Some Productivity Myths in Need of Debunking

I’ve often said to myself that I would be a much more productive employee if I could just focus on getting my work done, rather than on the number of hours I spend in the office. I know that four or five intense hours of work is better for me than nine or 10 hours dependent on a fixed schedule.

Apparently, there are a lot of productivity myths waiting to be debunked, and I’m not the only one who doesn’t need a 9 a.m.-5 p.m. workday to be productive, as a recent article by Kylie Ora Lobell in Business Insider, “4 Workplace Myths that Can Make You Less Productive,” points out. “Henry Ford created the idea of the Monday through Friday, eight-hour workday. But there is no scientific proof that working those hours, or that many hours, is better for you,” Lobell writes.

I’ve long wondered why, for jobs that aren’t customer-facing, the focus can’t just be on getting the work done, rather than on time spent in an office. When the time becomes no one’s but your own, it’s amazing how much more efficient you suddenly become.

The second myth Lobell seeks to debunk is that working in an office is necessarily more productive than working from home. That’s one that depends on what you face at home and at the office. In my case, working from the office is better because I live in a small space without a comfortable place to work. I also like the mental stimulation of getting out of the apartment and into a different location to spur me into my work routine. However, if I had a larger space with a comfortable place to work, and saw enough people in my daily routine outside the office, I think an “office” adjacent to my living room wouldn’t be a bad idea.

If you’re going to offer a work-from-home option, the key is to have managers and Learning professionals work with employees who are considering this option to make sure it’s a good idea for them. When an employee applies to work from home, it’s a good idea to have the manager and representative from Human Resources or Learning & Development sit down together and discuss how it will work. The employee may be so excited at first thought about the prospect of working in her bunny slippers on the couch with her laptop—and cat—sprawled across her lap that she may not consider the drawbacks.

You could come up with a checklist to go over with employees who say they would like to work from home. On that checklist would be factors to consider, such as whether the environment at home is quiet enough to allow for concentration, whether there is an adequate work space (you might have to point out that the couch isn’t sufficient as the only “workstation”), whether the employee will have the discipline to adhere to work routines in the same place she usually kicks back and relaxes, whether she will miss the stimulation of leaving home in the morning and seeing work friends, and whether collaborating with peers long-distance will be satisfying. Many employees gung-ho about working from home may think twice, or at least agree to a trial period, before signing on permanently to a work-from-home routine.

The next myth debunked by Lobell is that multitasking is better. Regardless of what the research says, I find that the impact of multitasking on productivity is dependent on the individual, and the job. Not only are some people just innately better at multitasking, but some jobs necessitate it. In the case of journalism, for instance, you often are in the position of putting calls and e-mails out, alternating between interviewing and conducting research and writing and editing. Many other jobs are similar. In a doctor’s office, for instance, you have the people standing in front of you, plus the people on the phone, plus the people e-mailing messages, plus trouble-shooting when a problem, such as with a patient’s insurance, arises. Come to think of it, in nearly any job, not multitasking today isn’t an option.

The key is having managers and Learning professionals work with employees to figure out the best way to multitask. Especially with entry-level employees, guidance sometimes is needed to show an employee the best way to get multiple tasks done concurrently. Is multitasking a skill you think you can teach or help an employee to improve?

The last of the myths Lobell wants to debunk is that you’ll accomplish more if you eat lunch at your desk. I’ve found that sometimes eating lunch at your desk works well, provided you’re eating lunch at your desk because you’ve used the bulk of your hour’s lunch break to take a refreshing walk outside. If it’s bad weather, instead of a walk, it can be refreshing to encourage your mind to take a “walk” by reading an article in a newspaper or magazine just for fun. The question isn’t whether you’ve left your desk, but whether your mind has gotten the chance to vacate the premises for a while.

What productivity myths do you notice at your office? How can Learning professionals best support managers and employees so they can become more productive?

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