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7 tips to boost your productivity

The failure of the UK economy to regain historic levels of productivity has been a significant theme of the post-recession recovery, but the myriad theories on its cause make finding a solution difficult.

The recently-published ICAEW Finance and Management Faculty special report on skills and productivity sets out the background to a range of productivity-related issues and offers practical advice for businesses and individuals to improve corporate efficiency and personal skills. The following article has been reproduced from the report: 

1. Go mobile

Mobile productivity is on the rise, but there’s still room for improvement, according to a survey of 188 IT leaders carried out last year by Shape the Future and commissioned by communication services provider Azzurri. Mobile working is normal for almost everyone, the survey showed. Only 4% of those surveyed have employees who never work away from their desktop computer and 92% use mobile devices (i.e. tablets, smartphones etc. but not laptops) for business purposes. Some 37% of employees have more than one company-issued device. 

Almost all businesses (93%) have seen an increase in the productivity of their workforce when using mobile devices out of the office, with 47% even rating the increase as significant or substantial. But despite these gains, 71% still believe they could increase their productivity still further by more effectively using mobile devices, applications and enhancing communication and collaboration. 

The age of apps is truly upon us, the survey showed. It asked IT leaders what they believe are the right business applications and collaboration tools to use on mobile devices. It was no surprise that email was still considered the most important app for mobile productivity. But the survey showed that the apps with the next biggest positive impact all involve access to customer info, company data and company files.


2. Strip out unnecessary admin

A survey by the California-based business support company ServiceNow says that managers in corporate environments spend nearly two days a week on unnecessary day-to-day administrative tasks that are not core to their jobs. 

The firm surveyed nearly 1,000 managers in the US and the UK to understand the effectiveness of their tools and processes. 

The company asked them about how those tools and processes impact their individual and team effectiveness. The survey focused on four specific processes or services common in any corporate environment: setting up a new employee, opening a purchase order, requesting tech support and ordering marketing collateral. The results were consistent across all demographics. Nine in 10 managers, regardless of company size or team function, spent time on administrative tasks outside their core job function. 

More than 90% said the inefficiency of other departments directly impacts their individual and team productivity. Some 75% of those surveyed agreed that work processes and systems should work more like those they experience as consumers, and nine in 10 surveyed said that automating these inefficient processes would make them more productive. 


3. Get your email under control

Limiting use of email can significantly reduce stress, according to recent research by Kostadin Kushlev and Elizabeth W. Dunn, University of British Columbia 

During one week, 124 adults were randomly assigned to limit checking their email to three times a day; during the other week, participants could check their email an unlimited number of times per day. 

‘We found that during the limited email use week, participants experienced significantly lower daily stress than during the unlimited email use week. Lower stress, in turn, predicted higher well-being on a diverse range of well-being outcomes,’ the researchers said. Meanwhile, the UK-based email consultant Dr. Monica Seeley suggests that your inbox should be your work in progress and contain no more than 50 emails.   

Her tips include:

  • sort your emails by date, then by subject and person and delete all those old chains;
  • move all emails over a week old in to a separate folder (eg called ‘Old’);
  • flag any which still need action (or create a task from them) and move them to a separate pending folder;
  • be ruthless about those newsletters you receive and keep unsubscribing; and
  • if you are taking some leave make sure you set a safe and simple ‘out of office’ message – for example ‘I am out of the office with limited access to email.  If it’s urgent contact X.’ Don’t say you are on leave that is a give-away for the cybercriminal. Give someone else access to your inbox whilst you are away. After all, the emails you receive on the company email address belong to the company. If you do receive lots of personal emails create some rules to divert them to folders.
(Sources: www.academia.edu/9182785/Checking_Email_Less_Frequently_Reduces_Stress; and www.mesmo.co.uk)

4. Walk to improve creativity

A recent study by researchers at Stanford University in California found that creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter. Indeed Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, was known for his walking meetings. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has also been seen holding meetings on foot. 

The study found that walking indoors or outdoors similarly boosted creative inspiration. The act of walking itself, and not the environment, was the main factor. Across the board, creativity levels were consistently and significantly higher for those walking compared to those sitting. 

‘Many people anecdotally claim they do their best thinking when walking. We finally may be taking a step, or two, toward discovering why,’ the academics said. Other research has focused on how aerobic exercise generally protects long-term cognitive function, but until now, there did not appear to be a study that specifically examined the effect of non-aerobic walking on the simultaneous creative generation of new ideas and then compared it against sitting. 

A person walking indoors – on a treadmill in a room facing a blank wall – or walking outdoors in the fresh air produced twice as many creative responses compared to a person sitting down, one of the experiments found. The study also found that creative juices continued to flow even when a person sat back down shortly after a walk. 

The research comprised four experiments involving 176 college students and other adults who completed tasks commonly used by researchers to gauge creative thinking. The overwhelming majority of the participants in these three experiments were more creative while walking than sitting, the study found. In one of those experiments, participants were tested indoors – first while sitting, then while walking on a treadmill. The creative output increased by an average of 60% when the person was walking, according to the study.

(Source: www.stanford.edu/news/2014/april/walking-vs-sitting-042414.html

5. Stand up

The ‘Get Britain Standing’ organisation argues that British people sit for 8.9 hours each day (on average) and that all this sitting presents dangers to health and productivity. 

It recommends various measures for firms, including: 

  • run a lunchtime fitness workshop for the office;
  • an alert will sound at random times and everyone must stand up when it does;
  • take regular breaks from your computer, stand up, stretch and walk around the office, ignoring the bemused looks;
  • make phone calls standing up;
  • use the stairs;
  • have standing or walking meetings;
  • have one less chair than people at meetings, get everyone to move around with each new agenda item;
  • ban internal emails so that everyone must walk to colleagues to discuss work;
  • organise a lunchtime walk; and
  • walk to work, or get off a few stops earlier and walk the rest of the way. 
(Source: www.getbritainstanding.org)

6. Allow afternoon naps

Workers should be allowed naps in the afternoon and encouraged to clock in whenever they want, to encourage a more creative and productive workforce, Vincent Walsh, professor of human brain research at University College London, told the Cheltenham Science Festival last year. 

A nap of between 30 and 90 minutes in the afternoon could help companies improve productivity. He said: ‘It’s only since the industrial revolution we have been obsessed with squeezing all our sleep into the night rather than having one or two sleeps through the day. 

‘Day beds used to be common in sitting rooms for having sleeps during the day. If we want people to be more creative we need people to be able to do less. Companies should allow naps in the afternoon. They should get rid of the habit of clocking in and clocking out. Let people come in when they want. If they want to work through the night, let them.’ 

(Source: The Daily Telegraph, www.telegraph.co.uk)

7. Put plants in the office

Research conducted by a team of academics has concluded that ‘green’ offices with plants make staff happier and more productive than ‘lean’ designs stripped of greenery. The study found that enriching a ‘lean’ office with plants could increase productivity by 15%. 

The team examined the impact of ‘lean’ and ‘green’ offices on staff’s perceptions of air quality, concentration, and workplace satisfaction, and monitored productivity levels over subsequent months in two large commercial offices in the UK and The Netherlands. The research showed that plants in the office significantly increased workplace satisfaction, self-reported levels of concentration, and perceived air quality. 

Analyses into the reasons why plants are beneficial suggests that a green office increases employees’ work engagement by making them more physically, cognitively, and emotionally involved in their work. 

In addition to lead researcher Marlon Nieuwenhuis of Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, the study involved academics from the University of Exeter; the University of Groningen in The Netherlands, and the University of Queensland, Australia. 

(Source: www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_409094_en.html)

The full report is available free for Finance and Management Faculty members

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