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How to Make Your Team More Productive with Their Time


Expert insights from James Brogan, co-founder and CEO, PepTalk, and co-founder and former Managing Director, Legacy Communications.

It might be the most common complaint in modern professional life – ‘I don’t have the time’.

Despite spending more time at work, the to-do lists get ever longer, and people are busier and busier. This problem has been compounded by the new-found connectivity that the internet and mobile devices have afforded us. Throughout the 2000s, the heightened connectivity started to permeate down through to the organisation to the point that employees at all levels are plugged into work for longer hours.

By the time the global pandemic struck in early 2020, a lot of people were feeling the weight of the extra hours worked.   In a survey conducted prior to the pandemic by the American Psychological Association to determine stress levels and the main sources of stress for Americans, 61% said work was the most common source of their stress, while US businesses lose up to $300 billion yearly as a result of workplace stress. Those numbers can only have increased since the arrival of Covid-19.

In addition to dealing with lost hours and days, stressful work environments and toxic cultures increase staff turnover, which also carries additional costs for business. Research by IBEC has shown that almost half of the 1,000 employees surveyed said they would leave a job where an employer did not care about their well-being.

So, What’s the Remedy?

Considering people are already dealing with bigger workloads and longer working hours, we can’t ask them to ‘do’ much more. But what we can do is try and influence how they use a portion of their time to become more productive.

Deep Work is a concept popularised by blogs and the book of the same title written by Cal Newport. Newport describes two types of work.

  • Shallow work - tasks that almost anyone could complete such as e-mail replies, logistical planning, tinkering with social media.
  • Deep work - “cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve.”

If we are honest, a lot of our days, and those of our teams, are spent dealing with shallow work. It provides a veil of productivity without really moving the dial for the business. Shallow work does need attention but not to the extent it commands. 

As business leaders, we need to empower our employees with the autonomy to decide that for an acceptable portion of their work week they are free to do nothing but deep work. 

The Nobel prize-winning behavioural scientist, Daniel Kahneman, touched on this idea in his book ‘Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow’. Kahneman felt the phrase ‘pay attention’ was incredibly accurate as our brains have a limited attention budget. When we pay attention to something it means we are reducing our brain’s attention budget, meaning that, at some point during the day, our brain may slip into deficit and we have no more attention left to pay out.

I actively encourage the idea of deep work at PepTalk. In everyone’s calendar in the organisation, Wednesday is completely blocked out for distraction-free work. Of course, we have to be flexible and some people may need to take a meeting with a client or outside partner. In this instance, it’s totally acceptable to box off another time of the week for deep work.

Time to Come Together

In stark contrast to the idea of deep work and solitude, we need time to schedule a time to come together. This is particularly relevant during lockdowns and extended work from home orders. While some people have thrived working from home and saved hours without having to commute, others may have struggled with the isolation and loneliness.

Former US Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, found the impact of loneliness to be a significant health threat that could potentially shorten a person’s life by 15 years, which was the equivalent impact to being obese or smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

It’s important that we try and recreate the watercooler, waiting for the kettle to boil, walking to the coffee shop moments that we became accustomed to in work. A great way to initiate this type of social interaction is giving time to show compassion and gratitude.

The importance of this is also backed by research. By sharing (as little as 40 seconds) compassion and gratitude with others, it is not only good for the recipients but also for the mental health of the sharer, too.