overworking is celebrated, and burnout becomes common. This relentless focus on efficiency can undermine creativity, mental health, and overall job satisfaction.

However, productivity doesn't have to be about punishing yourself or working endlessly. Instead, it's about finding a way to be efficient while feeling good about what you do and how you do it.

Here’s how:

Embrace a balanced approach

Productivity should be balanced with rest and relaxation. It's not about working every hour of the day but making the hours you do work count. By setting realistic goals and allowing time for breaks, you can maintain high productivity without feeling overwhelmed.

Focus on well-being

True productivity includes taking care of your mental and physical health. Incorporating activities like exercise, meditation, and hobbies into your routine can enhance your overall efficiency. When you feel good, you're more likely to be productive.

Quality over quantity

It’s not about how much you do, but how well you do it. Prioritize tasks that have the most significant impact. Concentrate on producing high-quality work rather than just a high volume of work.

Set boundaries

To avoid burnout, set clear boundaries between work and personal time. This means knowing when to switch off work emails and allowing yourself to disconnect. A well-rested mind is more creative and productive.

Celebrate small wins

Acknowledging and celebrating your achievements, no matter how small, can boost morale and motivation. This positive reinforcement helps you stay motivated and feel good about your progress.

Autonomy and flexibility

Having control over your work schedule and environment can significantly improve productivity. Companies like Google and Netflix emphasize employee autonomy, which leads to greater job satisfaction and efficiency.

Continuous learning and improvement

Productivity is also about growing and evolving. Invest time in learning new skills and finding better ways to work. This can make tasks easier and more enjoyable, leading to sustained productivity.

Mindful work practices:

Engage in mindful work practices like focusing on one task at a time and minimizing distractions. This helps in maintaining a high level of focus and reduces the feeling of being overwhelmed.


Bottom line

While productivity is crucial for achieving organizational goals and personal career growth, it is important to strike a balance. It’s not only what an employee can give to an employer, it is also about what companies can give to their people for them to have all the needed tools and conditions to make the most of their time with you.

Productivity should not be a scary word – it should be associated with creating a perfect set of conditions, the way of work and a clear plan for yourself to complete your personal and organisation’s goals. So, are you productive or is it time to take a chill pill?