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5 Ways Flexibility Can Improve Productivity


If you’re like most workers, you’re constantly striving for greater productivity. You find yourself constantly wishing that there were more hours in the day, or that you could accomplish more with fewer resources and less time. Unfortunately, there’s a finite amount of time you have to work with and an ever-growing list of tasks that need to be addressed. For some, the solution is spending more time working, or trying to reduce that task list. But the wiser strategy is the one that allows you to get more done with fewer hours—the tricky part is finding that strategy.

By some reports, the secret to increasing productivity is flexibility, both in terms of the flexibility that employers give employees and the flexibility that employees give themselves. Whether you adopt these strategies yourself or persuade your bosses to do so, you’ll see flexibility improving your productivity in the following ways:

1. Work from home to get more work done.

According to a long study involving hundreds of workers at Chinese travel website Ctrip, employees who work from home are more productive than those in the office. During the study, outbound callers who worked from home placed more calls per day than their office-based counterparts. Of course, there are a few problems with this study—placing calls is a form of work conducive to a home environment, whereas not all jobs are conducive in such a way. It’s also possible that home-based workers were artificially increasing the number of calls they placed in order to prove that working from home could be valuable. Either way, the greater data suggests that home-based workers get more done, and that’s always a good thing. Plus, the company saved more than $200 per month per employee in office expenses by doing so.

2. Give yourself lots of breaks.

Instinctually, some of us try to get more done by simply plowing through our work, forcing ourselves to work through lunch or breaks to make every minute of the workday count. According to productivity research, this is a flawed approach. Instead, it’s better to take significant breaks periodically throughout the day, giving your mind a chance to decompress and setting you up to do your best possible work. While there is no “perfect” time that applies to everybody, experiments have shown that on average, workers who spend 52 minutes doing work, followed by 17 minutes of breaking, tend to perform best. That means a quarter of your workday could theoretically be spent on breaks, and you’ll actually end up getting more, better quality work done, at least according to the evidence. Here’s a fairly comprehensive list of other evidence-based productivity tips.

3. Let yourself get distracted.

Evidence suggests that distractions throughout the day can actually be good for your brain. For example, workers who spend some of their time browsing the web for non-work-related information and functions (in this case, 20 percent or less), are actually 9 percent more productive than people who spend zero time browsing the web for non-work-related information. Of course, spending too much time goofing off on the Internet is just as bad for your productivity as entirely resisting the temptation, so be sure to distract yourself in moderation. Don’t make it a point to poke around your favorite sites during the workday, but don’t be too quick to shut yourself off from it, either.

4. Take advantage of flexible hours.

Not all of us are morning people, yet the typical American office culture relies on a strict and unchanging 9-to-5 workday. Morning people love this, and are able to operate at their peak, but non-morning people may find it hard to get going. Some of us are actually better when we try to do things at night, or even during the afternoon. In an ideal world, every company would allow every worker to work whatever hours he/she felt like—but doing so would cause massive communication problems (not to mention, not everyone knows which hours he/she is most productive during). Instead, strive for a middle ground. Just working one or two days a week with shifted hours could be enough to make a meaningful impact on your bottom-line productivity.

5. Don’t answer every call and email.

The perks of constant communication are appealing—in seconds, you could theoretically be connected with just about anyone in the world. Unfortunately, this sometimes causes more harm than good. For example, most workers spend their days glued to their communication platforms (including email, phones, and instant messengers). Whenever someone pops in with a question or concern, they immediately drop what they’re doing and answer it. The process might only take a few minutes at a time, but it interrupts your thought process and forces you to waste energy on multitasking. Instead, ask your coworkers and clients for more flexibility — designate key time periods during the day in which you catch up on your communication. Beyond those designated periods, your focus should remain unbroken on your most important tasks.

You may not have access to all of these institutions, depending on the brand and leniency of your current company, but with the research backing the objective value here, you should have more ground to stand on when making the request for company-wide adoption. If you’re an employer and you’re afraid of giving your employees too much flexibility, start out small and gradually work your way up to a perfect balance. Try implementing one of the many available productivity apps and tools available on the market and see what makes a difference. It will take some time to figure out what’s best for you and your workers.