When we were signing our first client four years ago, the only thing on our mind was growth. Everything was secondary to that.
We were focused on getting as many clients as we possibly could, without paying much mind to how such rapid growth could negatively affect our operations and productivity.
For every entrepreneur running any type of business – growth is a good thing. It can be exciting, challenging, and above all, highly satisfying. Growth basically provides validation for your ideas and all the hard work and dedication you invest in serving your clients excellence.
The issue comes when growth gets in the way of running your day-to-day business successfully. Believe it or not, in certain cases rapid growth can do your company more harm than good. It can be challenging to deal with the capacity, stay productive, and ensure that you have the right people on your team (with the necessary know-how) to see this new demand through.
With now more than 300 clients under our wing, our growth during these last four years has certainly challenged us to rethink our entire company structure and focus on improving most procedures, because they were no longer in sync with our company’s capacity and workload.
As an agency that serves the above-mentioned number of both new and returning clients, it has become hard for us to deal with the day-to-day tasks while focusing on the the bigger picture, like strategy for future growth. Juggling many different hats at the same time, adding new personnel and trying to assimilate them into our existing workflow and company culture has also become a bit of an issue, so we decided to approach these problems with a lot more heed.
Six months ago, we noticed a decline in our productivity, so we set out to find people with specific skill sets to take our place in the daily grind and provide the necessary assistance when it comes to optimizing our current procedures. This way, we could go back to dealing with the bigger things on our plate.
The goal was to build the right management team that could allow us to stop playing the contextual role of COOs and actually focus on the work of CEOs.
Our new HR executive was determined to resolve all the productivity issues we were facing at the time, so she put us through a series of test phases that revolved around implementing and evaluating numerous popular, science-backed productivity systems, until we discovered the ones that work best for us. We tested the 5 most popular productivity hacks, and here is what we learned from them.
1. The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique was invented back in the 1980/1990s by a man named Francesco Cirillo. Francesco was a developer, entrepreneur, and published author, who was interested in optimizing his efficiency. Cirillo develop a system called “Pomodoro”, which he named after the tomato-shaped timer he used to track and optimize his work when he was still a student. The methodology of this system is quite simple: take a big chunk of work and cut it into small, timed intervals, interspersed with short and effective breaks.
For example, for every project you have to accomplish during the day, you should work for 25 minutes, then take a break for 5. Each 25-minute work period is called a “pomodoro” and it’s basically all about singling out a specific task or a chunk of work you’ll be able to accomplish in a specific time period. When you accomplish a pomodoro, you mark it with an “X” and make a note regarding your efficiency. After four pomodoros (100 minutes of work, 15 minutes of break time), you should take a bigger break – let’s say, for 15-20 minutes.
This particular system was developed with the idea to improve people’s attention spans, increase concentration, and improve output, by training the brain to work in sprint and thus – maximize focus.
How we tested it:
Our content team has struggled with their assigned workload and made complaints regarding feeling “completely and utterly creatively drained”. The HR exec took five team members as test bunnies, and first discussed in great detail the problems they encountered on a daily basis.
The main issues? Difficulties with producing content, a lack of inspiration and work enthusiasm, procrastination, brain fatigue, and inefficient time-management.
These selected employees had never exceeded any deadlines, nor have they complained about the actual amount of work. Their work quality was always satisfying, but their work process was obviously under-utilized.
The HR exec suggested using the Pomodoro technique for a month. For the purpose of this test phase, we used a simple free time tracker, designed specifically according to the Pomodoro technique, TomatoTimer. Each team member was expected to fill in a short questionnaire on a daily basis to self-assess personal productivity, emotional state, as well as rate the effectiveness of the technique. After a month, the group had a meeting with HR to verbally discuss the experiment.
Three out of five employees who participated in the experiment reported a significant improvement in the creative process of writing long-form texts, while the remaining two were either indifferent or felt only a slight increase in productivity.
What’s interesting is that the three employees who saw significant improvement disliked the time division imposed by the Pomodoro technique in the first week of the experiment. They felt it was too restricting and damaging to their creative flow – actually counterproductive.
However, breaking tasks into smaller chunks has proven useful after they managed to persist and make themselves take a break when the timer went off. One of the employees said it actually “helped her eliminate distractions and focus, instead of staring at the clock” and “just do the damn task”. The biggest challenge was to resist the urge to jump from one task to another (i.e. multitask), especially when it comes to replying to emails and chat messages.
Within just a month, three out of five employees said they felt a lot better about their job, as well as more productive and ready to tackle new tasks. On their own initiative, they have recommended the Pomodoro technique to their colleagues and so the experiment continued for another month with a new test group of 17 employees across different teams. Nine of them reported a significant productivity boost.
2. The Five-Hour Workday
Back in 2016, Stephan Aarstol of Tower Paddle Boards challenged the 9-to-5 work week grind by creating a shorter, five-hour workday business concept for his company. Even though this seemed a ludicrous idea at first, the result of this experiment was more than positive. Paddle Boards’ overall company productivity and employee satisfaction went through the roof. As Stephan said to numerous publications back then: working eight hours per week is no longer the optimal number of working hours during which a modern man can focus and stay productive at his or her work station.
Regardless of the fact that people spend eight hours at the office, five times a week, studies have shown that they’re only doing four to six hours of actual work, on average, during the time they spend sitting behind their desks. Stephan, like many other entrepreneurs who followed his example, wasn’t really interested in seeing large numbers of inefficient employees hanging around his company premises.
The general idea behind the five-hour workday concept is to analyze each and every department of your company and business, identify where productivity really does come from, and eliminate all the unnecessary work, procedures, and protocols that have a negative effect on employee output.
How we tested it:
From day one, we decided to nurture a modern, friendly, and human-oriented workplace. We know the irreplaceable value of having happy workers and a healthy work environment, which is why we focused on continuously improving our company culture.
The five-hour workday is an important piece of this puzzle.
We presented our workers a concept where their results and output mattered – not the number of hours spent within office walls. Cutting down their work week 15 hours meant they will have a notably higher amount of free time – while getting the same salary. Our assumption was that this huge move would communicate that we deeply care both about the well-being of our employees and overall efficiency. Also, we offered additional flexibility with the option of occasionally working from home (for any private reasons), as well as showing up at the office anytime between 8 AM and 10 AM.
Every employee was expected to handle their own tasks within the agreed-upon deadlines and therefore was responsible for effectively managing the 5-hour work time for themselves.
The five-hour workday has done wonders for our company. Given the fact that much of the business world is still on the eight-hour regime, this has been perceived as a huge company plus.
As a matter of fact, our latest internal company survey regarding employee satisfaction shows that the five-hour work day is among the top three most important reasons people appreciate working for our company, right after great work relationships and financial benefits.
While evaluating the five-hour workday, all employees, without exception, reported great satisfaction. They have been asked to fill in a questionnaire so that HR and management could get a closer look at the way a shorter working day affects employee productivity and their emotional state. Turns out working less hours makes them more productive and also brings better end results. They feel calmer, more content, more engaged, and more appreciated at work. With a relaxed and sharp mental state, they find executing tasks easier.
A vast majority of our workers reported fewer working hours motivates them to work harder, and as they have more time for themselves – they feel their lives are in balance. The success of this test is probably the biggest confirmation of the following: a happy and appreciated worker is a highly productive one.
3. Cycling to work
More than a few studies claim that cycling to work raises employee productivity by 15 percent. According to them, in addition to having a positive effect on overall productivity, riding a bike to work also reduces employee health care costs. It has been proven that people who ride a bike to the office have a 27 percent less chance of making task errors at work. There’s also data that supports the claim that staff members who ride bikes are more punctual than those who use other types of transportation to get to work. One study has proven that cyclists, on average, tend to live two years longer than people who don’t ride a bike at all. The same research also suggests that cyclists tend to take 15 percent fewer days off work due to illness.
How we tested it:
It was early spring when the HR proposed to test the relation between cycling and productivity. We all agreed this would be the most fun experiment, as it will certainly bring numerous benefits – the only question was how it would affect productivity levels.
Here’s what was required from our volunteer test bunnies: they all had to cycle to work at least three times per week, for the next three months. We suggested they use a tracking app (someone proposed a free app called Strava, which was adopted) and encouraged them to occasionally share the miles they’ve cycled on social media, to create a bit of hype and endorse each other. The total number of people who participated in the experiment was a lucky 13. The only precondition was that they hadn’t already been bike commuters: if that was the case, we couldn’t really measure any change in their productivity levels.
Each participant was expected to fill in a weekly report. The report consisted of 20 statements regarding their emotional state, productivity, work enthusiasm, fatigue levels, and overall efficiency, that participants were supposed to rate from 1 (expressing high disagreement with the statement) and 5 (fully agreeing with the statement).
We knew only positive things could come from this experiment, but it has exceeded expectations. The results were surprisingly great.
We noticed that after three weeks of regularly biking to work, a majority of participants (11 of them) reported they felt more energized and relaxed at the workplace, more productive, and in a much better mood. A similar effect kicked in for the remaining two participants after about a month and a half. The time the test group spent working on an average task was shortened (most of them agreed they needed about 20-25% less time), as their focus vastly improved.
When asked what was their motivation to participate in this experiment, one part of the group said they were intrigued if all those studies linking cycling and productivity were right, others were just up for a challenge, while some admitted they wanted to become more fitness-focused, so this productivity-hack-testing came at the perfect time and gave them proper momentum to start a journey to healthier habits.
The participants continued cycling to work even after the experiment and actually became ambassadors for this eco-friendly way of commuting. Their love towards their two-wheel pets has spread. Luckily, we have great bike parking.
4. Stimulate productivity with rewards
According to Globoforce, employee recognition is one of the best drivers when it comes to improving productivity at the workplace. Their study has proven that 78% of employees tested have performed better when their hard work was recognized and rewarded by the management.
Receiving recognition for a job well done positively affects more engaged employees and provides a necessary boost in morale to continue to perform even better at work. The more focus management puts towards acknowledging their employees’ hard work, the better the chances of keeping their workforce happy and committed towards helping the company prosper in this overly-competitive business world.
However, that’s often easier said than done. For most companies, it is extremely hard to find an approach that perfectly suits every single one of their workers.
Designing and putting into action an intelligently conceptualized reward and recognition system is now imperative for most corporations. The majority of today’s workforce is made up of 20/24-year-olds, for whom it is quite normal to expect something more than just a paycheck from their employers at the end of the month for a job well done. They also want a meaningful, custom-tailored company culture that recognizes dedication, loyalty, and hard work by rewarding it with praise, promotions, and numerous other benefits.
For any type of company that’s dependent on people – it’s imperative to keep their current workers stimulated and entertained. If their enthusiasm fades, the company won’t be able to operate properly.
How we tested it:
This was definitely a tricky one. We decided to update our official work rules and introduce a new rewards system that would, with any luck, stimulate workers to be more productive and give their 100%. Small monetary stimulations were included, as well as other forms of recognition that did not revolve around money. In addition to these, regulations regarding raises and promotions were also clearly defined.
The calculation seemed simple: we would stimulate workers who showcased extraordinary work and acknowledged their efforts at the end of each month, by giving them a one-time bonus or a coupon for a local restaurant, a spa center, or a retail store.
Although the rewards system seemed like a clear shot, it did not work as well as we hoped. The main problem was the lack of a continuous monitoring system that would be effective enough to pinpoint what kind of achievements deserved a reward and what level of work should be the norm. In addition, there was a problem with some employees who were truly hardworking and got their one-time bonus: the lack of this financial stimulation in the next months made them wrongly interpret the situation, thinking they are now working below the management’s expectations.
The rewards system had partially backfired, given the fact employees started questioning both their own abilities and the competence of the management to recognize their efforts. The productivity of those who got rewarded was stimulated, but the effect was more acute (i.e. short-term) than we expected.
Surprisingly enough, when evaluating employee satisfaction with the system, the majority reported they would prefer continuous honest feedback from their superiors and verbal praises when deserved, as opposed to one-time stimulations that made them feel appreciated just for a short while. They also suggested the company should keep the rewards system, but further develop ways of measuring results and pinpointing those who are to be rewarded.
When it comes to raises and promotions, they have been evaluated as more relevant as opposed to one-time rewards, as they show appreciation in the long run and are true productivity boosters. When people have a sense of progress and get proper recognition, it awakeness their enthusiasm and they are, therefore – more productive.
5. Automate everything that can be automated
A lot of businesses today are solely focused on optimizing processes and figuring out ways to do something in less time and with less effort. That’s why automation is so big these days. Automation increases productivity by eliminating repetitive manual tasks that tend to eat up a lot of valuable time in everyone’s busy day. Apart from that, automation also cuts costs and minimizes errors by eliminating the human factor from particular business processes.
Statistics say that around 40% of productivity is lost due to task-switching, and we’re often talking about manual work and boring operational tasks that just suck up one’s time and are mind-numbing. Every manager knows this can trigger a sequence of bad side effects, such as a drop in work enthusiasm, poorly finished tasks, or even absteenism.
We live in the digital era, where technology is evolving so fast that business owners who don’t make the most of it – risk falling behind.
Let’s face it: today, you can automate almost any process. For any problem out there, there exist dozens of apps and tools you can use.
But the harsh truth? Companies often struggle with innovating and keeping up with the set pace of tech-based changes. It’s frequently hard to implement new technologies, but once you underline the benefits of certain tools or specific systems (i.e. cloud storage) – it gets simpler.
How we tested it:
Our workers, just as most of today’s workers, hate doing trivial work as they feel like their expertise is going to waste. They enjoy challenges that help them get to the next level. The majority of them are creative souls that need daily stimulation in order to feel useful and content with their position.
We tried to see a bigger picture here. Our company already uses numerous tools that make daily business processes seamless. Everything runs smoothly, like a well-oiled machine. However, we’re not such great supporters of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” motto. There is always room for improvement: continuously working on optimization is what’s behind progress.
So, what did we do?
We decided to develop our own tools that will help us automate boring processes, saving both our time and energy. Our company’s main focus are SEO and inbound marketing services, so we spend a whole lot of time on client reporting. We wanted to automate this process.
Researching the market, we did not find a tool that would satisfy all our wants and needs, especially when it comes to custom features. We decided to invest in developing our own in-house tools. And so, our tool that makes the reporting process automated, called Reportz, was born, along with Dibz, which significantly simplifies the process of link building, making the whole process almost automated.
Once we introduced our account managers and link builders to these tools, we faced initial resistance that is the frequent response of employees who are invited to adopt new technologies. Luckily, all of our tools are pretty simple and self-explanatory, so there was no need for detailed training on how to use them. The interface of both tools is user-friendly, making it a lot easier for our employees to intuitively explore the features.
Guided by the famous “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” principle, we decided to closely monitor the productivity and satisfaction of our workers over time. Turns out they needed three working days to go from being skeptical to absolutely loving what the tools can do for them. Our internal records showed we have saved between two and three hours per month on reporting per client. In addition, finding prospects has become as easy as pie and our link building teams have been stunned with the results.
By automating boring processes and handling those manual tasks with just a few clicks, our workers were able to focus on other parts of their work that they actually love. The quality of their completed tasks has increased, which is a natural consequence of having a mind that finally has the luxury of mono-tasking.
Besides the higher productivity in the office, we have noticed our clients have also become receptive to Reportz. They showed appreciation for the reports that have been specifically designed and branded for them.
These five productivity experiments have certainly taught us a lot. The main thing we learned revolves around the complexity of factors that influence employee productivity levels.
A disclaimer is needed here: the data you have encountered within this article is not gathered by a scientific team, but rather a team of curious enthusiasts with a solid knowledge of psychology, gained through formal and informal education.
We have simply shared with you what worked best for us and within our company, which does not mean you wouldn’t end up with different results testing these productivity hacks. The most important thing is to have a healthy work environment and show willingness to try new things, not just for the sake of better productivity, but for the sake of your workers’ satisfaction.
As we discussed each and every one of the experiments, we encountered a dilemma. Could some of the results be only placebo effects? Perhaps. But, does it matter?
The bottom line is we have noted higher productivity and have tangible positive results for some of the experiments, while others haven’t proven themselves as efficient.
About the Author:
Carolin Petterson is a businesswoman and content marketer with years of experience under her belt. She has had the opportunity to contribute to a number of popular business and marketing websites.