When a workplace allows for a certain amount of autonomy, it’s up to each individual to arrange their workday to meet their agreed-to goals. But determining how to maximize productivity to get more done isn’t always easy.
This is where a little help from the professionals – also known as your human resources department – can go a long way.
Your organization’s HR team can help coach employees across other departments to become individually more productive by asking them to answer these six simple questions:
We all know a coworker who may seem sluggish at morning meetings, yet appears to be productive later in the day, maybe even submitting emails and reports long past midnight. Our energy levels ebb and flow at different times, impacting productivity levels throughout the day, and we don’t all follow the same energy pattern.
“Individually, employees tend to be at their most productive at varying times of the day — some thrive first thing in the morning, others in the evening hours,” says Dana Case, the director of operations and overseer of hiring and human resources at MyCorporation, an online business filing service.
Case suggests asking employees to identify the times of day when they’re most alert and able to focus so they can get their main work done at that time. “By pinpointing the hours of the day where you’re most productive, you can fill in the remaining time by prepping for these hours, taking meetings/calls, or wrapping up loose ends that might be forgotten about otherwise.”
Being able to choose how to arrange daily schedules has a variety of benefits. A recent study found that giving employees more flexibility to schedule their own work days not only benefits productivity levels but also leads to increased job satisfaction and lower levels of burnout.
When employees work under a manager’s thumb, they may receive a “to-do” list each morning of prioritized activities. Yet in a workplace that affords more autonomy, when each member of the team knows what his or her goals are, it’s up to each individual to prioritize activities.
Colette Ellis is the founder of InStep Consulting, a firm which creates training and organizational development programs for businesses. According to Ellis, employees can fall into an endless loop of not really knowing what’s important, feeling like they have to do everything, and feeling stressed. Ellis says they need to “shift their mindset towards a more productive focus,” and begin to distinguish between important and urgent activities.
“Important activities contribute to their purpose, values, and priorities,” says Ellis. “Urgent activities are those that require immediate attention.” Ellis says employees should look at each task carefully to identify the tasks as important or urgent.
The tasks can then be delegated, skipped, completed, or prioritized to move towards greater productivity.
When an employee has the responsibility to arrange their work schedule in a way that maximizes their own productivity, encourage them to track the pattern of interactions with others each day. Distractions and interruptions reduce productivity because they add to the time it takes to get things done. A George Mason University report found that interruptions and distractions “degrade the quality of people’s work.”
The solution? Your employees should use the time periods when most distractions and interruptions occur to work on short, non-urgent tasks or light busywork. If, for example, the hours between noon and 2 pm tend to be full of meetings and questions, use those two hours to do small tasks, such as returning a phone call or email. Schedule high priority tasks that require a greater time commitment and focus (such as highly creative work or detailed calculations) for periods that have fewer interruptions. During these times an employee may also want to put their phones on silent and avoid answering email to complete their high priority tasks.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says when something is scalable, it is “capable of being easily expanded or upgraded on demand.” And when an employee identifies a small task, which can be replicated through a template or outline, scalability boosts productivity.
Scalability works particularly well for sales and customer-service roles. For example, try creating a sales template for customer projects. Include all potential tasks, activities, and relevant information of a typical job and include it in the sales quote. This reduces the likelihood of revising the quote and saves valuable time that could be better spent on connecting with other potential new customers.
Employees can track how much time they spend on tasks they repeat daily. You can help them find ways to scale those tasks by investing time in creating a reusable template or outline to save time in the long run.
Similar to scaling, batching or grouping similar activities together, may help productivity according to several studies. A Wharton Business School productivity report based on interviews with undergraduate students found that working on projects which are grouped according to similarities actually improves productivity.
On a practical level, this means autonomous employees should try to change the way they actually complete the sequence of their work to boost their own productivity. For example, instead of completing Project 1, then turning to Project 2 and then Project 3 separately, suggest employees try completing the similar first step for each of the three projects, then tackle the second step for each, and so on.
One simple question employees should ask themselves is whether they are the only ones who can complete the task they’re spending time on; this goes for employees at each level in an organization.
Promotions typically come with more autonomy and more responsibility. However, some employees may find it difficult to let go of tasks that were part of their previous roles. This lack of reorganization can have a negative impact on productivity, according to Katie Rasoul, business and leadership coach at Team Awesome Coaching.
“As a former HR executive and now leadership and culture consultant, one of the best questions that I ask managers and leaders is ‘at which level of involvement should you be for this task?’” says Rasoul. “ When people are promoted and take on leadership roles, it is typical to hold on to tasks or tactical work too long that could be better delegated to a more junior employee. In turn, these tasks can also help the junior employee grow and develop.”
Rasoul says it might be important for that leader to continue giving guidance and oversight, but a hindrance for him or her to actually continue doing the work. “For example, instead of spending two hours doing a task, it might be better to allocate one hour to teaching someone else the skill, then later following up to ensure completion.”
This technique demonstrates to leaders that their involvement doesn’t have to be all or nothing. “Instead, they begin to see how they effectively spend their time to train and develop others and lead at the appropriate level.”
Depending on your organization’s size and your HR department resources, these questions could form the foundation for personalized one-on-one coaching. Alternatively, your HR team could maximize their own productivity levels by creating a simple worksheet to share with their employees to help maximize productivity throughout the organization.