4 Small Business Productivity Boosters That Shouldn’t Work, But Do

In America, unhappiness among workers costs an eye-popping $300 billion per year in lost productivity. Boosting productivity is a goal all companies share, regardless of their size. But approaches to increased productivity can vary widely.

“Like time, energy is finite; but unlike time, it is renewable,” says Tony Schwartz, Energy Project CEO. “Taking more time off is counterintuitive for most of us. The idea is also at odds with the prevailing work ethic in most companies, where downtime is typically viewed as time wasted.”

It’s now clear that the old-school, full-steam-ahead approach to productivity fails to generate the desired outcome more often than it succeeds. For many companies, it’s time to rethink productivity management.  

Here are four counter-intuitive tactics for getting your small business productivity chart to go up and to the right.

1.) Break time... again

Taking regular breaks – especially now that we’re always connected to the workplace, to email and to social media – is essential for high-level performance. Whether you are performing rocket science or perusing BuzzFeed, your brain requires a massive amount of energy for an organ of its size, according to Scientific American.

Truly effective breaks require us to “unplug.” We need to get up, walk around and get the blood pumping.Research has shown that working in 90-minute intervals followed by 15 – 20 minutes of rest is the best way for us to tap into our natural “ultradian rhythms.” And if you need to reduce stress while boosting creativity, there’s nothing like deep breathing and meditation during these breaks.


waveform of life

Photo credit: sparringmind.com 


2.) You want me to do less work?

If you’ve ever watched the show Kitchen Nightmares, you know how large menus handicap restaurants. Like restaurant owners, many business managers unknowingly, and mostly out of good intentions, fall into the variety trap. Employees with complex “work menus” find it difficult to produce quality work because they’re asked to manage a large mental inventory. And when quality goes down, job satisfaction is soon to follow.

Now granted, the line that separates “too complex” from “too rote” is a blurry one, which is why feedback is an important part of the simplification process. The key here is to develop areas of expertise that allow for a variety of tasks.

How can you cut down on the menu for your employees?

An easy win here is to transform existing mind-numbing tasks into a process that takes less time for all involved, as is the case with automation.  

3.) Toss your goals in the garbage

We’ve been taught to set goals and strive for them since we were children. So when someone pens an article titled Forget Setting Goals, Focus on This Instead, it commands our attention.

Entrepreneur contributor James Clear says this about the counterproductive nature of goals:

  • Goals reduce your current happiness because, as Clear puts it, “When you’re working toward a goal, you are essentially saying, ‘I’m not good enough yet, but I will be when I reach my goal.’”
  • Goals work against long-term progress. We work toward a goal (like a finance department tasked with cutting expenses by x percent) but when the hard work is over and the goal has been completed, there’s nothing left to motivate. This can create a “yo-yo effect” that impedes sustainable, long-term progress.
  • Goals imply that you can control the future. In reality, though, we have no clue about the specific situations that will greet us on our path to accomplishment.

The answer, according to Clear, is systems. With systems, it’s about sticking to a process that generates long-term results and refining the process with feedback loops to ensure it remains productive. Take automated expense reporting, for example. Users aren’t just getting a tool that makes achieving expense-related goals easier. They’re getting a system that allows for long-term success in the area of company-wide expense management.  

4.) Socialization outside of work activities

“In general when we look at what makes people happy and effective at work, it’s being able to spend time with a close group of people,” says Sociometric Solutions CEO Ben Waber. According to Gallup’s State of the American Workforce 2013 report, strong social ties in the workplace boosts employee retention, passion and productivity. Waber suggests structuring work in a way that allows for ample socialization opportunities, whether it’s strategically designed lounging areas for breaks or scheduling time for employees to hang out with each other outside of work.


What is your company doing to boost employee satisfaction and productivity? Discover how Elizabeth Arden increased productivity through their partnership with Concur by ditching inefficient processes and setting up integrated, interactive systems.


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