How to be more productive: People working together at table

How to be More Productive in All Workplace Models

If you were to criticize technology twenty years ago, people would likely label you a conspiracy theorist. But regardless of what you think about social media, nobody can deny the countless pieces of software that improve our modern workload. Still, people seek tips on how to be more productive.

And there is room for improvement, but it’s not a new app or tool.

Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, I snoozed for a few extra minutes on a Saturday morning than I usually would.

But my lay-in went out the window when my Teams app lit up with notifications and tones.

A coworker demanded, “Did you have any available time for a call Monday morning? I see you are free at 9:00. Can you do that? Is your calendar updated?”

Dude, it’s Saturday morning.

But that’s what I get for not silencing my notifications.

Of course, mobile chat is handy, but some people forget common courtesies when communicating virtually.

When we table these considerations, it erodes workplace relationships, which in turn impacts performance.

Over the years, we’ve relied on Silicon Valley developers for technical tools and business leaders for management tips.

But the room for improvement starts with our everyday actions.

Let’s look at a few of those daily practices and see if your team could be more productive in the office or remotely.

Being Human Improves Productivity

When I was in the military, I saw firsthand why everyone wears the same uniform, gets the same haircut, and uses the same vocabulary.

The purpose is to remove individuality.

When we remove individuality, unit cohesion improves as everyone acts as one.

On the other hand, the modern workplace encourages distinctiveness, but many people naturally conform to those around them.

As subordinates seek to emulate their leaders in hopes of progressing, they mimic superiors and other role models.

Sometimes, that’s a good thing, but when based on toxic behaviors, it can hinder productivity as people aren’t willing to step out of their regular programming to problem solve.

Professionally being yourself promotes individuality in the workplace by decreasing stress, which allows people to be more productive.

When we’re forced into a mold that doesn’t fit, we lose our sense of self. That’s negative behavior that impacts our daily lives.

Here are a few ways to add the human element into your daily routine.

Use Your Own Words

Everyone likes to sound professional.

But sometimes, you can take one coworker’s sentence and swap it with another speaker, and you can’t tell the difference.

Like the military, the modern workplace has taken on a professional vernacular that’s become cliche.

This discourages uniqueness, especially in a remote world with a high rate of written communication.

Here are a few tired expressions:

  • Let’s circle back
  • Synergy/Synergize
  • Let’s connect

There’s nothing unprofessional about saying, “I’ll check with you later this week,” or “Let’s talk more.”

But when leaders all say the same thing every day, subordinates feel like they must mirror their vocabulary, which causes people to self-censor.

Strive to Be Friendly

Be kind to your fellow employees and commit random acts of kindness to decrease stress in the workplace and increase productivity.

Dan Schwartz

Work is stressful, for sure.

But placing that stress on display or using it as an excuse to be rude isn’t acceptable.

When you’re rude to others, being more productive is hard.

Of course, we can’t be chipper all day, every day. I know I’m not.

But you don’t have to be the life of the office to make a conscious effort to be friendly.

Saying hi, bye, please, and thank you works wonders to improve daily communications.

As they say in the military, false motivation is better than no motivation.

Healthy Dissent

It’s OK to disagree with something your company or department does as a general practice or project decision.

Nobody respects a “yes person.”

At the same time, nobody likes a “Debbie Downer,” especially one that talks down about the company in front of subordinates, particularly new people.

When done correctly, the respectful objection of the company or vendors shows people that we’re all human and don’t have to agree on everything.

Questioning the method to the madness helps us be more productive because we understand the “why” behind the work.

Blindly following instructions without question, especially when they don’t make sense, decreases motivation and productivity.

P’s and Q’s

As mentioned, saying please and thank you is an easy way to show respect, and many people appreciate it.

When people feel valued and respected, they perform better. The business case for being kind is robust and strong. There is a win-win outcome.

Joanna McGrath, Founder, The Creative School

According to Peter Bregman at Psychology Today, saying thank you adds the human element into work life and acknowledges each other’s effort.

As Bregman noted in his article, many argue that work is business and pleasantries add to email overload.

But this effort to remove the human element and reduce our existence to a work-only attitude erodes relationships as we stop seeing each other as people.

Whether in person or online.

How to be More Productive Online

There are so many places to communicate virtually that it’s easy to get lost in company platforms.

I’ve also noticed a few things with online communications that can help us improve productivity.

Don’t Tell People to ‘See Below’

Woman looking frustrated at computer
Credit: Yan Krukov

I love to read for fun, but work emails aren’t usually entertaining.

Do your teammates forward novel-sized email chains or add you to an ongoing thread and tell you to “see below?”

What’s wrong with that, you ask? Am I just lazy?

No, it’s a time killer and opens up opportunities for miscommunication or unnecessary assumptions.

I used to follow the “see below” instructions, scroll to the bottom, and catch myself up with the question at hand.

But often, the text was unclear, and I soon found we wasted time figuring out the question before getting to the answer.

Simply summarizing the issue with straightforward questions will allow the team to reach an answer much quicker than playing a guessing game before everyone equally understands the problem.

When this happens, I politely reply, “Can you please clarify the overall issue or question so I’m sure we’re on the same page?”

This eliminates confusion and allows for a quicker resolution.

Reply to Emails

Generally speaking, if you receive an email, you should reply.

In some cases, it’s not necessary, such as mass FYIs, but if you ask someone a question or opinion and they reply, it’s common courtesy to let the sender know you received the message, even if it’s just a quick “Thanks.”

For one, it lets the sender know you don’t need anything else, but it’s also polite.

Especially when one must spend extra time or stop what they’re doing to help you.

Don’t Barge on Messaging Apps

As mentioned in the intro, barging on messaging apps is annoying.

Sure, one can ignore such messages, but when you get them during off hours, it’s hard to escape the mindset that you’re at work.

If I’m at the county fair with family and I see a question about work, it could be hard to get work out of my mind and enjoy my elephant ears.

But people shouldn’t interrupt during work hours, either.

When speaking and screen-sharing during a meeting, it’s intrusive to see a flood of messages trickle in a while trying to explain something to a group.

Again, there are do not disturb features, but if you see a red status light, wait until they turn green before intruding.

And when you do, say hi, or good morning. You wouldn’t open your teammate’s office door and ask a question without knocking and saying hi.

Help your team be more productive by respecting their availability and treating each other as if they’re in the same room.

Be Friendly/Professional on Video Calls

How awkward have video calls become? Many times meetings “start,” and nobody says a word.

Strong leaders take control of online meetings and force a reaction from most people, but many are OK with sitting there in silence with a blank face.

Has this happened to you? Do you ask if everyone can see your screen with 20 people and not one person is bothered to say “yes?”

Have you seen people not listening and working on other things while you present?

It’s rude in person, and it’s rude online.

Be present, talk to each other, and respond to questions. It’s not hard.

Extra Credit: Reply to Salespeople

OK, hear me out. I’m not talking about replying to every cold email you get.

Otherwise, we’d never get anything done.

With most cold emails being templated messages that go to hundreds or thousands of people, one shouldn’t feel obligated to reply. After all, they put little effort into the message, and they’re just playing the numbers game.

But every once in a while, I’ll get an email that deserves a reply.

For example, I got one recently that said, “Hey Greg, I’ve always had a soft spot for your company, as that’s where I took my wife on our first date.”

How can you not reply to that?

Of the thousands of cold emails I received over the years, this guy took the time to send a human message instead of a note full of buzzwords that starts with “I hope this finds you well” and ends with “Warm regards.”

Replying to emails explicitly crafted for us reminds us we’re human in the virtual workplace.

My reply didn’t take more than ten seconds. Just a quick note to say I’m happy the sales rep reached out, but I had no use for his offer, and I wished him and his family well.

Also, it’s a small world, and you never know. These networking opportunities can come in handy down the line.

Improve Productivity by Using Your PTO

Man with child on a beach-use PTO to be more productive
Credit: Pixabay

Over the past few years, we’ve blurred the lines between work and vacation. Since it’s so easy to stay connected with work, some people head to the beach only to join calls or email, just as they would if working at home or in the office.

Sometimes this is necessary when emergencies arise, but some people are addicted to work.

This is a massive problem for productivity because we don’t get a break.

When we don’t recharge, it can impact relationships at work when the stress builds up.

If you’re on vacation, be on vacation. If not for you, then do it for your team.

Be Yourself and Be More Productive

So, are these the ramblings of a jaded employee? Or is there truth to these ideas?

According to an Oxford study, happy employees are 13% more productive.

But If you’ve worked professionally for some time or just been around people in school, you likely know what I’m talking about.

Technology has dramatically improved daily life over the past decades. Still, innovations bring a new problem if we forget to be human and be ourselves.

We fail to be more productive when we stop using basic courtesies in the office or working remotely, and the human element is the lubrication that allows workflows to run smoothly.

Lacking manners and consideration for one another erodes the team and ultimately impacts performance.

But that’s just what I’ve seen in corporate America. What about you?


Hi, I'm Greg. The pen IS mightier than the sword!