Pick the Right Place for Each Task

Peak employee effectiveness and wellbeing depends on finding the optimal balance between working alone and working with others. Microsoft does big studies of their many thousand employees. They found that disengaged employees complained about too little collaboration. Overworked employees complained about too much collaboration.

Now that both office and home are valid work locations, it is a leadership responsibility to make the most of each of them. Collaboration needs to be in the office. We survived two years of Zoom meetings, but at the cost of massive Zoom fatigue. Focused work should happen at home where the employee is in full control of their time. Leaders need to set the rules and clearly delineate what happens where.

Work Where Others are Working

Are you as productive when working from home? Many people fell they are not, and compensate by working even more hours. The numbers show that the time we save by not having to communte to work have become extra work hours, not extra free time.

If you feel your productivity is dropping when working from home, spend part of your workday working together with someone else. I am not talking about pair programming or collaborative work – in fact, you don’t even need to know the other person. If you take your laptop to a local cafe or co-working space where other people are working, you will work harder. It is exactly the same effect as when people exercise harder in the gym than they do at home. Get out of the house for part of your work-from-home days.

Why Employee Surveillance Doesn’t Work

Do you know what a “mouse jiggler” is? Your most innovative employees do. It is not a device to shake a rodent in a cage. It is a small USB device that sends random mouse movements to a computer.

Who would want such a thing? Employees subjected to tracking software, that’s who. With the mouse moving, the software will record “productivity.” The pandemic led to a boom in surveillance tech, euphemistically called “employee productivity software.” As workers return to the office, that tech is not removed from corporate laptops. But workers are pushing back, in accordance with Newton’s Third Law of IT systems: Whenever the organization implements a policy, the employees will implement an equal and opposite workaround.

Techno-optimists keep trying to replace humans with technology. There are some places where that works. Replacing human leadership with surveillance technology is one of the places where this strategy doesn’t work.

Productivity at 10 pm?

They call it “productivity” but it’s more likely just busyness. Microsoft research into the use of their Teams product has discovered there are now three peaks in a day. It used to be only mid-morning and early afternoon, but now another peak has appeared at 10 pm. Euphemistically, Microsoft equates keyboard activity with productivity, but keyboard activity at 10 pm is unlikely to add much value for most people.

The workday has expanded by 46 minutes since the start of the pandemic, and most of that has been after normal office hours. It is a leadership task to preserve the health and productivity of your people. Do your employees work at 10 pm? Are you okay with that?

You Need 8,000 Steps per Day

You don’t need 10,000 steps a day. But 8,000 steps a day cuts your risk of dying prematurely by 40%. A big meta-study published in The Lancet gathers data from 15 large studies. They conclude that mortality – your risk of dying in any given month – at 8,000 steps is only 40% of that at 5,000 steps. Every 1.000 steps above 5.000 give you a 10% improvement.

If you believe you already take 8,000 steps per day, I have bad news for you: You don’t. Most people significantly overestimate their activity level. There is only one way to know and increase your number of steps: Count them. Get an app for your phone, or use a smartwatch or fitness tracker. Set a goal of 8,000 steps and find a way to track your progress. You will find that it also improves your productivity and your mood.

Save Energy Using Boxes

Every item in your field of vision costs you energy. Brain scans show that the automatic effort of filtering out irrelevant objects takes power, and the more items you look at, the worse your focus becomes.

You need to see fewer objects. You don’t have to throw anything out (though that is probably good, too). Simply take a number of items that have some relation to each other and put them in a box. 12 USB cables and 7 memory sticks become one object when they go into a box.

Throwing random objects into a box doesn’t trick your brain, however. Looking at a box you know contains random junk actually costs more energy, because now your brain is also thinking about the task of getting the stuff out of the box and sorting it.

Get out a box and remove some clutter from your field of vision. You’ll find that your energy increases. You just might even get around to that task you have been putting off for weeks.

Stop Your Tech from Distracting You

To create something, you need focus. I take meeting notes on paper because a sheet of paper won’t suddenly interrupt me with an unimportant message. When I am in focus mode, I have notification off on my phone and my computer. When writing on the computer, I use the “focus” mode in Word that removes all the menus and covers everything on my screen but the document.

You need to bend your technology to your will. Spend a moment investigating the “focus” features on your laptop and various devices and activate the ones that make sense for you.

People and Material

“In war, three-quarters turns on personal character and relations; the balance of manpower and materials counts only for the remaining quarter.” Napoleon said that in 1808, and it applies equally in Ukraine today.

It also applies in other human endeavors. You can see organizations performing well with antiquated IT systems, and organizations making a mess of their customer service even though they have the latest and greatest cloud services. Simply rolling out new technology without considering people, organization, and processes will not improve your organization.

Single Tasking Day

Today 2/22 is “Single Tasking Day.” You might think you are able to multi-task, but that is an illusion. You are simply emulating multitasking with your single-processor brain by task switching. And just like a computer, you lose a little (or a lot) of time before you are productive on the new task.

Celebrate Single Tasking Day by selecting one task from your long list of half-finished tasks, and work on that one until it is complete. Every incomplete task takes up valuable RAM in your mind. Notice how you feel more in control of your life once you can cross that task completely off your list. #SingleTaskingDay

Create Your Sound

When you work from home, you can create your own sound. You are free from the hellish soundscape of the open-plan office, so you don’t have to wear your noise-cancelling headphones. Since you probably don’t live in the countryside where you only heard birdsong and the buzzing of bees, you will have to create your own sound landscape.

You might have traffic noise, neighbors, barking dogs, and maybe even our partner speaking too loudly on a Zoom call. The antidote to this is to actively add sounds that mask out the annoying sounds. Consider a small indoor fountain to create the soothing sound of running water. You can get a white noise machine to create a neutral background that masks other noises. Or you can play instrumental music at low volume through your computer speakers or a separate speaker connected to your phone.

Sound affects your mood and your productivity. When working from home, you gain the ability to create your own sound.