In many industries, the pandemic shifted the workplace into the virtual realm, as employees quickly switched from offices to working remotely from home. Since employees are no longer commuting, there’s an assumption they have more time for additional projects and meetings. But the time they’re saving on commuting may not be increasing productivity—in fact, it may be doing just the opposite.
“What people are doing is exhausting the time they have during the day to cram in more meetings,” says CEO and leadership expert Dan Pontefract, who has spent the past 25 years assisting leaders and organizations increase employee engagement, productivity and bottom-line results. “The irony is that managers, leaders and executives are almost trying to do more with less, so what you’re seeing is an exasperated, exhausted, stressed workforce, in addition to the pressures the pandemic is causing.”
According to Pontefract, time management is a myth. Instead of trying to manage your time, he recommends navigating it by incorporating practical strategies and mindfulness. For example, are you checking and responding to work messages on your phone before bed or right when you wake up? Are you blocking off time throughout the day to take focus breaks or mindful moments? Are you working through lunch?
“You have to be a little selfish and create personal norms,” he says. “Ask yourself, ‘What can I do to be more present, but also block off portions of time that allow me to take back some of that constructive, meditative time to gather my thoughts, check in, to not feel over-burdened with the dizzying number of requests?’”
Bart Zino, president of Naples-based PBS Contractors, encourages employees to figure out their most creative time of the day and block off that time for their creative thinking. He also suggests making a list in the evenings to help prioritize items for the following day. “Urgent and important can be two different things; check your completed tasks off the list and celebrate success,” Zino says.
Michelle Reed-Spitzer, CEO/owner of MaidPro SW Florida, adds that recognition can help drive employees who may be struggling with productivity. “When they see their peers earning bonuses and recognition, this can be a big motivator to get back on track so they can be recognized, too,” she says.
Developing personal norms is one way for employees to establish their own protective “guardrails,” as Pontefract puts it, but he also stresses the importance of discussing team norms as a group with leadership. Norms could include Thursday afternoons free of meetings, or not being obligated to respond to emails after 7 p.m. “If a team hasn’t discussed those types of norms, you’re left with everyone trying to figure out what the norm is, and that can create an invisible pressure,” Pontefract says. “Many leaders believe the more you push your team, the higher the productivity, but that’s just not how the equation works. When you want to increase productivity, your job is to motivate and be empathetic so you can feel and think about how employees are operating.”