A COUNTERINTUITIVE APPROACH TO BOOSTING PRODUCTIVITY: MORE REST, DAYS OFF

By James D’Ambrosio

JamesProfile1TwitterIn the February 10 Sunday New York Times, Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project,  a company helping people and organizations perform better and more sustainably, wrote an interesting article about increasing productivity that I believe could help nonprofits and their employees. Titled “Relax! You’ll be More Productive,” the author’s premise is that “Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less.”

MULTIDISCIPLINARY SUPPORTING RESEARCH

Schwartz, author of several books and a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, supports his claim with research: a) a study of nearly 400 employees published last year found that sleeping less than six hours a night was one of the best predictors of on-the-job burnout; b) a recent Harvard study showing that sleep deprivation costs U.S. companies $63.2 billion in lost productivity each year; and c) an internal 2006 study of employees at the accounting firm Ernst & Young finding that workers taking frequent vacations were much less likely to leave the firm and “for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings from supervisors (on a scale of one to five) improved by 8 percent.”

REST & RENEWAL AS CATALYST FOR INCREASED ENERGY, HIGHER PERFORMANCE

Noting that employees with heavy workloads often compensate with longer hours, he suggests the opposite. Because time is finite, many people become frazzled spending too much time at work, diminishing work-life balance. BUT ENERGY, WHILE FINITE, IS ALSO RENEWABLE, UNLIKE TIME. Having more energy — resulting in greater productivity — while working is what counts, not the number of hours. Schwartz says restoration is part of human physiology: “Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy.”

Convinced of the power of renewal, Schwartz created his company around the concept and applies these principles to his employees: a “renewal” room to nap or meditate; a spacious lounge to socialize and eat healthy snacks he provides; encouraging renewal breaks; leaving the office for lunch; and not expecting people to answer e-mails during evenings and weekends. Further, office hours end at 6 p.m., workers get four weeks vacation their first year and can telecommute several days a week, avoiding stressful rush-hour commutes. In 10 years, nobody has willingly left his company, serving clients such as Google, Coca-Cola, Green Mountain Coffee, the Los Angeles Police Department, Cleveland Clinic and Genentech.

NONPROFIT APPLICATIONS

Many agencies with limited resources/manpower have committed volunteers helping offset demands on paid staff and fulfill their mission(s). While this longstanding approach does help, nonprofits might want to consider Mr. Schwartz’s humanistic approach to productivity that could help reduce burnout. During my career in nonprofit and the public sector, I’ve seen first-hand what can happen when people push too hard for too long: often, it doesn’t end well.

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QUESTIONS TO READERS:

A) What do you think of this management approach?

B) Are you inclined to incorporate some of these ideas?

INCREASING PRODUCTIVITY: STRATEGIES TO GIVE YOU AN EDGE

By James D’Ambrosio

In professional circles, August has traditionally been a time when people take vacations, have some down time, and gear up for the year ahead. Taking this a step further, there are ways nonprofit staff can use this time to plan and organize for greater efficiency.

Managing work flow takes on added importance in the midst of funding cuts, reduced resources and increased service demands. And since so many depend on the work we do — service recipients, populations we advocate for, victims of abuse and natural disasters, etc. — we owe it to them to perform with optimal efficiency.   

IDEAS TO INCREASE EFFICIENCY AND STAY FOCUSED

A.) THE YEAR IN REVIEW: Take time to reflect on accomplishments during the past year and give yourself credit. Sometimes, pressed to meet never-ending demands, we can forget about the good work we have done. Positive reflection can provide perspective and keep you moving forward. If you’re still frustrated, consider the wisdom of Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” We all have limits.

B)THE YEAR AHEAD: Think about your goals for the coming year. What can you do to increase your chances of achieving them? For example, if you have a heavy workload — who doesn’t? — consider focusing on fewer projects and doing them really well, instead of spreading yourself too thin. While multi-tasking is a reality, quality over quantity has real benefits.    

C.) A WEEKLY PLAN: On a smaller scale, here’s something I’ve done successfully which might be of help. On Fridays, about 3:30 or 4:00 p.m. as things wind down — assuming you’re not meeting a major deadline — take 30 minutes to assess/organize your work. On a sheet of paper, list all items to address the following week and keep it on your desk for reference. This reaps several benefits: 

1) On Monday morning, you’ll spend less time re-orienting to your work — you’ve got a plan right in front of you; 

2) As the week unfolds, cross off each item as it’s completed, prioritizing the most important tasks. This way, if something does fall off the shelf, it’s a less-important item;

3) With information right in front of you, it’s easier to stay focused and you’re less likely to forget intricate details which sometimes makes a BIG difference; and

4) As the week wares on and your to-do list shrinks, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and control over your work.

As you can see, I’m a strong believer in planning and organization. Too often, lack of careful thought and execution results in a frenetic rush to complete a project or meet a deadline — and that’s exactly when mistakes are most likely to occur. It also creates unnecessary stress that, if left unchecked, can lead to burnout and poor morale — two things nobody wants.

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QUESTION TO READERS: What do you think of these ideas? What has been helpful in planning and organizing your work?

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