Helping One Another To Keep a Creative Edge

Success in the current economy rests upon great ideas.

To justify a serious salary and to assure continuing options for interesting work, people need to produce work that is distinct, creative, and worthwhile. Simply putting in time is not enough.

However, in many instances, simple attendance functions as a proxy for productivity. Both employees and their supervisors become content with just showing up. They stop striving to find ways to assure that people fulfill their potential when they are at work.

A lot of evidence has demonstrated that working long hours is bad for your health. No research has found that working long hours is good for your productivity, especially when refined skills or creative ideas are the essence of productivity. The contrary is more the case.

A recent article in the New York Times described the work of K. Anders Ericsson on the way physiological rhythms intersect with productivity. A 90-minute session of concentrated activity fits well with physiological rhythms associated with subjective energy and concentration. Then people need a rest. Slogging on with practicing the violin, doing free throws, chairing meetings, or writing reports leads to worse performance.

The authors argue for people pursing a more sustainable pattern of work, but this shift is tough for individuals. Although people certainly do push themselves excessively to fulfill their personal expectations, they are also behaving this way because of the expectations of their colleagues and bosses. Driven behavior is social behavior in many ways.

Shifting into more sustainable work patterns benefits from a mutli-level approach from individuals, workgroups, and organizations.

    • Individuals: Block time for concentrated work, buffered from all forms of communication, distractions, and lower-order chores. Set a timer and work steadily until it rings.

    • Groups: Have conversations about respecting one another’s concentrated work periods. Devise solutions for covering calls, drop-ins, and other forms of important contacts that occur during those periods by cross-scheduling, etc. It improves workgroup resiliency.

    • Organizations: Build flexibility into work schedules and designate resources to help workgroups manage concentrated work time. Assure that performance management values quality of work over putting in time.

Is your worksetting ready to support concentrated creativity?

What are the most important changes you need in your workday to attain this goal?

2 Comments

  1. Dear Dr. Leiter:

    In my experience and in my worplace, I recommended to work 45 minutes and then take a rest. It is based on observation. People finds difficult to be in their workspace more than that. They tend to find a reason to move away from their desks and take a couple of minutes more to copy documents, to make a record review, and so on. But I admit that this routine is not well balanced with concentred work and people feels more guilt than relaxation, because they accumulate work doing what I’ve descrive. I’ll take into account your observation about concentrated work and programmed rest periods.

    Thanks

    Heriberto

    1. Heriberto
      It is very important for people to find the work patterns that suit them and that suit the kind of work they do. Work varies in its demands of physical exertion or mental concentration, so the timing must adapt. And people change from day-to-day and over the course of a career.

      Flexible responsiveness is very important.
      Cheers,
      Michael

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