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3 Unbelievable Secrets to Unlocking Employee Productivity

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As a small business owner, chances are good you absolutely do not have time for unproductive people. Maybe you have one employee, maybe you have several. Either way, the last thing you need is dead weight (i.e., distracted, inefficient workers) pulling you down.

So what are the secrets to unlocking your employees’ potential and their most productive selves? To many, the answers may come as a shock.

1. Give employees shorter to-do lists

Have you ever had to plan a big trip and found yourself overwhelmed by the details? So much so that you procrastinate on getting things done, even though you’re excited for the event itself?

For many employees, long task lists are kind of like that. According to a recent unproductivity survey, 54% of respondents said they’d be more productive at work if they had a lighter workload.

Taken at face value, that statement sounds kind of silly. We’d all like a lighter workload — that doesn’t make the list of things that has to get done any shorter.

But what if respondents didn’t mean it like that? What if the secret to a more productive team was reorganizing to-do lists so that what employees see isn’t an extra-long laundry list of tasks but more bite-sized chunks that aren’t so paralyzing?

Consider investing in a task management app or software like Trello or Todoist. You can also use an additional platform like Hexomatic for automated task management.

Choose one that makes it easy to compartmentalize what’s due today or even in the next seven days, as opposed to everything that’s happening in the next month or quarter. Better yet, pick a tool that allows you to set tasks as private until you’re ready to share them, thus keeping the majority of your running list hidden from others who might find its volume overwhelming.

2. Let employees build their own schedules

“What?!” you might say. “Do we live in a fantasy world? If I let my workers build their own schedules, no one would ever come to work!”

Point taken, but consider this: 61% of respondents in the unproductivity survey said they’d get more done if they had more flexible hours. Not fewer hours — flexible hours.

Say you have a team that absolutely has to meet for an hour each day. Figure out a time (say 11 a.m.) that works for everyone to be on the clock. Then give employees the liberty to set their own schedules from there. Suddenly, people who are still half-asleep at 9 have the freedom to come in a little later, while those who are most on the ball in the morning can conquer their tasks before the sun comes up.

Either way, employees are happier because they’re working when their brain functions best for them and creating better work because of it. And happy employees, according to a recent study by the University of Warwick, are more productive employees. Warwick found that happiness led to more creativity, better problem-solving, and higher profits. Plus, happier employees stick around longer, saving businesses money through retention.

3. Allow employees to work remotely

Listen. Offices aren’t the be-all, end-all when it comes to fostering a productive team. In fact, forcing employees to come in every day may be entirely unproductive.

According to the unproductivity survey:

  • 75% of workers find “talkative co-workers” to be distracting.
  • 71% of workers say being interrupted by co-workers is distracting.
  • 66% of workers are distracted by sick co-workers.
  • 67% of workers say they’d get more done if they could work remotely or from home.

Naturally, not every business or industry is set up so employees can work remotely, but where it is possible, small businesses can benefit from the practice. According to a survey of remote workers and employers of remote staff, nearly 60% of employers said they’d rate their remote workers’ performance as “above average” compared to their other employees.

Besides better performance and productivity, allowing employees to work remotely is actually a huge money saver for small businesses. Rather than putting money toward square footage and office supplies (costs that can easily exceed hundreds of dollars per employee, per month), small businesses can allocate more cash to their products or services or to employee benefits people actually want, like more PTO or bonuses.

Trust and believe in a more productive team

What do flexible schedules, remote opportunities, and shorter to-do lists all have in common? A need for trust. Bosses have to believe their employees are going to show up, even if they don’t have a hard start time. They have to believe employees are going to ask for more work on slow days, and that remote employees will get their work done, without manager supervision. The reward for that trust? You guessed it: increased productivity.

According to a recent article by the Harvard Business Review, “Employees who are less trusted by their manager exert less effort, are less productive, and are more likely to leave the organization. Employees who do feel trusted are higher performers and exert extra effort, going above and beyond role expectations. Plus, when employees feel their supervisors trust them to get key tasks done, they have greater confidence in the workplace and perform at a higher level.”

So what is a more productive team worth to you? If the answer is believing in some otherwise unbelievable strategies, you might just get the results you’ve always wanted.

Author Bio: Danielle Higley is a copywriter for TSheets by QuickBooks, a time tracking and scheduling solution. She has a BA in English literature and has spent her career writing and editing marketing materials for small businesses. She recently started an editorial consulting company.