The Psychology of Productivity
Americans want to work. They like to work. It's not
uncommon for some business professionals to put in well over
hours of work per week, and statistics show that the U.S.
is one of the small number of nations that do not require
time off each week.
But does being a workaholic equal being productive? What
makes Americans so consumed with being productive and what
factors encourage productivity?
definition of productivity is defined as a measure of
the efficiency of a person, machine, factory, or system in
converting inputs into useful outputs, and by that definition,
productivity among American workers has increased in recent
years. However, wages — which Americans directly correlate
to productivity have remained stagnant.
Experts and studies have found that human productivity is
affected greatly by different psychological factors. And the
answer is more than just looking
at cute pictures of cuddly baby animals.
Productivity in the Workplace
Functions of the brain play a large role in how and why people
are productive at work or not so productive. A series of experiments
conducted at a factory outside of Chicago from 1924-1932,
later dubbed the Hawthorne Effect, revealed that worker productivity
increased due to the
psychological stimulus of being singled out and made to feel
"This intervention makes sense for the average person
since on average people (consciously or unconsciously) feel
a bit insecure and have vulnerabilities of self-esteem, and
therefore, any intervention which reduces that insecurity
and improves self-esteem (especially if not implemented in
a childish manner) is going to improve mood, reduce anxiety,
improve motivation and improve productivity," said David
M. Reiss, MD, a psychiatrist with more than 25 years of experience.
"If the 'singling out' is done in a way
that feels parental, people who are basically more dependent
are generally more likely to respond positively, whereas people
who are more narcissistic will feel demeaned and it will be
Reiss added that people with extremely low self-esteem may
feel that they don't deserve the attention, triggering
conscious or unconscious guilt or anxiety that may be counterproductive.
People who have mild narcissistic tendencies, which includes
the average person, will thrive on the attention; people who
are severely narcissistic or antisocial may smugly feel that
it's about time they are recognized which could result
in resentment, a subtle counterproductive rebellion or a reaction
to 'rest on their laurels' after the attention
and 'ease up' rather than becoming motivated to
be more productive.
Keeping Busy vs. Being Productive
Students and workers alike dread hearing the term "busy
work." The accepted meaning of busy work among Americans
is assignments or projects designed to take up time, but that
aren't necessarily constructive or productive. This
happens not only in educational settings, but in the workplace
environment as well.
The problem with busy work, other than frustrating employees
and possibly lowering company morale, is that people often
mistake being busy with being productive. Even if some work
evokes a sense of urgency, it doesn't mean it's
productive. This blog
identifies some common nonproductive tasks such as checking
emails, holding meetings, and reading/updating social media.
These tasks are important, but can be endless and time-consuming
and the blog author suggests the problem doesn't lie
so much in the task itself, but in the amount of time dedicated
to doing it.
Using the scenario of a person being able to sort through
more than 200 emails in less than 15 minutes if needed, he
questions why it takes hours every day to check half as many
emails if there's no need to do so.
He deduces: "I believe it's because you're
accepting email as an interruption and stopping something
productive to respond. You're focused on accomplishing
something, just about to have a breakthrough, and [you receive
an email]. It's from your boss, colleague, or grandma.
You stop what you're doing and respond."
These slight interruptions break concentration and focus,
and if they happen several times a day, can significantly
impact one's level of productivity. In order to be productive
— not busy — the author suggests:
- Only check emails a few times per day.
- Minimize time spent on the phone.
- Keep meetings brief or stay out of them completely.
- Stop "keeping yourself updated" with news
- Stay off social media.
However, there are numerous jobs where constant use of social
media and perusing of blogs for different trends is the norm,
expected even. These workers, as well as those that work extensively
with computers, may be part of a growing number of digital-era
workers who use two
or more computer screens. Whether working at the office
or at home, multiple monitors allows users to look at multiple
data streams with simply a shifting of the eyes.
There have been studies
that find multiple monitors can increase productivity. But
experts maintain it really depends on the type of work a person
does and the characteristics of the person.
The psychological effect of multiple monitors on an average
person, Reiss said, is that they're likely to make a
person feel more important, thereby improving self-esteem,
creating a feeling of respect from employers, and increasing
motivation and productivity.
"From another point of view, multiple screens may actually
be less distracting in that [the average person] who is going
to wonder what is happening in another area (i.e. on a different
screen) will have a tendency to switch back and forth more
frequently out of curiosity, which may decrease productivity
or even be tiring — probably most of the time checking the
other screen will not provide anything useful," he said.
"If all the information is immediately available, a
simple glance over may provide reassurance that nothing important
is being missed rather than having to actually stop what they
are working on and change screens which may allow for better
focus and productivity and may reduce a subtle anxiety regarding
possibly missing something."
How Food and Diet Affect Productivity
Diet and nutrition are large components of an individual's
lifestyle. The types of food people eat, the portion size,
and what time of day they eat it all factor in — directly
or indirectly — to productivity.
For example, there's the argument
for breakfast, commonly referred to as the "most
important meal of the day."
Experts say that eating breakfast provides the blood with
glucose, which is needed for energy. Since people do not eat
during the night, the body's glucose levels drop during
that time period and an early morning breakfast allows the
body to break down food into simple sugars that are absorbed
into the bloodstream where they travel to the body's
cells to produce energy.
For this reason, experts advise against skipping breakfast
because people could be losing
out on several hours of productivity until they take their
first bite of food for the day.
But which foods encourage productivity? There has been much
talk of brain foods — foods that have been said to improve
brain function. Here are some foods that have been identified
to bolster productivity:
- Berries: The antioxidants found in various
berries are supposed to help counteract stress and researchers
have found women who ate more blueberries and strawberries
likely to display less rapid cognitive deterioration as
- Eggs: Eggs, the yolks
specifically, are full of choline, a nutrient often
classified with B-complex vitamins. Choline helps maintain
the structure of brain cell membranes, which aids brain
- Salmon: This fish is rich in omega-3
fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory agents. These
up the central nervous system in the brain and helps
cognitive function overall.
- Dark Chocolate: Who said chocolate is
bad for you? Studies have found that consuming
dark chocolate can not only lower blood pressure and
increase blood flow to the brain, but it also contains caffeine
which is a mild stimulant.
It's widely known that regular exercise can improve a person's
health, but it's also known to boost
"Exercising releases endorphins in the brain,"
said clinical psychologist Ingeborg Hrabowy.
are chemicals that are produced in response to certain stimuli
and can originate in various parts of the body, including
the pituitary gland, spinal cord and other parts of the brain
and nervous system.
"Exercising four times a week for approximately 20 to
30 minutes is the equivalent of 20 milligrams of Prozac. What
a boost!" Hrabowy said. "Exercising also de-stresses
you, clears the mind, and gives a great break to work and
play — all known to increase and boost productivity."
Recovering from Illness and/or Injury
How productive an individual is often depends on his or her
circumstance and certain factors such as illness and disability
can hinder productivity.
For example, people who suffer from severe anxiety or Obsessive
Compulsive Disorder (OCD) would have a tendency to recheck
their work, which may drag on their productivity, Hrabowy
said. Their tendency to become stressed and overwhelmed can
also be a barrier to productivity, even if the work is more
accurate because the performance would be slower.
Reiss breaks down the psychological factors influencing productivity
into four areas:
- Level of maturity and resolution of dependency
issues: "Those who are more childlike, immature,
or those who are openly or covertly needy and dependent
are going to tend to unconsciously nurse an injury longer,
and remain disabled longer than a person who has no conflicts
regarding being autonomous and productive, or who highly
values or even over-values independence and autonomy."
- Family dynamics: Reiss identified two
different types of families: those that will overcompensate
and overreact to a person with an injury, providing more
attention and caring than would otherwise be available,
thus increasing unconscious motivation to maintain the injured
role; and dysfunctional families who may react in a negative
or hostile way to an injured person, seeing them as useless
or worthless. "While at times this will motivate the person
to 'get better' more often, it will engender anger and a
defensive rebellion which will lead to the person unconsciously
wanting to prove that they are indeed injured/disabled."
- Peer relationships/enjoyment of work:
"People who enjoy their work and have good relationships
with peers at work will obviously be better motivated to
return to normal functioning; whereas those who are resentful
at work, uncomfortable with peers, feeling put-upon or taken
advantage of, etc. (even if not intentionally or consciously),
will perceive an injury as a 'ticket out' and tend to 'make
the most of it.'
- Sincerity: "A certain percentage of
overtly manipulative people or people with antisocial tendencies
will see an injury as an opportunity to intentionally manipulate
and misuse the disability system. As opposed to what is
commonly assumed, in my experience, among people with who
do not respond well to injuries, this group of outright
'malingerers' is far, far smaller than those who have difficulties
in one of the other three areas."
A person's productivity level can be influenced by numerous
psychological factors. With the U.S. being a society that
is inherently focused on productivity, knowing ways in which
to improve productivity can be beneficial in the workplace
as well as to a person's overall health and well-being.
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Article Source: onlinepsychologydegree.net
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