The typical executive—that's you—spends roughly 2,500 hours a year at work, either tethered to a desk or, worse, wasting precious hours in meandering meetings that accomplish zip. And thanks to the wonder (horror?) of technology, you probably spend a hefty chunk of your so-called leisure time tapping late-night e-mails, reading reports and generally stressing about the piles of work waiting for you. But here's the thing: We're no more productive than we were 50 years ago, when the average workweek was less than 40 hours. And we're definitely less happy.
It doesn't have to be this way. Okay, so maybe you'll never feel burning passion for budget spreadsheets and 8 a.m. meetings. Still, you can arrive at work feeling engaged and energized, and leave (at a reasonable time!) feeling like you got stuff done.
In our 11th annual compendium of executive advice, we'll tell you how to hack your brain, your space and your team to boost productivity and bring a little joy to the job. Learn how to host meetings that matter, why your open-concept office is killing your team, and even why you should go ahead and watch that cat video—heck, your boss might even thank you for it.
Hack your brain
Why everyone should have an office BFF
Humans are, fundamentally, pack animals. We thrive on relationships. That means we are happier when we make friends at work—and better at our jobs, too. If the idea of being the life of the office party makes you shudder, consider forming at least one strong friendship (a.k.a. the work spouse). Having someone to rant to (Keith the sales creep, LOL amirite?!) will keep you from airing grievances to the wrong people. And as insurance, you've got their dirt, too.
Get zen at your desk
Mindfulness really just means focusing on what's happening in the moment, and it's proven—by science!—to increase productivity, collaboration and happiness. Here are three how-tos from Dr. Patricia Rockman, head of Toronto's Centre for Mindfulness Studies.
- Just S.T.O.P.: When stressful moments arise, Stop what you’re doing, Take a breath, Observe what is showing up in your experience, and Proceed in a more mindful way.
- Breathe: Before breaking it to the board that you’ve missed your target, spend three minutes on A.G.E. (Awareness, Gathering and Expanding): one minute to become aware of your thoughts, emotions and body; another to focus on breathing at the level of the abdomen; and a final minute to expand your attention to your whole body.
- Turn distractions into reminders: Whenever your phone rings, use it as a bell to take a mindful moment. Pause to check in with what you’re feeling, whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. What is happening in your body? Then take one mindful breath before continuing into the next moment.
to 9%. Please note that "short" does not mean full episodes of Sherlock.
Work out in your chair
- Namaste: With feet on floor, push palms together in front of your chest and hold.
- Chair swivel: Lightly grip desk and use core to swivel side to side.
- Seated leg raises: Straighten both legs, hold, repeat.
Hack your space
Upgrade your desk like a boss
- Noise increases stress and kills productivity, so invest in noise-cancelling headphones.
- Placing houseplants in otherwise stark workplaces can boost productivity by 15%, according to research from Exeter University.
- Clean-desk policy be damned: Employees who personalize their desks report higher job satisfaction.
- Colours matter. Blue and green help foster creativity. Red encourages attention to detail.
- Counteract the harsh glare of overhead fluorescents with warm, soothing lamplight.
- Counteract the anxiety-inducing hard angles of most office furniture with calming curvaceous edges.
If you're a chronic desk-eater, you're probably getting less done, not more. Walking to a local sandwich shop means you'll catch some seratonin-rich sunlight, increasing happiness. The exercise and camaraderie will energize you. Plus, no sloppy soup spills on your laptop. If you feel guilty, set a strict time limit and stick to it.
Get thee to the office
One-fifth of employees work from home full-time. Yet, a 2014 meta-study found that people who telecommute only occasionally report being happier and more productive, while those who telecommute more than 15 hours a week feel less satisfied. Being part of a tight-knit, face-to-face group at work can boost job satisfaction by 30%, according to Sociometric Solutions, which studies remote working.
Become a creative genius
Go ahead, be a work slob. A recent study from the University of Minnesota found that those with messy desks are more creative and willing to take risks.
The Rant, by Cathal Kelly: Why your employees hate the new open office
Like many other wonderful and/or terrible things, the open-plan office was a 20th-century German invention.
Of course, they'd been jamming wage-slaves together in small spaces for centuries. The first purpose-built office, as we understand the idea, may have been the East India Co.'s premises in London. Opened in the 1720s, we know this was an office because clerks would occasionally fling themselves from the windows. Nothing is more indicative of the emergence of corporate efficiency than the presence of its inevitable byproduct, despair.
It was a decent system, if only because it included walls, doors and other opaque structures meant to shield us from each other's view. In turn, that prevented us from talking to, hearing from, seeing, smelling and eventually wanting to murder our co-workers.
But in the 1950s, a German architecture collective proposed a new organizational work method: burolandschaft, or office landscaping. Partitions would fall. Desks would be wedged together. People would interact. Work life would become more "humane."
The idea caught on—mainly, one suspects, because walls are expensive. It hasn't always worked. A 2009 Australian study suggested many open-plan offices cause "high levels of stress, conflict, high blood pressure and a high staff turnover." They can also cause insecurity leading to paranoia.
Upon reading that last bit, you may have balled up this magazine and begun screaming, I've been saying this all along! If you're at work, the 47 colleagues who sit within a five-metre radius are alarmed. They're at your desk now, asking what's wrong. One of them smells like a tuna cannery. Another wants your advice on how to "punch up" his Tinder profile. A third is hovering, waiting to ask if you can switch shifts. You're not busy on Sunday, are you?
You start banging randomly on a keyboard, hoping they'll leave. But they never really do. They only retreat, still within listening range, where they'll wait for you to make a call. Maybe you'll go at it with your kid's vice-principal again!
In the fullness of time, you'll want to do some actual work. Unfortunately, your humane work environment has been purpose-designed to thwart work. Someone's yelling at Siri; someone else insists on having a radio at their desk; someone else is a serial throat-clearer. Seriously, that woman needs to see a doctor.
For God's sake, don't say that last bit out loud. It'll get back to Personnel in no time, since the Personnel person is your podmate. Every pod has one. This one's ruthless. Finn told Skylar that he saw him going through Alegra's desk the other day. Everyone's been talking about it in the bathroom, which is where people go to gossip and cry. Supposedly, he was looking for a stapler. But everyone knows that all stapling is done at the staple kiosk between the yoga cubby and the interfaith prayer closet.
You give up and take your laptop to the interfaith prayer closet. If anyone objects, you'll tell them you worship a digital God now. He demands that you make constant obeisance to Him. From your altar built of Commodore 64s. Which is at your apartment. Where you'll "work" from now on.
Hack your team
How to deal with every personality type on your team
- The Workaholic: Lives at his desk, smells of stale coffee and sweat. Vacation auto-reply has six types of contact info (cell, partner’s cell, cruise-ship co-ordinates…). Strategy: A lot of work addicts are just doing what they think the boss expects. So get in early, get your stuff done—and leave early. This signals that hours in the office don’t equal productivity.
- The Jerk: Typically found lurking, smartass remark at the ready, when anyone else screws up. Loves the phrase “not my circus, not my monkeys.” Strategy: Jerks are often top performers who crave attention. Next time they score a sick burn on someone, privately scold them, but also take the time to ask what’s really going on.
- The Slacker: Avoids assignments with the agility of a gibbon and the stealth of a panther. When crises arise, actually vanishes into thin air. Strategy: Institute daily all-staff check-in meetings, and only give the Slacker assignments with quantifiable goals. Come year-end, you’ll have a dossier of failure you can slam onto their desk like a cricket bat.
- The Loner: Easily the most efficient worker around, on account of never wasting time on conversation, or even facial expressions. Strategy: What’s to deal with? They’re probably just content to do their own thing. Let them know you’re there to listen if anything’s bothering them. Then, discreetly shove any tasks you can into their capable hands.
- The Politician: Never ends up on the wrong side of an argument. Steers clear of anyone who might challenge them, and dedicates several hours each day to charming co-workers—from secretaries on up. Strategy: Odds are they’re after your job, so handle with care—shun their obsequious toadying and you risk having them actively plot against you.
- The sap: Not especially competent, but pathologically nice. Covers desk with family photos, remembers everyone’s birthdays and organizes charity drives. Strategy: Go after the office cake-buyer and you will turn the rest of your team against you. Be eternally grateful that they boost employee morale so you don’t have to.
Axe performance reviews
Roughly 10% of Fortune 500 companies no longer do formal employee appraisals because ongoing feedback and praise are more motivating. Since ditching reviews
in 2012, Adobe has seen a 30% decrease in turnover and a 50% decrease in involuntary departures.
Make your meetings matter
Executives spend almost half their time stuck in meetings. Here's how to accomplish more while spending fewer hours at the table
- Distribute an agenda beforehand and follow it. Then follow up afterwards with specific actions that each attendee needs to take. —Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO
- Only invite those who absolutely need to be there. —Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder
- Keep it short—most meetings start to lose focus after 30 minutes. Encourage employees to walk out when they’re no longer gaining any value. —Ryan Holmes, founder of Hootsuite
- Ban meetings one day a week and encourage everyone to stick to it. —Dustin Moskovitz, Facebook co-founder
Why your company needs an employee recognition program
In 2012, JetBlue Airways created an employee recognition program where co-workers nominate one another for everyday effort or exemplary work. Recipients are immediately rewarded with points that can be redeemed for a free dinner, or saved toward a vacation or other big-ticket item. JetBlue has found that for every 10% increase in employees being recognized, it experiences a 3% increase in retention and a 2% increase in engagement.