There is no shortage of advice about the “best” approach to productivity. Yet somehow, many of us feel that we are doing both too much and not enough. Productivity stress can even affect our sleep and our mental health.
The experts are very sure of themselves - but their advice is often contradictory.
“The best place to work is the office.” “The best place to work is home.” “The best place to work is the coffee shop.”
“The best way to work is the “Pomodoro.” “The best way to work is “Deep Work.”
Too much advice and opinion assume one-size-fits-all. For our wellbeing and mental health, this works about as well as it works for shoes and clothes – not at all. What fits one person, will hurt another. What works for dancers does not work for plumbers. We are as different psychologically as we are different physically. What helps the productivity of some will cause stress and intolerable anxiety to others.
The best productivity and wellbeing advice might have come from ancient Greeks – “know thyself.”
Extraverts may need the energy and stimulation of having people around. While working from home, they might enjoy sessions of virtual co-working with others. Of course, there are limits for stimulation, even for extraverts – working from home with a busy family could make one crave an escape - perhaps to the office.
Introverts already have a higher level of naturally occurring brain activity and will be drained and overstimulated by the same environment extraverts crave1. But introverts will deliver if given some peace and quiet. Of course, this does not mean they want to be forgotten - they still want to be thanked and acknowledged for their work, though for some an e-mail might work better than a surprise party.
And as for chunking the work, some people’s neural wiring requires shifting attention every 20 minutes or so. For them, the Pomodoro method of focusing for 25 minutes works great (it can also be modified to fit one’s best rhythm). Others suffer if interrupted during the 4th hour of blissful immersion in the project. Please allow deep work!
Ah, but what about others?
Experimenting until we find our best way to work is just a part of the journey, however. The trickier part is figuring out how to work with other people and their styles – especially if our needs are opposite!
For too long, managers assumed that what works for them personally will work for everyone. That assumption, of course, is incorrect. Ignoring individual differences leads to conflict, productivity loss, and turnover. In some cases, feeling trapped in a job with no control over how we work and few alternatives may even trigger anxiety and depression, or physical illness.
What would support our wellbeing and performance while working with others very different from us?
Think ARK. After all, our coworkers can’t be more different from each other than the creatures in Noah’s ark.
Authenticity. Trying to be something we are not is counterproductive. Requiring the same of others is counterproductive for them – and the team. Discussing our productivity styles is the first step to effective collaboration. Assessments of productivity styles and personal strengths, when taken by all parties, can help start the discussion.
Respect. This part is sometimes lost when we focus on what we need. But respecting what others need is crucial for a productive relationship. Differences are good. If we capitalize on each other’s strengths, we all benefit. In one example, in a small department, Laura was stressed by constant interruptions from Dinah. Dinah was restless - her needs for stimulation weren’t met. But she was creating overstimulation and fatigue for Laura. The solution was to move responding to phone calls and external inquiries from Laura to Dinah, which gave Dinah more stimulation. That allowed Laura to focus on deep-work projects without interruptions.
Kindness. Sometimes, we all mess up, have a bad day, or miscommunicate. Sometimes, we act out our trauma. Prior experience with authenticity and respect should give us a foundation to understand and extend kindness to each other. And kindness is a foundation of health – mental and physical.
Very rarely, our styles are truly incompatible. But in most cases, we can find a way to create a workflow that benefits all.
Hagemann, D., Hewig, J., Walter, C., Schankin, A. Danner, D., & Naumann, E. (2009). Positive evidence for Eysenck’s arousal hypothesis: A combined EEG and MRI study with multiple measurement occasions. Personality and Individual Differences. 47, 717-721. 10.1016/j.paid.2009.06.009.