What is productivity?
It’s a fascinating question with the announcement last week that Perpetual Guardian has introduced a 4 day work week for a six-week trial. This stems from many studies conducted all over the world in recent years that show that working fewer hours can actually improve productivity! To many, this sounds crazy – how can it be possible to get more done (productivity is defined as ‘a measure of the efficiency of a person, machine, factory, system, etc., in converting inputs into useful outputs) in a lesser amount of time?
Well of course, a key premise is that busyness is not productivity. It is absolutely possible to be busy and achieve very little of value – in fact, many people we talk to see this as their frustrating norm for much of their working day. And in case you’re thinking that we Kiwis are slack, fear not! Whilst we rate pretty poorly in global productivity measures (our previous government even established The Productivity Commission to address it), this is not unique to NZ. It’s a huge problem globally and is one that organisations and economies all around the world are trying to tackle.
Which leads us nicely onto the next issue. To be truly productive (or maybe even effective) is to not just get lots done, but to get more of the stuff that matters done. Many people mistake action for outcomes – being “so busy” but actually not achieving the things that will make the biggest difference in their work and life. In today’s world, there’s generally no shortage of tasks to do (not many people I know sit around twiddling their thumbs trying to fill in their days), but often our To Do list is filled with things that add little to our lives.
In fact (and here’s what might sound like a weird concept!), being more productive might mean getting less done! Minimising time on the unimportant things, being really clear about the things that add real value and then prioritising those activities is really what it’s about. The theory sounds logical and simple – executing it consistently is one of the greatest challenges we face in the high-pressure, fast-paced world we’ve created.
That takes us to the third part of the puzzle. To be able to prioritise those high-value activities, we first need to identify what’s really important to us – what makes us truly happy! That’s not as easy as it might sound, as many people get so caught up in the whirlwind of life, even finding the time to stop and consider that question is a challenge. Or if they do, the might quickly realise they’re so far from being able to spend time on the things that make them happy, they quickly forget they ever thought about it so they don’t have to feel disillusioned about their life for too long! Or even worse, some even struggle to identify what actually makes them happy – they’ve spent so long ‘getting on with life’, they’ve completely disconnected with what brings them joy.
So what does this have to do with the 4 day week?
The theory is that if employees have more time to spend with their loved ones and doing the things that matter to them, they’ll be much more energised, focused and engaged when they are working. So while they spend less time working, all those positive feelings (not to mention being pretty grateful to their company, thus generating more loyalty and greater buy-in) means they achieve more when they’re there. Again, various studies have demonstrated clear links between fewer working hours, increased productivity and higher levels of happiness. Scandinavian countries are regularly right up there in terms of happiness of their people and they typically have shorter working hours and higher than average productivity than many countries. This is a key premise behind the success of programmes like ‘The 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity‘ and ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People‘.
So what can we take from all of this? Should we all cut back the hours we work, spend more time doing the things that make us happy (or even figuring that out first!), so that we attack our reduced work hours with more energy, focus and passion?
Or could it make it even harder for some to kick into gear after a 3 day weekend (Mondayitis becomes Tuesdayitis), so that before you know it, half the week has gone and you’re easing into the next weekend? So productivity drops and we’re further behind the 8-ball!
I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all approach. Some would use their extra time wisely and increase their personal productivity, whilst others could easily go the other way. For me, I’ll definitely be watching the Perpetual Guardian trial with great interest. Until then, we’d all better get back to work!