Productivity myths! Why working more may actually harm your career

It's about quality over quantity – and flexibility is the key to unlocking potential

Productivity myths! Why working more may actually harm your career

For many decades it was an assumption in the office that the longer hours you worked, the more you achieved, the higher the probability you would get promoted. After all, if your boss saw you as they was walking in first thing in the morning and then as they were exiting the door in the early evening, it’s implied you were dedicated and accomplishing more than your fellow colleagues.

Research in the late 21st century revealed that after six hours of work the law of diminishing returns sets in resulting in productivity declines. The long working day is one of many productivity myths that have been demystified in the past couple of decades.

“There are five productivity myths that are exactly that,” Donna McGeorge, productivity coach, said. “The first is working hard will get you ahead, the second is you have to be at 100% at 100% of the time, followed by the need to write ‘to do lists’ to keep you on track.

“The final two are doing hard tasks makes you more productive and finally that daydreaming is counterproductive.”

Research from the Nordic countries reveals that letting children have unlimited play time means deeper thought, more exploring and better understanding of any situation. The same mentality can be applied to adults.

Being productive in short bursts can be very beneficial to an individual and to a business. When you get into a rhythm of thinking about creating a new product and/or service or solving a problem, it tends to stimulate the cortisol in your body.

“It's not about working hard it's about being in flow,” McGeorge added.  “When you reflect on your most productive days, they are usually when you were in flow doing the right things. 

“You are also doing yourself a disservice trying to be on 100% on 100% of the time. If your calendar is full, and you have a lot on your plate, you may miss a great opportunity simply because someone cannot wait the 6 weeks until there is a free space in your diary.

“And while there are advantages with ‘to do lists’ if they aren’t managed well, they can create an even greater feeling of being overwhelmed.”

Momentum is key to having a productive day. In the court of law, it is never about motivation, as you seen on the TV shows, it is about intent, and momentum flows from intent.

“Studies in neuroscience have shown that creating momentum is what will get you through your day,” McGeorge said.  “Creating a pattern of completion, or achievement sets off neurotransmitters that have you feel motivated to continue on regardless of the difficulty or level of desire you have for a project.

“We also need to daydream. That state accesses our alpha brain waves which is where our creativity lives.  Many people report that they are able to solve problems, or have ideas when they are in the shower, or immediately up on waking.  These are times when our alpha brain waves are getting some airtime.”

Businesses can take advantage of people’s natural curiosity by allowing them to manage their own working hours and calendars. By focusing on outputs rather than hours worked, businesses should see greater results as employees feel more freedom and can work when it benefits them, not the company.

Human resources has a vital role to play too.

“Human resource business partners in particular play a key role as coaches and supporters for managers and leaders in the business,” McGeorge added.  “By understanding what the priorities are, and encouraging regular planning and review, human resource business professionals can help facilitate good thinking, decision making and results.

“If as a human resource professional, you haven’t been practicing your meeting facilitation skills before now, you should get onto that.”

Increasing productivity for employees could be as simple as allowing them to set their own hours but with clear outcomes. Once someone has freedom of mind, it opens up endless possibilities.

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