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Leaders, Put A Pause On Procrastination And Propel Productivity

Written by: Leah Tomlin, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

We have a global economic and wellbeing crisis on our hands. Our world is proving to be an increasingly stressful place in which to live. As we recover from the shock of a pandemic, and with the ongoing war in Ukraine, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared a global increase in mental health disorders. Mental ill-health is now the leading cause of sickness absence, with WHO estimating an annual cost to the global economy of $1 trillion. Furthermore, the workplace is frequently reported to be the leading cause of depression and anxiety for employees.

Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything”, Paul Krugman, American Economist.

The requirement for global productivity has rarely been so great. The latest OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) report for 2022, paints a picture that is clear: productivity is key to future global economic recovery and growth. Countries with higher productivity have greater scope for economic growth. It is also the case that organisations with greater employee productivity see better return on investment and greater organisational success. Raising workplace productivity and wellbeing are clearly priorities for leaders, business and society.


Where are we going wrong?


Wellbeing and productivity are so closely correlated and inseparably connected that productivity and work-life balance predict each other (Hafner et al., 2015). Low mental or physical health leads to low productivity. Conversely, improving health and wellbeing leads to increased productivity.


Crucially, in practice, workplace productivity programs actually decrease wellbeing (Isham et al., 2020). Therefore, we drastically need to rethink organisational productivity programs that are detrimental to wellbeing and in turn, ironically, detrimental to productivity. Organisations need a more holistic approach to their productivity programs that place health and wellbeing of all employees and leaders at the heart of initiatives.


Transforming Wellbeing & Productivity


Many factors lead to low organisational wellbeing and productivity. It is the role of all leaders to ensure that they strive to create environments and cultures that are conducive to workplace wellbeing and productivity. It takes strategic action, open and honest discussion and continuous reflection to create an environment where people can thrive and enjoy autonomy in their roles.


Whether, as leaders, we are considering strategies to improve our own productivity or that of our wider team, it makes business sense to appreciate each individual. Empowering people to prioritise their wellbeing and take responsibility for their own productivity is important for transformational and sustainable improvement in organisational productivity. It’s vital for all individuals to first raise self-awareness and assess the here and now across the 7 Core Areas of Productivity:


1. Wellbeing


Remaining on the relentless busy treadmill leads to lower workplace productivity, poor efficiency and burnout (Dubale et al, 2019). The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) reveals that 10-15% of workers are officially burnt out. 50% of people are exhausted, ineffective and/ or disengaged with their work. The latter group is also running the risk of complete burnout.


Wellbeing is frequently the thing we let slip when life and work become busy. It's important to analyse all elements of our wellbeing and ask which is being neglected:

  • Physical (exercise, nutrition, quality sleep, regular breaks, relaxation)

  • Emotional (stress management, emotion regulation)

  • Social (connections, relationships, requesting help)

  • Creative (make, do, indulge and be present)

  • Intellectual (curiosity, learning)

  • Workplace (find purpose, meaning and inspiration)

  • Domestic (get help, enjoy home and be present with those in it)

  • Spiritual (nature, wonder)

  • Societal (being part of a cause greater than you)

To stop burnout in its tracks, we must recognise early exhaustion/ overwhelm states such as tiredness, distraction, lack of energy/ direction/ focus, negativity, cynicism, poor sleep, anxiety, over-reliance on food/ alcohol or loss of interest in activities. Leaders must place their own wellbeing as their top priority and model this openly. Only then are they able to encourage health and wellbeing in their teams.


2. Mindset


A positive mindset is our productivity super-power. It enables us to be adaptable, resilient, calm and controlled in the way we navigate life and work. It equips us with the ability to control unpleasant thoughts and feelings, and assists us in taking leaps outside our comfort zones. A positive mindset is a one-way road to success. Equipped with such a mindset, setbacks are not allowed to take an enormous toll. A growth mindset is one which can recognise a crisis, put it into perspective and understand that there are better times ahead. A learning mindset allows a person to happily accept that they can learn anything and adapt to all eventualities. People with a growth mindset are therefore more resilient and can bounce back brightly from the brink of adversity.


Our mindset will determine how, as individuals, we will approach, process and resolve issues and problems. Developing a growth mindset requires people to be forgiving and patient of themselves and others. Focussing on the effort and enjoying the journey is more beneficial than being overwhelmed by the required outcome. Leaders can encourage individuals to develop a stronger mindset through coaching and discussion. People need strategies for dealing with overwhelm and resetting expectations. Instead of looking up to the heavens and focussing on the top rung of the ladder, they should be encouraged to focus on the first step. This is where their action and success begins. Granting workers permission to fully focus on the first step can relieve stress and vastly improve their productivity.


3. Energy


Energising ourselves is a necessary enabler for productivity. With depleted energy, we are unable to work at any reasonable capacity. In the modern world, our brains are bombarded daily with distractions. These chaotic patterns of information can cause a prolonged stress response, leading to exhaustion, overwhelm, lack of concentration and, in extreme cases, to chronic anxiety and depression. Erratic and uncontrolled mental thoughts are fatal for productivity, and likely indicate a person needs a break.


Breaks are crucial to every working day. Neuroscience studies show us that we learn more profoundly when we take a break directly following a significant learning period. Neurons create new connections more readily during the sleep that follows intense learning than during the learning activity itself. The brain never actually rests, being increasingly active during sleeping hours; consolidating memories and new learning, keeping us breathing, maintaining our heart rates and more. However, studies show that a micro-break of as little as 60 seconds can benefit our working memory, mood and concentration capabilities (Heiland, 2021). Breaks and consistent 7-8 hours of high-quality sleep are fundamental to productivity, brain-functioning, learning and longevity. Leaders can do so much to ensure that their workers understand the importance of breaks and that regular breaks are factored into every working day.

4. Boundaries


Defining boundaries is necessary within our work and across work/ life transitions. To maximise productivity, we all need non-negotiable times set aside for deep, focussed work. We need to learn to say no to excessive expectations from others and to clearly define boundaries between our work and the rest of our lives. Leaders should encourage employees to be boundaried with their working day. When people write their actions at the end of their work day, for the next day, it allows them to more easily switch off, knowing that their actions for tomorrow are already determined.


Time boxing during the working week, and the working day, helps focus energy and time in the right place to enhance productivity. Employees should all be encouraged to block out time in every working day for significant projects that really propel them towards their goals. This might include writing a report, creating a funding proposal, a business plan or a presentation. Keeping firm boundaries around these non-negotiable times is something that every worker needs. This will require leaders to reserve parts of every week as meeting-free time.

5. Habits


Our habits and routines can determine our success or failure in life and work. Many people become so entrenched in negative habits that even a strong desire to change cannot shift them out of these repetitive behaviours. Our brains are wired to keep us in our comfort zones, where we feel safe and at ease. However, stepping out of our comfort zones and honing new habits is where our true success lies. Helping people to set up the optimal situations for habit success is crucial within organisations. Asking workers what they need in order to optimise their success can be hugely beneficial.


It’s tough to change habits, and it’s so true that we are creatures of habit, but coaching support can help individuals across organisations to develop the very best habits for productivity and will provide the all-important accountability. The coaching process should help people to make commitments and declare them openly to gain accountability and certainty. Employees should be encouraged to consider the benefits to maintaining the positive habit and tangibly feel the pending success. Developing habits takes time, patience and determination. The secret is to develop them incrementally and slowly over a period of time. With patience and support, thoughts can be transformed into actions, which can be developed into successful productivity habits for life.


6. Priorities


Success with productivity is less about how much we get done, but more about what we choose to get done. Using the mathematical Pareto Principle, find the 20% of activities that have the 80% impact, and focus on these as priorities. Creating the optimal strategy should be prioritised, with smarter (not harder) working. Use this free 90-Day Planner to simplify life and work and get clearer on goals and targeted daily actions.


It’s important that leaders see themselves as enablers for employee’s priorities. Granting autonomy to workers and avoiding micromanagement will enable people to feel greater ownership. Conversations about priorities should be helpful and allow people to master the arts of goal setting, decision making, elimination, delegation, outsourcing, planning, project-management and reflection. Leaders should ask what people require to manage their workload and ensure their time is valuably utilised.


7. Systems


The systems we have in our organisations enable people to function and for processes to run smoothly and transparently. This is vital for our own and others' productivity. Our own individual systems, and those we use for collaboration and accessing help, should also be enablers for productivity and success.


Effective business planning is key to the success of any organisation. Leaders need goals and a strategic approach to ensure that the organisation's mission is achieved. Systems and strategic plans should be in place to enable everyone to understand their roles and responsibilities. Financial and administration systems must run smoothly and can be automated where possible, leaving leaders to focus on more strategic elements of leadership.


As everyone knows, things don’t always go to plan, so it’s necessary to have people and systems in place to help you deal with disasters. Knowing who to go to for support, or who to delegate to when a problem is beyond your scope, should be automatic to prevent stressful mishaps from escalating. Make sure people have a rich network for advice, support and creative inspiration.


In our technological era, digital systems help immensely with automating and saving time. Research the best tech tools by looking online and asking your support networks what they find useful. Whether you require tools for email automation, business finance, project management, graphic design or a task board, there has never been a better time to find suitable aids that will propel productivity, make life easier and free up time.


Productivity Breeds Positivity


When we are productive in life and work, we achieve more which gives us a sense of accomplishment and increased motivation. This, in turn, fuels further productivity. Ultimately, being productive makes us more positive and empowers us to achieve more ambitious goals, for work that is focussed, purposeful and rewarding. Leaders should value the wellbeing and productivity of all people in their team.


Empowering workers with an evidence-based free self-assessment of the 7 core productivity areas will help individuals to raise their self-awareness; furthermore, they will receive personalised reports to help them target their productivity journey. Once clear goals have been established, accountability and support will help develop the best productivity habits and systems for life. It’s time for leaders to put a pause on procrastination and propel productivity, the people-centred way, across organisations.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Report 2022.


For more info, connect with me on Facebook, LinkedIn or visit my website!


 

Leah Tomlin, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Leah coaches professional women for transformation in leadership and life. She holds an exceptional range of qualifications and skills as a certified Executive Coach, business owner, published Neuroscientist and qualified Head Teacher. Her understanding of the brain and how people learn ensures she inspires transformational, life-long positive impact for leaders and their organisations. Her scientific background allows her to employ evidence-based brain and coaching methodologies that achieve success. Leah is passionate about gender equality, helping propel more women to the top and seeing them succeed as incredible leaders. She empowers women to understand how their brains can help and hinder them, enabling them to develop greater self-awareness, confidence, and a dare-to-dream vision. Her clients love the way she coaches with emotional intelligence and warmth, focused on improving their leadership competency and helping them develop new and effective professional behaviours and habits. Working with Leah, leaders achieve greater success for themselves and their teams, as well as create supportive cultures of excellence in their workplaces. Leah lives in Bristol, England, as a single mum to her three young children. She is passionate about well-being and takes time to enjoy her hobbies, including music, film, reading, art and design, yoga and dog-walking.

 

References:

  • Dubale, B.W., Friedman, L.E., Chemali, Z., Denninger, J.W., Mehta, D.H., Alem, A., Fricchione, G.L., Dossett, M.L. and Gelaye, B., (2019). Systematic review of burnout among healthcare providers in sub-Saharan Africa. BMC public health, 19(1), pp.1-20.

  • Hafner, M., van Stolk, C., Saunders, C., Krapels, J. and Baruch, B., 2015. Health, wellbeing and productivity in the workplace. A Britain's Healthiest Company summary report" RAND Corporation Report.

  • Heiland, E.G., Tarassova, O., Fernström, M., English, C., Ekblom, Ö. and Ekblom, M.M., (2021). Frequent, Short Physical Activity Breaks Reduce Prefrontal Cortex Activation but Preserve Working Memory in Middle-Aged Adults: ABBaH Study. Frontiers in human neuroscience, p.533.

  • Isham A, Mair S and Jackson T (2020) Wellbeing and productivity: a review of the literature. Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity. CUSP Working Paper Series. No 22. Guildford: University of Surrey.

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