How to Work Smarter, Not Harder and Avoid Burnout
Most of us assume that productivity is an intrinsic trait—you either have it or you don’t. In many industries, the busiest employees quickly rise to the surface, standing out by working long hours and subscribing to a grind-it-out ethos.
But research tells us that productivity isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. In many cases, working too hard can even lead to serious burnout. A Stanford study conducted in 2019 found that productivity declines sharply when someone works more than 50 hours a week. Beyond 55 hours, productivity drops so precipitously that it’s actually worse than a 50-hour workweek.
“Busyness is not a means to accomplishment, but an obstacle to it,” says Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, a Stanford scholar and author of “Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less.”
New surveys conducted since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 reflect an even more monumental shift as millions moved to remote and hybrid work. In spring 2022, McKinsey and Ipsos surveyed 25,000 American workers and found that, when offered the chance to work from home, 87% took it.
In an Ergotron study of 1,000 full-time employees, 56% said they were enjoying mental health improvements, better work-life balance, and more physical activity because of their hybrid schedule. And an overwhelming majority—88%—said the flexibility to choose where to work increased their job satisfaction, leading to a related rise in productivity.
One last data point is perhaps the most informative. In Japan, Microsoft’s Work Life Choice Challenge intentionally reduced the time employees spent in meetings, protecting one day a week for focused work over a five-week trial period—and saw a 40% increase in productivity. In addition to the increased productivity, employees took 25% less time off during the trial, which ended with a 92% approval rating.
So how can you boost efficiency, increase employee morale, and improve productivity? Technology can provide a big assist—especially when it’s leveraged in a way that works well with your business. Here are a few valuable tips that CMIT Solutions has collected over the years:
1. Block off time for email. For most of us, reading, responding to, and organizing email messages takes up a massive amount of time. According to McKinsey, 28% of the workday is spent on emails, and we check our inboxes an average of 11 times per hour. Instead, schedule specific chunks of your day to check and respond to messages—first thing in the morning, before lunch, and mid-afternoon, for instance—then keep your inbox minimized while working on other tasks. When you do check in, act on the important messages first by responding or flagging them for follow-up. And try to keep responses brief—if you have to write more than a paragraph or two, consider whether the topic might be better addressed with a quick phone call or meeting.
2. Streamline your browser tabs. Bookmarking links or saving web pages to read later is a huge benefit of today’s Internet. But keeping too many tabs open at the same time can distract you—and drain your computer memory. (Not to mention the security risk that comes from continuously open webpages delivering ads or storing cookies in your browser). Try organizing bookmarks in appropriate folders like you would for your emails (“To read today,” “To read tomorrow,” or “To read at home,” for instance). You can also find a plethora of safe, smart browser plug-ins that convert tabs into to-do lists or provide a time limit on open pages.
3. Use your smartphone to scan documents and convert them to text. Just a few years ago, many documents had to be scanned on a printer, saved as a PDF on your desktop or laptop, and then converted into a plain text file. Today, the smartphones in our pockets can take a picture of a document or block of written text and transform it into text that can be quickly copied and pasted into a text message, email, or cloud-based document. Master this timesaving task and you can shave valuable minutes off of previously time-consuming tasks.
4. Set easily achievable daily and weekly goals. Before the beginning of each workday, compile a list of three to five things you need to achieve before finishing up later in the afternoon. Keep the list brief—new to-do items will always pop up. Once you complete a couple of those items on Monday, think about the bigger tasks you need to finish by Friday. Reconfigure the list each day to stay on top of your priorities, moving the most important items to the top each morning and then reassessing weekly goals each afternoon.
5. Reduce notifications. One day, we may look back on this era of information overload and say, “How did we ever manage so many distractions?” Try muting your notifications—turning off the audible ding of your email inbox, for instance—and see if it helps you stay focused longer. If it works, try turning off social media alerts and text message notifications for short periods to settle into an even more focused groove.
6. Sync your files across apps and devices. The days of saving files on thumb drives or emailing yourself important documents are over. Cloud-based file sync and share allows you to access any document, anytime, anywhere—and collaborate on it in real-time with colleagues. Make sure those apps are accessible across phones, tablets, laptops, and desktops so you can see new activity and make updates in the office, at home, or on the road.
7. Take a break! Research shows that our brains do well when they cycle through periods of engaged and decompressed time. In 2021, scientists at the National Institutes of Health found that short bursts of wakeful rest helped people learn new skills more quickly through “memory strengthening.” Another study conducted at the University of Illinois found that those who worked non-stop on a task for 50 minutes progressively declined in performance after 30 minutes, while those who switched tasks every 10 minutes (with a brief break in between) remained sharper throughout the full 50-minute duration. Consider a version of the Pomodoro technique, which calls for working 25 minutes straight without interruption, followed by a 5-minute break spent doing whatever you want.
The right mix of tech tools and common-sense tips can transform a disorganized, overwhelming day into a smooth stretch of productivity and efficiency. Need help installing software like Microsoft Office or checking preferences to empower your employees? CMIT Solutions can help.
We’ve spent the last 25 years transforming technology into a competitive advantage for businesses across North America. We know productivity inside and out and we’re ready to help.