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Being productive on the job: Get on the right track

Annika Müller 17.06.2013
Many employees are familiar with the situation: It’s almost time to go home, and once again you’ve got that feeling that you’ve done a lot but still haven’t achieved anything. The seemingly endless to-do list hasn’t gotten any shorter, but still your head is buzzing. That can be really frustrating – especially considering the number of things that distract us from our real duties during our workday.                      

These things eat into our attentiveness and, as a result, consume our energy as well. The good news: It’s also within our power to change things.  

Avoid starting early                        

A number of working people start checking their e-mails even when they’re still busy with breakfast. It’s kind of like having your boss sitting at the breakfast table with you, drinking coffee with his staff. The working day then starts earlier than it needs to, and contributes to the inner feeling that you’re always on call. This is then followed by a ten-hour working day over weeks and months – ’increasing the chance of a burn-out. Remember: A well-balanced employee is a good employee. It’s completely OK to take time to eat breakfast. And you are definitely increasing the likelihood of productive work. 

Set priorities: Less is sometimes more

Setze Prioritäten!
Manchmal ist weniger mehr.

The working day starts with the to-do list that usually seems endlessly long. Now it’s important to separate the wheat from the chaff – the important stuff from the not-so-important stuff. Take a little time to erase the unimportant tasks, or to postpone them until the next day. Focusing on the urgent to-dos increases productivity. It’s also helpful to deal with demanding tasks earlier in the day and to move the less demanding ones to the afternoon. Our brains are significantly more capable of performing in the morning. Energy levels – and, with them, concentration – decrease as the day progresses.

Observe the U-curve

Psychologists Dodson and Yerkes have developed a concept for showing that behavior and productivity are related, and can be represented by means of an inverted U-curve. Where tension is low, output is also at a low level. If the stress level is increased, performance capacity increases. However, if tension exceeds a level that is too high, performance capacity decreases again. The highest level of productivity lies right at the vertex of the inverted U-curve. You should ensure, then, that you always operate within a balanced stress range. If this is no longer the case, only one thing can help:

Take breaks

What does a break have to do with productivity? More than some people think. Even the most powerful head needs a break sometimes. If you experience a headache or sleepiness, it’s time to recharge your batteries: with a meal, a short walk or – if you really like relaxing – with meditation. Your brain can only remain productive and capable of performing under these circumstances.

Chat with colleagues

A friendly chat with colleagues – that doesn’t sound too productive at first, unless you’re looking for an update on the latest gossip that’s going around the office. But in reality, a quick chat with colleagues can have a positive effect on productivity. Psychologist Kathryn Weddington from the University of London conducted a study in 2005 in which 100 subjects confirmed that they returned to work with a positive frame of mind after a chat with colleagues.

Create a climate of well-being

External factors, such as the room setup, can have an effect on productivity in the workplace. Hanging pictures on the walls or displaying photos of loved ones can add more to a climate of well-being than a forlorn, cold office. Having plants in the office can also work wonders. In 2011, a Norwegian-American research study, in which 34 students participated, showed the positive effect of plants. The subjects were divided into two groups and were required to carry out various tasks. After numerous repetitions, it was found that the group surrounded by plants achieved better results in terms of their receptivity and concentration than those in an environment without plants. In summary: If you feel good in an environment, you will also be productive.

Avoid energy guzzlers

Smartphones have become an everyday companion for many people. In the morning, it replaces the daily newspaper; on the way to work, we check e-mails; and once we arrive at work, our gaze remains fixed on the screen while we hunger for new information. The cell phone robs us of concentration and thereby prevents us from working productively. In short: Even if you find it difficult, you should simply switch off the phone and concentrate fully on your work. It’s also much better for productivity!

Working too long

If you work 10 hours or more every day, and you don’t take a break, you are putting your health at risk on the long term. Burn-out has become widespread. There is no doubt that if your health is affected, this will impact your productivity. As a result, it is even more important to find your own workflow, your center point in the “U-curve”. If you are not very motivated, your stress level might be low, but your productivity will also be low. In contrast, if you are too involved in your work, this could lead to frustration, mental blocks and psychological illnesses. So, stay in the “flow.” A constant stress level means that you will also achieve a constant level of productivity.