One surprising way to boost workplace productivity

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Productive Ways to Fill Downtime at Work

A new survey finds that employees with a bestie at work are more engaged and resilient.

Everything you've heard about boosting employee engagement may be missing the mark.

Sure, giving employees more autonomy or "ownership" of their tasks--or boosting their sense of purpose with sustainability initiatives--can help to boost engagement. But according to a new international survey of more than 2,300 professionals, there's something else you can try: Cultivating strong employee friendships.

The survey was conducted by O.C. Tanner, a global employee recognition company based in Salt Lake City, Utah, whose clients include PepsiCo and The Home Depot. Here's a sampling of the key findings:

  • 75 percent of employees who have a best friend at work say they feel they're able to take anything on, compared to 58 percent of those who don't have a best friend at work.
  • 72 percent of employees who have a best friend at work are satisfied with their jobs, compared to 54 percent of those who don't have a best friend at work.
  • Millennials (those born at any time between 1981 and 1997) top older generations when it comes to having a best friend at work. And the likelihood of having this type of connection goes down as age increases.

Those are the numbers. The obvious question is, Why? What's friendship have to do with engagement or resilience? "Having a best friend at work is indicative of a larger social well-being," says Gary Beckstrand, vice president of the OC Tanner Institute, the company's research arm. That well-being, he explains, means you're having mostly positive interactions with other people. These interactions often relate to subjects that are not, strictly speaking, work-related, which in turn "relaxes work environments" and makes the job more fun, even when tasks get stressful, Backstrand adds.

That millennials are more likely to have best friends at work was not surprising to O.C. Tanner, which itself has 1,200 employees. "The notion of work-life balance is changing fairly dramatically," says Beckstrand. "Younger generations don't compartmentalize as much as older ones. For many millennials, work and their outside life are blurred. They're thinking about work more often, talking about it more often, and those friendships they form at work extend to outside the job as well."

How can leaders act on these findings, and cultivate a workplace where more friendships are formed? Beckstrand says you don't have to reinvent the wheel: Enjoyable offsites, where employees are free to bond away from the stresses of office life, are one method.

You should also take an honest look at how your employees spend their days. Are they anchored to their laptops, seldom coming up for air? Do they prefer Slack and video games to real-life chats and activities involving physical participation, be they sports or board games? If so, you need to address it. You don't have to undermine your hard-working culture or force your introverts to socialize. "But within your own acceptability range, you can look at your policies for opportunities to gather with purpose," says Beckstrand.

Maybe this means more team lunches. Maybe it means building social breaks into your longer meetings. The overall idea is to create some downtime for your employees to hang out--pockets of time where they'll be interacting with each other, instead of worrying about whether their chit-chatting and laughing will be perceived as unproductive.

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One surprising way to boost workplace productivity

Since most of us have access to the internet at work, it's easy to get sidetracked looking up the answer to a random question that just popped into your head.

That's why Quora user Suresh Rathinam recommends writing down these thoughts or questions on a notepad. This way, you can look up the information you want later, when you're not trying to get work done.

While many people believe they're great at doing two things at once, scientific research has found that just 2% of the population is capable of effectively multitasking.

For the rest of us, multitasking is a bad habit that decreases our attention spans and makes us less productive in the long run.

Constant internet access can also lead people to check email throughout the day. Sadly, each time you do this, you lose up to 25 minutes of work time. What's more, the constant checking of email makes you dumber.

Instead, strategy consultant Ron Friedman suggests quitting Outlook, closing email tabs, and turning off your phone for 30-minute chunks of deep-diving work.

Whether it's a new diet, workout routine, or work schedule, one of the most difficult things about forming a new habit is the urge to cheat as a reward for sticking to a routine for a while.

This idea that we "deserve" to splurge on fancy meal after being thrifty for a week is called "moral licensing," and it undermines a lot of people's plans for self-improvement.

Instead, try making your goal part of your identity, such that you think of yourself as the kind of person who saves money or works out regularly, rather than as someone who is working against their own will to do something new.

People often start off their day by completing easy tasks to get themselves rolling and leave their more difficult work for later. This is a bad idea, and one that frequently leads to the important work not getting done at all.

As researchers have found, people have a limited amount of willpower that decreases throughout the day. That being the case, it's best to get your hardest, most important tasks done at the beginning of the day.

Nothing disrupts the flow of productivity like an unnecessary meeting. And with tools like email, instant messenger, and video chat at your fingertips, it's best to use meetings for introductions and serious discussions that should only be held in person.

BlueGrace Logistics founder Bobby Harris recommends that people don't accept a meeting unless the person who requested it has put forth a clear agenda and stated exactly how much time they will need. And even then, Harris recommends giving the person half of the time they initially requested.

Nilofer Merchant, a business consultant and the author of "The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy Paperback," shares with TED audiences how she's helped several major companies develop successful new ideas: walking meetings.

She recommends forgoing coffee or fluorescent-lighted conference-room meetings in favor of walking and talking 20 to 30 miles a week.

"You'll be surprised at how fresh air drives fresh thinking, and in the way that you do, you'll bring into your life an entirely new set of ideas," she says.

It might feel like pressing the snooze button in the morning gives you a little bit of extra rest to start your day, but the truth is that it does more harm than good.

That's because when you first wake up, your endocrine system begins to release alertness hormones to get you ready for the day. By going back to sleep, you're slowing down this process. Plus, nine minutes doesn't give your body time to get the restorative, deep sleep it needs.

This isn't to say you should cut back on sleep. As Arianna Huffington discusses in her TED talk, a good night's sleep has the power to increase productivity, happiness, smarter decision-making, and unlock bigger ideas. The trick for getting enough sleep is planning ahead and powering down at a reasonable time.

Some people think having lots of goals is the best way to ensure success — if one idea fails, at least there are plenty more in reserve to turn to. Unfortunately, this sort of wavering can be extremely unproductive.

Warren Buffett has the perfect antidote. Seeing that his personal pilot was not accomplishing his life goals, Buffett asked him to make a list of 25 things he wanted to get done before he died. But rather than taking little steps toward completing every one of them, Buffett advised the pilot to pick five things he thought were most important and ignore the rest.

Many ambitious and organized people try to maximize their productivity by meticulously planning out every hour of their day. Unfortunately, things don't always go as planned, and a sick child or unexpected assignment can throw a wrench into their entire day.

Instead, you might want to try planning just four or five hours of real work each day, that way you're able to be flexible later on.

With that being said, you should take time to strategize before attempting to achieve any long-term goals. Trying to come up with the endgame of a project you're doing midway through the process can be extremely frustrating and waste a huge amount of time.

Harvard lecturer Robert Pozen recommends that you first determine what you want your final outcome to be, then lay out a series of steps for yourself. Once you're halfway through, you can review your work to make sure you're on track and adjust accordingly.

The LED screens of our smartphones, tablets, and laptops give off what is called blue light, which studies have shown can damage vision and suppress production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep cycle.

Research also suggests that people with lower melatonin levels are more prone to depression.

More often than laziness the root of procrastination is the fear of noting doing a good job, says British philosopher and author Alain de Botton on his website, The Book of Life.

"We begin to work only when the fear of doing nothing at all exceeds the fear of not doing it very well … And that can take time," he writes.

The only way to overcome procrastination is to abandon perfectionism and not fuss over details as you move forward. Pretending the task doesn't matter and that it's OK to mess up could help you get started faster.

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