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Measuring and improving workplace productivity has been one of the biggest concerns for managers since the beginning of the twentieth century. The famous “If you can measure it, you can manage it” cliché implies that a simple number is enough for a manager to understand the trends and dynamics of their team’s output and take steps to improve it. This approach may have made sense back then – but it seems to have become obsolete in today’s world.
It’s easy enough to count how many drinks a barista serves per hour or per day, but how do go about measuring a designer’s or a software developer’s workplace productivity? That’s the question that’s been puzzling managers and productivity experts the world over. Hours spent, goals achieved, revenue gained drawn – it seems like every possible index is taken into account when trying to calculate work efficiency.
So What Is Workplace Productivity?
The classic productivity formula is very simple:
Productivity = output ÷ input
And while there definitely are cases where it may be helpful, at the end of the day it’s just a number. It can tell you that there is room for improvement, sure. But it won’t tell where or how you should go about it. And I think we can all agree that pure data is useless without practical application.
You can run numbers and build complicated KPI charts all day long. But it will take you nowhere unless you have a good understanding of what lies between input and output. You need to have a solid idea as to what changes you’re going to introduce based on all those numbers if want them to have a real impact on your team’s productivity. And that’s the hardest part.
How to Measure Productivity
Measuring something as impalpable as productivity might sound challenging, but it’s very doable as long as you have a clear picture of what you’re trying to accomplish.
Measuring Team Productivity
Team productivity is where graphs, charts and formulas based on various quantity indexes still reign supreme. Weekly, monthly, quarterly reports, statistical data, balance figures – all collected, processed, compared, and analyzed to determine the level of productivity and efficiency of a given team.
The key objective here is to establish input and output. What is the best metric that represents the result of teamwork? Is it the number of tasks accomplished, new customers acquired, or the amount of revenue gained? It all depends on your company’s profile, and the goals your team is trying to achieve. The general practice however, is using the number of successfully accomplished tasks as a measure of team’s work output.
With input, on the other hand, things are a bit more straightforward. It’s usually time, with results evaluated against specific time periods: weeks, months, quarters, years, etc. Which is why keeping track of it is such a crucial element if you want your productivity analysis to be accurate. Knowing how much time your team spends on specific projects or individual tasks not only helps you see their performance overall, but also identify any problematic areas, and spot any trends before they get a chance to leave a major negative impact on the company.
Measuring Individual Productivity
When it comes to individual productivity, there seems to be a bit more leeway for qualitative evaluation. Mostly because personal output is a lot easier to assess in quality terms. If you’ve ever filled out a customer feedback form, you probably remember how it asked you to name a specific employee.
And again, time is the primary type of input when evaluating individual productivity as well. It’s a precious and non-renewable resource, so keeping an eye on where you spend it is truly vital. You may not realize just how much of your time goes wasted on routine and non-essential tasks and distractions every day. Time that you could invest into more important projects instead.
How to Increase Productivity in the Workplace
So you’ve established your goals and key metrics, reviewed the data and have your first results. Great! But what do you actually do to improve?
Increasing Team Productivity
There are plenty of popular methods and practices of improving team productivity, which we’re not going to waste your time on here. Instead, we’ll take a look at some of the less obvious ones.
- Break down larger projects into smaller, more actionable tasks. Having a large project with a strict deadline hanging around your team’s collective neck is overwhelming and intimidating. Breaking it up into smaller and more manageable tasks motivates people to take action and makes it easier to keep track of their progress.
- Help your team prioritize. As their list of tasks grows, it can become increasingly difficult for employees to concentrate. Be sure to constantly communicate the top priorities to your team and direct them to the tasks that are more valuable to the company at a given time. That way they will always know what to focus on, and spend their time on tasks that are actually important.
- Discourage multitasking and overtime. When people feel really invested in a project or a task that they’re working on, they can be tempted to go a bit overboard with their commitment. Doing multiple things at the same time or working longer hours only leads to wasted time and stress respectively. Perhaps ironically, it actually makes you less productive.
- Encourage collaboration by fostering positive company culture. Employees tend to feel a lot more positive and happy about their work when they’re surrounded by positive and happy people. And when they know one another, they feel more comfortable about collaborating and sharing ideas with their teammates. Which in turn leads to better and faster results for the company.
Increasing Individual Productivity
What can you do to improve your personal workplace productivity? In addition to getting better at time management, there are a few other great techniques that could help you do more in less time.
- Work smarter. Keep track of your progress on a project in a visual format and update it as you complete tasks to keep yourself motivated. Take regular breaks to rest and recharge in between intense work sessions. When feeling truly stumped, switch to a different task or take some time off and tackle it again the next day with renewed energy.
- Start your day with the most important thing. By making a habit out of tackling the most important or difficult tasks during the first half of the day, while your mental energy is at its peak, you greatly increase your chances of making actual meaningful progress.
- When stuck, kick yourself back into gear with smaller tasks. If you’re struggling with a particularly challenging or large task, pick a few smaller ones that you know you can complete. Use that positive momentum to keep your productivity snowball rolling.
- Stop chasing perfection. Try to be more realistic about your goals and standards. Working on a task for days in an effort to deliver the best possible result (instead of delivering any result) is counterproductive in the extreme. If the work you’ve done checks all the boxes, then it’s good enough, and you can move on to whatever’s next on your list.
Measuring workplace productivity is a tricky task, especially when it comes to workers in knowledge heavy fields. And while data and stats do matter, it’s important to remember that they mean very little in and of themselves. Without meaningful and concentrated effort on your part, they will remain just numbers, and to improve productivity you need to take actual steps.