The Surprising Way To Increase Productivity

It's often the simplest behaviors that lead to the greatest transformation. Here is a case in point.

There are many terms being used to describe what’s happening with today’s workforce: “The Great Resignation.” “The Great Regret.” “Quiet Quitting.” However, there’s another trend at play that I believe is one of the main culprits of today’s workplace turmoil.

I call it “The Era of Lost Productivity.”

Just look at the statistics: U.S. worker productivity in the second quarter of 2022 fell at its steepest pace ever—decreasing 4.1 percent, with output decreasing 1.4 percent and hours worked increasing 2.7 percent.

A survey conducted by a U.K. company found the average office worker is only productive for two hours and 23 minutes each day. This means that during an eight-hour workday, employees are generally unproductive for five hours and 37 minutes.

Low productivity has far-reaching consequences for an organization. Not only does it put a strain on workers’ morale, creativity and professional growth, but it also leads to lower output and profitability. In fact, Gallup research shows that employees who are not engaged cost their company the equivalent of 18 percent of their annual salary. In a company of 10,000 employees with an average salary of $50,000 each, the cost of their disengagement is $60.3 million annually.

On a global scale, employees who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged cost the world $7.8 trillion in lost productivity, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report.

What’s Causing this Productivity Crisis?

There are a few factors at play. The most obvious is the pandemic, which significantly altered the composition of the workforce. A tight labor market means staff shortages, which leads to reduced hours worked and an increase in the time it takes to achieve business goals. The high employee turnover rate also means that companies are losing employees with institutional knowledge of their organization and onboarding new employees who need ramp-up time before they can reach full productivity.

However, productivity has been on the decline even before Covid-19 was a part of our vernacular. For some time, U.S. businesses have been struggling with productivity losses due to two main factors: the destruction of attention and the lack of collaboration.

Employees juggling multiple tasks at one time decrease their productivity by 80 percent, yet focusing on one deliverable at a time is nearly impossible due to the constant barrage of emails, messages and meetings. In addition, models of collaboration have completely changed with companies now operating as remote- or hybrid-first.

If you combine decreasing attention spans with declining collaboration, you get burnt-out employees with fragmented minds, which ultimately results in lower productivity and less-than-stellar output. And overworked employees leave their jobs, leading to high employee turnover and an ongoing talent shortage.

While CEOs view productivity as critical for their businesses, they struggling with how to address it within the changing dynamics of how we work today. To thrive in this era of lost productivity, CEOs must work with their leadership teams to create environments that will maximize individual attention and team collaboration and, ultimately, generate higher worker output.

The Key to Increased Productivity? Email Management

Email management might not seem like the holy grail of productivity. Yet, email inboxes are a major source of distraction for employees, and time spent reading through and searching for emails can lead to noticeable productivity losses. The average professional spends 28 percent of the workday reading and answering emails, according to a McKinsey analysis. For the average full-time worker in America, that amounts to 2.6 hours spent and 120 messages received per day.

Consider how much time and mental capacity can be freed up when inboxes are at zero. If your leadership team makes clear to employees the importance of a managed inbox, and gives them the proper tools to achieve this goal, they’ll see more energized, creative and productive workers.

Here’s a brief overview of how this can be achieved, which I refer to as “The Stack Method.”

• View messages as actions. Inboxes should be viewed as full of actions, rather than messages. This small shift in perspective changes how workers organize, prioritize and process their emails. Everything has its place, determined by the action for which workers use each item.

• Move from sequential processing to batch processing. When emails are sorted by action, employees can batch process across those actions. This makes prioritizing messages easier because workers no longer need to compare the different contexts of their messages.

• Employ the “chunking” strategy. A well-known problem-solving strategy known as “chunking” involves taking a large problem and breaking it down into smaller pieces. Seeing 150 emails in an inbox is overwhelming, but dividing them up by their action, and archiving or deleting unnecessary messages, will make that large sum much easier to manage.

• Rely on folders. When emails are sorted into their action folders before being acted upon, it gives workers the context of the message before they even open the folder.

The Productivity Economy is Within Reach

The workforce is at the edge of a precipice, and how business leaders navigate their way through these productivity challenges will determine whether they reach new heights—or fall behind.

However, if CEOs make productivity a priority, and focus on meaningful, easy-to-implement changes such as email management, they can achieve a productivity transformation that will positively impact profitability.

In return, they will witness their companies travel from the “The Era of Lost Productivity” to “The Productivity Economy.”


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