Unplugging and Improving Productivity As A Result

Perhaps it is just the end of the year approaching, and we are all getting a bit reflective, and thinking ahead to New Year’s Resolutions, or maybe something larger is happening.  I seem to be coming across many articles on the topic of productivity, work life balance, distraction (or focus), multi-tasking, personal energy management and burn-out.

The proliferation of many, smaller, always on, wirelessly connected screens has completely broken down the barrier for many “knowledge workers”, digital creatives, and even nonprofit program employees and executives between work, and non-work.

A friend was over the other evening and seamlessly went from reviewing a text message from her husband (who was coming to pick her up)to reading work email before jerking the iPhone away from her face and saying, “I’ve got to stop!” In the conversation that ensued she revealed that she often starts reading and responding to email from home, before breakfast, gets to work (as an executive at a nonprofit organization) continues responding to email, and then finds herself responding to yet more email in the evening.  

I am sure that we can all relate to this experience. We recognize the disfunction of it, but can’t figure out how to break the cycle. I was excited to read about a Harvard Business Review Article called the Productivity Paradox: How Sony Pictures Get’s More Out Of People By Demanding Less. The abstract of the paper (I haven’t read the whole thing) offers what is probably the most important lesson:

These behavioral changes are sustainable, though, only if leaders at the most senior levels of an organization are willing to set a context for them, both by creating their own rituals and by setting a tone where people feel safe taking time out of the day on a regular basis.

My nonprofit-executive friend said as much: her executive director is working constantly, 24×7, so the expectation is that she should be available outside of business hours too.  Certainly there is a way we can all dial it back a notch, and re-establish some boundaries between work and personal or family time. In the long run, we will likely see productivity gains, and improved morale.

The New York Times has a “Room For Debate” forum up on productivity in which one author makes the argument that since work bleeds into “personal” time, the reverse is true, and points to Cyber Monday Holiday Shopping from work. Is this crazy? We have traded in the sanctity of our personal time outside of work, with our families and friends for the ability to goof off at work by surfing the net and shop online?

Also this week, news came of a French company announcing the complete phase out of email in preference of telephone, txt and social media forms of communication. Such a ban might help my beleaguered friend, or any of us who can relate to the constant distraction of email, but if we replace it with tweets and texts? Is that really the solution?

In the mean time, as the holiday season approaches, and family beckons, I think we can make some down payments on those New Year’s Resolutions we are bound to make about banaging burnout, and making time for ourselves:

  • Recognize the primary importance of the person in the room with you over the email, text message or tweet waiting on the device in your pocket.
  • Don’t check email before you get out of bed, at the breakfast or dinner table
  • Take breaks during the day to get up, leave your desk, walk around
  • Close your email client, or gmail tab in your browser and work uninterrupted
  • If you are on vacation, be on vacation and give your attention to your family (which for some of us may involve providing tech support during family visits, or to setup new gadgets).
I also love the idea of “Digital Sunset” or powering down your devices at a certain time and winding down before going to sleep. I readily admit this is harder than it should be.
How do you personally work to revent feeling burned out? How does your organization handle empolyee burnout?