4 Counterintuitive Actions That Improve Productivity

Laptop in the woods

Most of us don’t know how to take a break. Holidays, vacations, and weekends don’t really give us the down time we need to recharge our batteries, clear our minds and optimize performance. Many of us tend to stay immersed in our work, checking in and staying abreast of what’s going on “back at the office.”

Over the past several years, books like Rest, When and Deep Work have pointed out the flaws in this modern work style. We seem to value being busy, and research shows it’s killing productivity.

And, I’ll admit it. I’m the world’s biggest culprit. I love what I do and struggle to pull myself away from the buzz and latest challenge I’m working on. 

But, I can also see very clearly how my performance deteriorates when I don’t get the proper rest.

Worse yet, I can see clearly how my actions encourage others to take on the same bad habits. As leaders we have to be especially careful of the tone we set from the top.

Here are three things we can do as leaders to encourage employees to get the appropriate rest.

Kick folks out of the office

I make it a point to roam the halls on my way out of the office — especially when I’m in late. When I see the same folks in the office night after night, I make it a point to ask when they are leaving.

As leaders we need to make it clear that it’s okay for folks to go home, have dinner, and, get a good night’s sleep. If our teammates see us working late and non-stop, they may come to believe that’s what it takes to be successful.

Refrain from Sending Weekend Messages

I have a bad habit of using my weekend to “catch up on life.” Unfortunately, by life, I often mean the backlog of emails that have queued up and I need to get off my plate.

When I respond over the weekend I am sending a message that this type of activity is expected and encouraged during the weekend.  Instead, I’ve learned to schedule my emails so that they go out on Monday mornings.

Encourage Real Vacations

There are vacations and there are vacations. A true vacation happens when you step away from work, yet, too many of us continue working even though we are out of town or at the beach.

When teammates leave for vacation, set the expectation that they check out and get off the grid. To do this, require everyone to designate a backstop. Who is handling their business while they are gone? Is it their manager, a peer, or, one of their direct reports?

No-one is so indispensable that they should have to “check in” or keep track of what’s going on. If they do, something else is fundamentally wrong. Requiring everyone to delegate their authority while they are out ensures healthy empowerment and organizational design.

Promote Holidays

This past Memorial Day I sent a message to the team reminding them of why we had expanded the holiday to be a 4-day weekend several years ago. In this message I reminded everyone why rest is important and reminded them that very few (if any) folks had truly urgent things that needed to be done:

“There are very few of us that truly have urgent things we need to do this weekend. I hope all of you are able to turn off, clear your heads, and enjoy a little down time. Don’t be shy about turning off your computer’s power. Enjoy the sunshine!”

I was amazed that I received 17 responses applauding the message. Folks obviously appreciated having “permission” to truly take some downtime.

There’s no doubt that in the day and age of the “4 Hour Work Week,” there’s a misperception that you don’t have to work hard. I couldn’t disagree more. But, there is also the misperception that we have to kill ourselves and work non-stop. This is counterproductive.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to set an example of healthy work habits. Let’s encourage an appropriate amount of rest and help our team’s optimize productivity.