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How to promote and achieve sustainable productivity

Productivity has been a focus -- or, often, obsession – since the Industrial Age emerged. In today's Information Age, it continues to be a driving tenant of success. But the pure pursuit of productivity has often come at a cost to employees and companies. Enter sustainable productivity, a better way to do productivity.

Sustainable productivity avoids the trap of over-optimisation that leads to burnout. Enabling a culture of lasting productivity and making sure companies support and rely on their most valuable asset: people.
Let's dig in and explore the concept of sustainable productivity and how it can be implemented at your company.

Defining a new concept of productivity

The traditional concept of productivity focuses purely on time, effort and output. In basic terms, it's the rate of output per unit of input. While simple, this approach to technology has, over time, had little regard for wellbeing, longevity, or whether this fundamental approach is even the most effective way to achieve success.

There is now a new, rapidly rising concept of productivity: sustainable productivity. Sustainable productivity adds a new dimension to the idea of productivity. One that considers the human element of the productivity equation more, as well as contemplating other factors to determine whether the work being done daily can be sustained for maximum returns over the long run.

The idea of sustainable productivity may seem like a no-brainer. Or perhaps no different to the general concept of productivity. But there are subtle, yet significant, distinctions.

A needed response to "Hustle Culture" & "Busyness"

The unchecked pursuit of productivity has morphed into the modern phenomenon of hustle culture. The idea behind it is that grinding hard for 12-plus hour days, never taking breaks, and pushing to exhaustion is the pinnacle of productivity.

There's no doubt that working hard is essential to success. But should we be exhausting ourselves to produce beyond our limits? If you take too much from the well at once, does the well not run dry?

When striving for company goals and personal success, it's easy for even a healthy productivity-focused mindset to stray into a more toxic mindset of overworking. While this might be unpopular for some, I believe pushing employees to breaking point isn't the way to treat your people and is counterproductive for long-term success.

For example, if your people are overworked all the time, then how do you expect them to respond when the moment calls for a short period of extra effort? Simply, if your foot is already pressed all the way down on the gas pedal, there's nowhere left to go when the time calls for a short burst of maximum output.

That's where sustainable productivity comes in.

Sustainable productivity is the ability to maintain high levels of productivity without sacrificing employee wellbeing. It includes a healthy work-life balance, reasonable workloads, and adequate downtime. Not only is this better for your people, but it also breeds a better organisational culture and company performance. Simply, when your employees feel supported, they are more motivated, engaged, and productive.

How to foster sustainable productivity in your company

1. Factor health and wellbeing into workflows

Work and home life are becoming more blurred due to an increasing number of people working from home. This makes supporting the health and wellbeing of your people even more significant. To foster sustainable productivity, employee wellbeing must be a central pillar of your culture. This includes enforcing breaks and time off, offering wellness programs and limiting emails and calls after hours.

2. Increase employee ownership & accountability

Giving your people ownership is a big part of supporting sustainable productivity. Workplace autonomy enables employees to have more responsibility over how they use their energy and time. This, in turn, leads to employees feeling more empowered and trusted, which supports their work output.

This doesn't mean giving your people carte blanche to run in whatever direction they choose and do what they like. With autonomy comes accountability. So, when offering autonomy on the job, make sure you have a system in place to keep employees accountable, like productivity monitoring software.

3. Provide work flexibility

‍Being told to be logged in at your laptop right at 9am each morning can be stifling to employee engagement and, in turn, long-term productivity. Offering work flexibility lets employees work on their schedule when they are most productive.

For morning people, this might still be a 9am (or earlier) start. While for night owls, it may mean starting later in the day and working into the evening. This work flexibility has been shown to support employee wellbeing and productivity.

4. Encourage deep work time

When seeking sustainable productivity, long hours that stretch into the evening and onto weekends should be replaced with a culture of deep work time. Deep work time is a state of peak concentration, free from distractions, that precipitates higher productivity and creativity.

You can promote deep work time in your team by encouraging your people to reserve "time blocks" in their calendars that are free from interruption, including emails, meetings and Slack messages.

5. Focus on results, not time

It's easy to get fooled by the idea that time in front of a computer equals high productivity. However, as any manager knows, this is often a charade. But this still doesn't prevent it from happening. To break this misleading paradigm and support sustainable productivity, you must create a culture where results are rewarded, not time worked.

This can be achieved by setting clear goals and objectives and then letting your employees achieve these in the most efficient and effective way they see. The time it takes them isn't the key metric here. A lot can be learnt about your processes and people here too. For instance, if the same task takes one employee two hours and the other five, the behaviour of employee one can be used to model optimal processes across your team.

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