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The ability to be productive is greatly valued within and without the workplace, but what does productivity mean in business? How is productivity managed responsibly to ensure a thriving workforce? If productivity is not managed consciously, it can potentially lead to high burnout levels, a trend that’s been on the rise over recent years.

But how did we get here? Certainly, productivity couldn’t be a bad thing, right? The short answer is no, but that isn’t to say that the way we sometimes approach it isn’t without its flaws. To get to the root of the burnout issue we’re now facing, let’s start by unpacking what it means to have a “productivity mindset” in the first place…

A “productivity mindset” has to do with the way a person thinks about work, and how they should best spend their time and energy to produce the maximum results. But it’s easy for even a healthy productivity-focused mindset to mutate into an obsessive, toxic mindset if it's at the expense of employee well-being.

“Hustle culture” has long been glorified in many cultures, and those who give their all to their work seem, on the surface, as shining examples of what a professional should be. But should we be exhausting ourselves to produce beyond our limits? If you take too much from the well at once, does the well not run dry?

8 Managerial Tips to Support Slow Productivity 

Curious about how you can shift your team’s mindset to one of slow productivity? Read on to find out how, and discover how you can leverage productivity management services to foster more sustainable productivity in your organization. 

# 1 Set Goals

It may seem obvious, but it must be said - set goals. Simply setting goals can boost productivity by 11-25% and helps to prioritize tasks and projects efficiently without exhausting your team. Goal-setting provides the mental scaffolding necessary to approach work in a structured and manageable way.

Not only that, it allows us to look back afterward and reflect on the work that we’ve accomplished. Without goals, it can feel as though we’re flying blind in a barrage of busy work - which can feel like we’re not accomplishing anything at all.

Be sure to factor in the following when goal-setting for your teams:

  • Involve Your Team
    For the slow productivity mindset to yield the best results, it’s important to include your employees in the setting of their own goals. Employees have a better idea of their own capabilities, so their input can ensure you’re setting reasonable, achievable goals for your teams. Also, involving them will help cement a sense of ownership for their goals and greater accountability when it comes to meeting them.

  • Play the Long Game
    Set long-term goals: quarterly, annual, and even beyond. Rather than focusing on constant short-term tasks, focus primarily on a few solid long-term objectives and divide that into shorter, more manageable tasks. Long-term goal setting provides employees with plenty of time to create quality work. 

For example, setting goals like quarterly OKRS allows employees to break overarching objectives into manageable key results. This helps prevent employees from getting overwhelmed and allows room for agility when unforeseen circumstances may interfere with their short-term workflow. 

# 2 Increase Employee Autonomy & Accountability

Slow productivity produces the best results when employees are able to work in the way that’s most suited to them. Workplace autonomy lets employees manage their own energy and time. Granting employees greater workplace autonomy results in a workforce with a better work-life balance that is more satisfied, engaged, and productive.

To support more autonomous teams, focus on the following:

  • Increase Employee Competence
    A good training scheme is absolutely essential to support workplace autonomy. For employees to work independently, they have to at least be confident in their ability to carry out their tasks. In addition, strong training programs boost productivity, increase employee engagement, and increase employee retention.

  • Stop Micromanaging
    Micromanagement reduces productivity, increases stress on employees, and prevents them from having the time they need for deep and insightful thinking - exactly the type that spurs innovation. Slow productivity culture is dependent on employees’ ability to do deep work without constant interruptions.

  • Show the Bigger Picture
    It’s important that all employees understand not only their personal and team targets and goals, but also how they fit into the company’s larger objectives. This demonstrates to employees how their work is contributing to the overarching goal of the company and ensures employees are given a sense of ownership for their work. This is pivotal to producing slow, quality work which after all, is an investment. 

# 3 Provide Flexibility

To break out of the daily grind, slow productivity requires more flexibility in when and how employees work. In fact, in the Gartner 2021 Digital Worker Experience Survey, 43% of respondents said that flexible working hours helped them achieve more productivity. Flexibility should go hand-in-hand with workplace autonomy.

How can you provide your teams with more flexibility?

  • Encourage Frequent Breaks
    Not all employers are able to provide a great deal of flexibility based on the type of work at hand, but encouraging frequent breaks can make a big difference. One in five North American bosses believes that employees who take regular lunch breaks are less hardworking. 

This is disconcerting. As a result, employees often don’t take the breaks they are entitled to in order to make a good impression, which can lead to chronic stress and burnout over time. The foundation of slow productivity and what drives it forward is healthy employee well-being, so consider breaks essential. 

  • Encourage Deep Work Time
    Similarly, employees should be encouraged to engage in “deep work” time, a state of peak concentration that facilitates innovation and allows a person to create quality work in that time. Deep work time should be free of all distractions - including work communication.

  • Leverage Business Productivity Software
    Software to monitor employee performance has become increasingly popular amongst businesses since COVID. Employee productivity monitoring can be leveraged to provide all employees with the flexibility they need to support their personal work habits and a slow productivity mindset. 

Employee productivity tracking solutions like Insightful allow leadership to manage remotely, reducing the need for micromanagement and allowing teams to work flexibly and autonomously. 

# 4 Communicate Asynchronously

Asynchronous communication is communication that does not rely on instant response. For many international organizations, asynchronous communication is the only option when it comes to communicating and collaborating with colleagues in different time zones.

But asynchronous communication can have big advantages for any workforce, especially for those who wish to take the slow productivity approach and promote greater workplace autonomy. For starters, when employees feel they have to constantly respond to synchronous communication, they have little time for uninterrupted, meaningful deep work. 

By simply allowing asynchronous communication, you can relieve the pressure and let employees set special time aside to focus on less frequent, but more high-quality communication. At least some asynchronous communication is important to support an autonomous, flexible workforce with a slow productivity mindset.  

Below are some asynchronous communication best practices:

  • Get in Sync
    Determine policies and procedures to ensure asynchronous communication can support your objectives. Discuss with your team how often it will be necessary to sync with one another to maintain proper communication and engagement.

  • Use Collaboration Tools
    Employ collaborative communication tools like Microsoft Teams or Slack to support easy and well-organized asynchronous communication within your team. 

# 5 Use External Systems for Workflows

Something that is absolutely critical for adopting a slow productivity mindset is to stop inflating work volumes. The best way to do this is to adopt external systems to help manage workflow. Slow productivity requires systems where projects and tasks can be properly logged, prioritized, and assigned to the right employee when they have availability.

Below are some tips for using external systems to manage workflow:

  • Use a Kanban Board
    Kanban-style boards are great for tracking pending and ongoing work. This way, employees don’t have work constantly piling up on them, which can be detrimental to their mind frame. Rather, when someone finishes their tasks, it can then be decided what to assign next.

  • Create a System for Quick Tasks
    Rather than constantly delegating impromptu small tasks to your team throughout the day, have everyone on your team set aside an hour or so a day that is dedicated solely to completing small tasks. Alternatively, have your team take turns handling these tasks by delegating them to a particular employee on a particular day. This will prevent a constant sense of unstructured urgency from burdening your team and interrupting their deep work time.

# 6 Avoid Overhead Spiral

Flexibility, autonomy, the ability to communicate asynchronously, and external systems can all greatly contribute to a successful slow productivity approach. But it’s all in vain if you’re not keeping your teams’ workloads manageable and achievable. One easy way for employee workloads to get out of control is the unforeseen overhead spiral.

Keep in mind that every project your employees work on requires extended communication - emails and meetings which, if not factored in, can quickly take over their schedule and make it nearly impossible to get any real work done. Uncontrollable overhead can be relentless, and lead employees to perpetually work with little relief, and little execution.

Be sure to take into account the time that will need to be spent on communication for each project/task you assign your team. This will prevent you from unintentionally overloading them and cutting into their ability to produce quality, meaningful work. 

# 7 Prioritize Employee Wellbeing

As mentioned, healthy employee well-being is the driving force behind the slow productivity model. Employee burnout is on the rise, which not only results in astronomical costs, but has a damaging effect on workforce morale and productivity.

It’s more important than ever to ensure that your employees are maintaining a proper work-life balance and are able to manage their time effectively to reduce unnecessary stress.

Below are some tips for promoting healthy employee well-being in the workplace:

  • Maintain Healthy Engagement
    Ensuring that your employees are healthy and engaged is paramount to delivering on a slow productivity model. Employee engagement is important for preventing burnout, particularly by maintaining the delicate balance between too much, and not enough engagement. Make sure you are meeting with employees regularly to get consistent feedback and to mitigate any signs of burnout before it escalates.

  • Implement Wellness Programs
    By offering programs like yoga, meditation, and other physically active or mentally relaxing activities, you give your employees the opportunity to step outside of their routines and reset their bodies and brains. These simple, healthy perks can work wonders on your workforce’s ability to produce consistent, quality work.

  • Leverage an Employee Productivity Tracker

By using employee productivity software, you can keep an eye on employees’ productivity, workloads, schedules, and how much time they spend on different activities. This allows you to keep a keen eye on their work-life balance, and ensure they aren’t overdoing it. This software can also help you identify early trends of burnout in your teams, so you can intervene before the situation wreaks havoc on your workforce.

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