Lost productivity costs U.S. businesses over $1.8 trillion per year1https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/productivity-prohibitors?__hstc=69472015.242df6a5b75894385ad70f849c1b6f81.1681750230447.1681750230447.1681750230447.1&__hssc=69472015.1.1681750230447&__hsfp=1410824562! To make matters worse, the average employee is only productive for less than 3 hours per day2https://goremotely.net/blog/productivity-statistics/. How do you boost team morale and efficiency without causing burnout?
Whether you’re a manager or an employee, here are 14 science-backed ways to measure and increase productivity on the job.
How to Measure Employee Productivity
Employee productivity is a measure of workforce efficiency. Workforce productivity helps evaluate what an employee produces for a company over a specific amount of time. It can be described as a ratio of output (profit, units sold, etc.) to input (time, salary, effort).
Employee productivity is one of the most important metrics for measuring labor expenses in relation to profits. A few ways to calculate a team’s productivity include:
- Divide your company’s total revenue by the total number of employees.
- Divide an employee’s sales quota by the number of hours worked.
- Divide the value of services produced by the man hours it took to render those services.
- Divide gross product sales by total salaries paid.
Companies may track employee productivity in a variety of ways, but they all seek to quantify the tangible results of what your team is producing.
How Do You Increase Employee Productivity? 14 Practical Strategies
You have a limited staff with a limited amount of hours in the workday. Here is how to maximize efficiency without spending a fortune on labor.
1. Create a motivating company culture
Company culture is the backbone of productivity because it determines how people interact with each other on a daily basis. If people dread interacting with their boss or they feel alienated by their coworkers, they’re less likely to be productive.
Intrinsic employee motivation is when someone is naturally motivated to do their job because they enjoy it and feel invested in the mission of the company. While extrinsic motivation is based on salary or rewards, employees who are intrinsically motivated tend to produce a better quality of work and feel part of something larger than themselves.
Here are some ideas for improving company culture today:
- Clarify how and why employees can invest in your mission. You can post your mission in different places around the office and reiterate it in meetings.
- Empower team members to collaborate and hype each other up. Consider a compliment board where employees anonymously share positive feedback with their coworkers and acknowledge their hard work.
- Use an open-door policy to encourage open communication about employees’ ideas, questions, struggles, and feedback.
- Thoroughly welcome new employees into the company culture with a consistent onboarding and training process.
2. Offer healthy snacks for brain health
Most workers are familiar with the mid-morning or mid-afternoon slump. This is when productivity plummets due to skipping lunch3https://search.informit.org/doi/abs/10.3316/ielapa.344119418013024, changes in blood sugar, or the caffeine wearing off from morning coffee.
Brain-supporting snacks are an easy way for companies to directly support employee performance and well-being. This generous offering could also boost employee morale and job satisfaction!
For example, athleisure clothing brand Lululemon Athletica is known for offering free healthy snacks in their break rooms in corporate offices as well as stores. Lululemon was ranked ninth in Glassdoor’s Top 100 Best Places to Work in 20224https://www.glassdoor.com/Award/Best-Places-to-Work-2022-LST_KQ0,24.htm.
Healthy snacks could be described as natural and organic foods that are scientifically proven to boost brain function and productivity, such as:
- Nut butters or keto bars (healthy fats can improve brain productivity5http://dspace.vnbrims.org:13000/jspui/bitstream/123456789/4184/1/Genius%20Foods%20Become%20Smarter%2C%20Happier%2C%20and%20More%20Productive%20While%20Protecting%20Your%20Brain%20for%20Life.pdf)
- Herbal teas like green tea, ginkgo leaf (shown to improve mental focus6https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2003/0901/p923.html), or other nootropics
- Mushroom “focus” coffees with Lion’s Mane or Chaga mushroom to stimulate focus
- Green smoothies or kale chips (neuroscientists find that leafy greens contribute to better memory7https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5772164/!)
- Condiments that boost brain function, such as extra virgin olive oil (which improves cognition and brain health8https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/B9780128195284000183)
If your team works remotely, consider mailing a monthly snack gift box or hiring a holistic nutritionist to host a virtual class on foods for productivity.
3. Set alerts to “Do Not Disturb”
Studies show that the average employee is interrupted every 3.2 minutes9https://www.ics.uci.edu/~gmark/chi08-mark.pdf. Interruptions can come from:
- Phone calls
- E-mail notifications
- People walking by
- Social media alerts
- Environmental sounds
- Conversations with coworkers
The easiest way to eliminate alerts is to set your phone and computer on “Do Not Disturb” mode for a chunk of time. You can combine this method with the Pomodoro Technique to carve out several hours of productivity per day without feeling like you’re missing out.
Pro Tip for Managers: Try to bulk-send emails only in the mornings or afternoons. This will allow your staff to focus on their tasks without fearing that they’re missing important communications.
4. Use “focus cues” like sound-canceling headphones
Speaking of interruptions, it can be hard to block out a noisy environment. Neuroscientists have found that the brain can only process10https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3197943/#:~:text=Cowan’s%20model%20included%20the%20activated,to%20three%20or%20four%20items. three or four major stimuli at a time.
If your eyes are focused on a screen, your fingers are typing, and your mind is wondering what’s for lunch, just one or two background noises could completely pull you out of your concentration mode.
Sound-canceling headphones are one of the easiest ways to keep noisy distractions out of your ears and brain. Over-ear headphones have the added benefit of sending a visual cue to the people around you.
As opposed to hidden earphones, wearing visible headphones sends a clear body language signal that you are focused and unable to talk. You don’t even have to be listening to anything!
Here are some more “focus” cues you can use to tell people around you that you’re busy:
- Close your office door.
- Create a “Do Not Disturb” or “I’m Busy, Please Come Back Later” sign for your desk.
- Face a wall or turn your back to incoming distractions.
- Avoid making eye contact with people working in a public space.
- Turn on “focus” alerts on your phone so people can see when you turn on “Do Not Disturb” mode (on an iPhone, you can find this in Settings > Focus > Share Focus Status).
If someone still disrupts your concentration, try not to get upset at them. Instead, focus on ways you can communicate when you’re in “focus mode.”
5. Use the Pomodoro Technique
Do you want to do more with less time? The Pomodoro Technique is an anti-procrastination time management technique that dramatically improves work output in a smaller amount of time. One study with graduate students found that the Pomodoro Technique improved productivity11https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-50506-6_10 in thesis writing while reducing procrastination.
This technique simply divides your time into smaller chunks of concentration, then periodically rewards the brain with a brief break.
Using the Pomodoro Technique is remarkably simple:
- Set a timer for 25 minutes.
- Go into “Do Not Disturb” mode and focus on one specific task until the timer goes off.
- Take a 5-minute break.
- For best results, avoid scrolling social media during the break. Instead, gaze out the window, walk around your office, or practice deep breathing to relax your mind.
- This 30-minute chunk is one “Pomodoro.”
- Next, set another timer for 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break.
- Repeat 4 Pomodoros for a total of 2 hours of work.
- Reward yourself with a lunch break, a sweet treat, or another bonus.
In a single workday, this technique could skyrocket an employee’s time management and productivity levels without requiring more work hours.
Pro Tip: If the Pomodoro technique doesn’t work for you, try one of these quick productivity hacks:
- Use the 1-3-5 Rule to divide 1 major task into 3 medium tasks, then cut those into 5 bite-sized tasks.
- Before you write something, prime your brain with 5 minutes of reading.
- Focus your intentions on a single task at a time for 20 minutes straight, then take a 15-minute break.
Want more science-backed productivity hacks? Here are 14 Unique Productivity Tips: How to Be More Productive with Less Effort.
6. Create a productivity ritual
The brain loves rituals and predictability. Repetitive behaviors (your habits!) stimulate an area of the brain called the basal ganglia12https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3543080/#:~:text=The%20%E2%80%9Cbasal%20ganglia%E2%80%9D%20refers%20to,functions%20and%20behaviors%2C%20and%20emotions., which controls learning and executive functions like critical thinking. A productivity ritual is a mental cue that tells your brain it’s time to do a specific task.
For example, when you put on your workout clothes and tennis shoes, your brain knows it’s time to go to the gym. When you grab your dog’s leash, they know it’s time to go on a walk.
Use this same brain training concept to tell your brain, “It’s time to get work done!”
You can design a productivity ritual for any of your five senses. Here are some unique ideas you can implement today:
- Sight: Change the lighting and ambiance when you sit down to work. This is especially useful if you work from home and use your office for personal things as well. When it’s time to “clock in,” consider turning on a different color light or opening/closing a window.
- Touch: Keep a uniquely textured item like a soft mousepad, silk scarf, or squeezable stress ball that you touch before each work session.
- Taste: Have you noticed how some people always seem to have a piece of gum or a mint in their mouth when doing specific tasks? Hack your tastebuds with a unique flavor that you only taste during your workday.
- Smell: Whiff a specific smell (from an essential oil diffuser, incense, or a candle) every time you work on a specific task. This ritual signals to your brain that it’s “go time.” Rosemary is known for its brain-boosting effects.
- Sound: Choose a special music track or style (such as the ones discussed below!) to listen to when you work. For example, you may turn on classical music when you need to focus on numbers but switch to upbeat binaural beats when it’s time to design a presentation.
7. Turn on binaural beats or classical music
Classical music is infamous for its ability to improve focus13https://scholarscompass.vcu.edu/uresposters/57/. Similarly, binaural beats are a special frequency of music that shifts the brain into alpha waves, which are directly correlated with attention, concentration, and information processing.
Research shows that both types of music impact the brain by increasing dopamine levels and triggering alpha brain waves, which improve working memory capacity14http://www.studiapsychologica.com/uploads/KRAUS_SP_2_vol.57_2015_pp.135-145.pdf and boost creativity15https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/FNHUM.2013.00786/full.
You can use this high-frequency music as part of your productivity ritual or play it in the background of the office all day long. Here is a great track to start with:
Learn more about Music and Productivity: How Music Can Make You More Productive.
8. Use light to your advantage (blue light for focus, red light for sleep)
Lighting has a major impact on cognition and productivity. There is an abundance of studies that show cooler light makes workers more productive16http://www.jcircadianrhythms.com/article/view/1740-3391-5-2/144.
The impacts of light on brain function are directly linked to a phenomenon called the Circadian Rhythm. This sleep-wake cycle is hard-wired into our brains and closely linked to the hormone melatonin. Melatonin regulates alertness and sleepiness but is easily thrown off-balance by light from modern-day technology.
Here are a few ways you can use the power of light to improve productivity:
- Install blue light bulbs: Studies show that blue-enriched 17,000K light bulbs increase productivity by supporting mental alertness and reducing daytime fatigue.
- Sunrises and sunsets: Encourage employees to get natural light in the morning or evening. Watching the sunrise or sunset has been proven to improve mood17https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10373104/, energy, and alertness.
- Blue blockers at night: While blue light is great for productivity during the day, it can have a negative impact on your sleep cycles. If you want to boost employee sleep levels, consider gifting staff members blue-blocking glasses to protect their eyes from the blue light of devices during the evening. Avoid wearing blue-blocking glasses during the day, or you may inadvertently make your brain more sleepy.
9. Boost employee engagement with mini contests
Employee engagement is directly linked18https://www.gallup.com/workplace/349484/state-of-the-global-workplace.aspx#ite-350777 with productivity and retention. A mini-contest is the perfect opportunity to engage employees and promote collaboration. The key here is to stimulate a quick burst of productivity with a challenge that only lasts a few days or a week.
When designing a contest, remember to:
- Center the experience around specific workflows or deadlines. For example, if you need a big push to reach a year-end goal, incentivize workers to sign on as many clients as possible in a short amount of time.
- Offer praise, bonuses, or incentives like public recognition, a gift card, or a long weekend.
- Create friendly competition by encouraging cross-functional teamwork with colleagues that may not usually interact together.
- Keep contests short and sweet. In long-term contests, one team or individual often gets ahead, and others fall back or give up. Short-term contests offer quicker rewards and more fun competition for the entire team.
10. Work at the same time and place every day
Your brain is more likely to concentrate when it can associate similar work tasks with a unique environment and a given time of day.
Podcaster, author, and former monk Jay Shetty says:
“Location has energy. Time has memory. If you do something at the same time every day, it becomes easier and natural. If you do something in the same space every day, it becomes easier and natural.”— Jay Shetty
You could even pretend that a given location holds the “productivity vibes” you need to crank through a big work project.
Take this concept to the next level by dividing your workspace times and locations based on the task you need to execute. For example:
- Host strategic meetings in the same board room every time.
- Do creative team brainstorming or problem-solving discussions in an outdoors seating area (ideally in the morning since this is when creativity peaks19https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13546783.2011.625663?ref=buffer.com#.Uxy9AeddWGg).
- For remote workers, consider working at a coffee shop to complete creative tasks like presentations. Work in your home office when you need to complete logistical tasks like spreadsheets.
11. Offer remote work opportunities
A 2-year Stanford study20https://drive.google.com/file/d/1DPhkrgydBA7Xt9ZHHQv8ZcpBSbzgfy-F/view of over 500 workers at a major corporation found that working from home increases productivity by 13%. Researchers discovered that the boost in telecommuters’ productivity was equivalent to an extra full day of office work each week.
They found several factors that made work-from-home employees more productive, including:
- It was less distracting and easier to concentrate at home.
- They took shorter breaks.
- They had fewer sick days.
- They took less time off.
- They didn’t have to drive to commute.
- Employees reported more work satisfaction.
Moreover, the company saved almost $2,000 per employee! Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom explains more about the study results in this TED Talk:
Keep in mind that remote work is only suited for specific personality types, work styles (discover your work style here), and certain industries. If you can’t move employees to fully remote positions or still wish to promote in-person team bonding, Bloom advises enabling remote work just a few days per week.
12. Offer exciting training and development opportunities
Fun professional development opportunities are mutually beneficial for employees and businesses. Companies with comprehensive training and professional development programs have 218% higher revenue per employee21https://businesstrainingexperts.com/knowledge-center/training-roi/profiting-from-learning/.
While staff learn new skills and feel more empowered, companies can reap the benefits of a more competent and confident workforce.
Some of the best educational opportunities to offer employees include:
- Leadership training
- Motivational speakers
- Productivity and psychology seminars
- Sales certifications like SPIN Selling Training
- Project management courses like the PMP Certification
- Health and wellness programs like healthy cooking classes or group fitness training
- Paid admission to industry conferences
- Communication workshops like this highly-reviewed people skills training with communication expert Vanessa Van Edwards:
Master Your People Skills
- Create a Memorable Presence
- Communicate with Confidence
- Achieve Your Goals
Have a question about the presentation or People School? Email Science of People support.
13. Ensure that employees have the right technology
Employees can quickly become frustrated by outdated technology or ineffective organization systems. Make sure that your team has the software and tools they need to streamline processes and increase efficiency.
Efficient tech upgrades may include:
- Project management software: Software programs like Asana, Basecamp, or Airtable allow you to assign tasks, set deadlines, and directly communicate with employees about specific projects. When you choose software, it becomes a centralized location where they can reliably find what they need to be working on.
- Artificial Intelligence: Teach your team to use AI tools like ChatGPT or Scikit Learn to accelerate their writing or data analysis.
- Other tech: Create processes for your staff to use every time they approach a repeated task. For example, you may require using Canva templates to create more efficient and cohesive social media content. Similarly, you may suggest Avoma for managers to coordinate meetings, create agendas, and collaboratively take notes.
14. Encourage work-life balance to prevent burnout
Stress is a major productivity killer. Gen Z and Millennials are especially prone to quitting a job due to burnout22https://www.deloitte.com/global/en/issues/work/genzmillennialsurvey.html. If you want to prevent burnout amongst your workers, it’s best to avoid modeling “hustle culture” or exhausting work schedules.
Instead, encourage work-life balance by:
- Normalize regular workday breaks, especially outdoor breaks.
- Encouraging employees to leave work computers at work.
- Thanking staff for their hard work and reminding them that they deserve rest.
- Supporting health and wellness programming like gym memberships or yoga classes.
Learn more about How to Fight Burnout and Get Unstuck in 11 Empowering Steps.
Key Takeaways: Optimize Productivity with Brain Hacks and Collaboration
Employee productivity is all about understanding where your employees are losing their focus or efficiency. Begin by measuring productivity and creating systems that can improve it.
Science tells us that the most reliable ways to boost productivity are brain hacks and collaborative efforts such as:
- A motivational environment and company mission
- Healthy snacks that improve brain function (like medicinal mushrooms or healthy fats)
- Reducing alerts and distractions
- Using time management techniques like the Pomodoro Technique
- Creating productivity rituals
- Using music and background noise to your advantage
- Improving the lighting and ambiance of your workspace
- Boosting employee engagement with contests
- Offering remote work opportunities
- Preventing burnout with breaks and self-care
Just a few of these changes could dramatically improve your team’s productivity over the next few months.
Want to promote even more productivity and employee happiness? Don’t forget to appreciate your team for all their incredible work! Here are the 43 Best Employee Appreciation Ideas by Industry.
How to Deal with Difficult People at Work
Do you have a difficult boss? Colleague? Client? Learn how to transform your difficult relationship.
I’ll show you my science-based approach to building a strong, productive relationship with even the most difficult people.