When people consider how to increase productivity at work they invariably think of activities or tools they can implement on the job. And to be sure, such an approach can produce results. But there is another approach to increase productivity that complements this approach and focuses less on what you do at work, and more on what you do when you’re away from work.
Recent research has shown that the way you spend your leisure time has a major influence on how effectively you recover from the demands and stressors you experience at work, which in turn has a dramatic effect on how you perform when you’re back on the job and how productive you are. This body of research can be summarized with the acronym ReNEW, the letters of which stand for the Resources people have, the physical and psychological Needs people have to satisfy to feel recovered, the need to effectively Escape from work demands, and the Well-being we all require in order to feel good and be happy. People who are able to satisfy these ReNEW elements during their time away from their obligations return to those commitments revitalized, refreshed and more productive than those who spend their time away from work in less fruitful ways. Let’s consider these elements in more detail.
4 elements to increase productivity
When you’re working, your mental and physical resources are continually being depleted and need to be replenished. Like an air conditioner running low on freon, when the resources you need to function start getting low, your performance begins to suffer and your productivity wanes. These resources can be physical, such as energy or stamina, or psychological, such as concentration or analytical thinking. If, during your time away from work, you’re able to replenish these resources and effectively recover from the demands placed upon you at work, you’re more likely to return to your jobs in top form. If, instead, you continue to expend valuable resources during your leisure time, you don’t recover, refresh and return to work any better than when you left, especially if the resources you’re using away from work are the same ones you use at work. Research has shown that, compared to employees who feel poorly recovered in the morning before heading off to work, those who are able to replenish their resources the night before and report feeling recovered in the morning end up being more engaged at work that day. And engaged employees are productive employees.
Renewing yourself in your time away from work is facilitated by satisfying both your physical and psychological needs. One of the most obvious physical needs you must satisfy in order to rejuvenate yourself is sleep. Unfortunately during time away from work and on weekends in particular, many people stay up late and don’t sleep enough to allow their batteries to recharge. A weekend that could potentially be two days of recovery often ends up being two days of overextending, leaving you more tired on Monday than on Friday afternoon.You also have psychological needs that should be satisfied in order to foster recovery. One of these is the need for competence, which involves mastering challenges. Research shows that when you satisfy your need for competence during non-work hours, by, for example, learning a new chord on the guitar or creating a new, tasty entrée for dinner, you will enjoy higher levels of positive emotions like being excited and alert the next morning. These positive emotions help increase productivity both on and off the job.
The first component of escape is relaxation. People who report spending more time in relaxing activities in their time away from work also report being more rejuvenated at work after their break has ended. But this is no surprise. However, the second component of escape may surprise you. It’s called psychological detachment and involves the ability to purge work from your mind and concentrate on other matters when away from work. Research shows that relaxation while away from work may not be enough to produce recovery and subsequently increase productivity. People who merely relax when away from work don’t recharge their batteries nearly as well as those who add psychological detachment to their moments of relaxation. So, spending your evening relaxing and periodically thinking about the presentation you’re delivering tomorrow morning isn’t as replenishing as thinking about the menu for the dinner party you are hosting on Friday night. And paradoxically, planning your menu may result in you delivering a better presentation the next morning because you’ll arrive feeling sharper and more on top of your game than if you spent the night before ruminating about it.
Sometimes regarded as the equivalent of happiness, well-being is a general term referring to optimal experience and functioning. People who are able to achieve well-being in their time away from work are better performers when they return to their jobs. For example, a short stroll or 15-minute brisk walk on your lunch break will elevate your mood which can make you more creative, innovative and productive in the afternoon.
A growing body of research is clearly demonstrating that the way you spend your time away from work has a major impact on how effective you are at work. When you satisfy the ReNEW elements you return to work rejuvenated, refreshed and more productive. And when you feel better about the work you do, you will be more satisfied when you are away from work—you’ll be happier at home. In short, if you’re smart about your choices, you can have your cake and eat it too.