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How to Find a Better Rhythm at Work

How to Find a Better Rhythm at Work


    A month ago, I wrote about how you can take a relaxing vacation. But as the calendar shifts from August to September, vacation season is coming to an end for most of us. Fortunately, going back to work doesn’t have to mean going back to the same old grind. Here are some tips for finding a new, better rhythm when you head back to work.

    Set Better Goals

    In my experience, many people set their work-related goals the wrong way. They ask themselves, “what am I best at?” and “what do I like doing?” While the answers to these questions certainly matter, they’re only part of the story. You should think beyond the “supply side”—what you want to do and what you are best at doing. You must also consider the “demand side”—what the world, your organization, or your unit needs most from you.

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    For instance, in my career as an executive at several mutual fund companies, many brilliant analysts came to me with their plans to start new, exotic mutual funds. While their ideas were always fascinating, I usually directed these analysts to focus on maintaining the performance of our existing mutual funds—our company’s highest priority.

    Don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing wrong with creativity. Indeed, some organizations need their employees to take risks and be creative, even if that is outside their comfort zone. The point is simple: your organization’s particular needs—whatever they are—should heavily influence the goals that you set.

    Manage Up

    At all levels of your organization, your boss will be under pressure from above—maybe, to cut costs, or perhaps to expand globally. When considering how you can be most useful to your organization, you should keep your boss’s own pressures in mind. In general, if your boss gives special weight to a particular goal, you should too.

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    (Of course, if you work for a “bad boss,” you probably won’t want to go along with him or her: here are some tips for dealing with this situation.)

    More generally, you should consider “managing up” to be a critical goal in its own right. You’re unlikely to be very productive (or very happy!) if you don’t have a mutually beneficial relationship with your boss.

    So make an effort to do your work in a way that’s compatible with your boss’s personality and habits. As a simple example, you can match your boss’s communication style: if he or she tends to communicate through email, that probably reflects his or her preferred method of incoming communication as well. In a broader manner, use your interpersonal skills to learn to anticipate what your boss wants.

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    Establish a Solid Routine

    Put bluntly, professionals can’t be at their best if they regularly sleep less than 7-8 hours each night. They might be able to spend more time at the office by burning the midnight oil, but in my experience, they’re often too tired to actually get much done.

    Likewise, professionals might skip their regular workout in order to stay in the office a little longer. However, a short workout session is a good investment of time: it will leave you feeling happier and more energized for the rest of the day.

    So, for your health and your productivity, you should commit to a daily routine that allows you to sleep eight hours and exercise nearly every day. Schedule your workouts around the same time every day, and try to sleep during a particular eight-hour window (for example, from 10:30pm to 6:30am each night). Over time, this schedule will help your body and mind get “ready” for each activity.

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    After a fun vacation, going back to work can be a drag. But by setting better goals, managing your boss, and fitting sleep and exercise into your daily routine, you can establish a better, more pleasant rhythm—both at home and at work.

    (Photo credit: Drumstick on Cymbal via Shutterstock)

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    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

    It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

    Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

    “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

    In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

    New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

    There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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    So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

    What is the productivity paradox?

    There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

    In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

    He wrote in his conclusion:

    “Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

    Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

    How do we measure productivity anyway?

    And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

    In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

    But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

    In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

    But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

    Possible causes of the productivity paradox

    Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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    • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
    • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
    • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
    • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

    There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

    According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

    Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

    The paradox and the recession

    The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

    “Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

    This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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    According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

    Looking forward

    A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

    “Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

    Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

    “Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

    On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

    Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

    Reference

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