How to Work Smarter—and HappierNone By Dixie Wright
It’s completely normal to struggle to be productive when you’re unhappy. And if you've ever experienced clinical depression, you know that it's incredibly hard to go beyond the call of duty when you're dealing with a mood disorder. You may not be surprised to find that happiness and productivity are, in many ways, synonymous. In fact, research shows that high levels of happiness are directly correlated to improved productivity.
The research on this concept continues to grow, including findings such as:
• Happy employees are 12% more productive.
• Happy employees generate 37% more sales.
• A positive brain is 31% more productive.
Companies are taking action, too. The 2015 Employee Benefits report found that more than two-thirds of U.S. companies offer some type of employee wellness program. So how can you create optimal happiness to perform at higher levels? Two things are clear: It's necessary to find enjoyment in productivity, and to work smarter, not harder.
How Do You Find Enjoyment?
One way to enjoy productivity is to focus on helping others. Think about it: When you show up to your job, aren’t you and your coworkers working toward one common goal? What about when you’re cleaning dishes at home that aren’t yours? While it’s natural to want to complain about your job, or to complain about cleaning the dishes your partner left on the coffee table, shifting your thinking to how you can help others changes everything.
Researchers have found that in the workplace, helping others is actually more important to happiness and engagement than receiving is. Those who provide social support are not only 10 times more likely to be engaged at work than employees who keep to themselves, but are also 40% more likely to get a promotion.
However, there’s one caveat: Those with high pro-social motivation (read: people who care deeply about the welfare of others) can feel exhausted after helping coworkers. Michigan State University found that employees with high pro-social motivation feel more depleted after helping others than their less pro-social counterparts. The takeaway? Be mindful of your well-being—if you're noticing that your efforts to be helpful are actually depleting rather than energizing you, you may want to take a step back.
Furthermore, not taking the time out of your life for personal interests can negatively affect productivity levels. The truth is, hobbies—such as photography, yoga, writing, cooking, and more—offer many potential benefits to increase overall well-being and focus:
• Positive activities can lower depression.
• Photography enhances engagement.
• Singing with others can boost the immune system.
• Writing motivates and helps us process situations.
• Reading fiction can improve our capacity for empathy.
• Cooking and baking may boost confidence.
To receive psychological benefits and increase fulfillment, help others when you can, and cater to your personal interests. Distributing your energy wisely can work wonders for your happiness and productivity.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
Society tells you your entire life that you need to work hard. At first glance, it makes sense; it’s easy to work yourself into the ground and think you’re doing the right thing. However, working too hard can actually be counterproductive. Overworking damages health, causes stress, and even increases risk for mental decline.
So what’s the solution? Studies show that incorporating mindfulness—a present-centered attention and awareness—into the workplace not only improves focus, but also increases the ability to manage stress and work in teams. According to Harvard Business Review, neuroscientists have found that mindfulness affects the brain's hippocampus and anterior cingulate cortex in ways that improve self-regulation and resilience. Practicing mindfulness lowers stress, improves work performance, and helps you work smarter, not harder.
Try practicing mindfulness with 3 simple steps:
1. Sit with your back straight and your eyes closed.
2. Notice the feeling of your breath coming in and going out.
3. When thoughts distract you, come back to focusing on the breath.
Another way to work smarter is to keep your ultradian rhythm—a natural body cycle that occurs every 90 to 120 minutes—in mind. Think about the last time you were working, feeling energized and productive...but after about an hour or so, you started to lose focus. This is the ultradian rhythm, and research shows that trying to push through this tiredness may be counterproductive. Instead, take short breaks periodically to increase productivity.
Distributing your energy wisely can be difficult, and happiness and productivity suffer because of it. But with a few easy reminders to help others, have fun, be present, and work wisely, optimal happiness and productivity are yours to thrive in.
Dixie Wright is a freelance writer who partners with brands to help people build fulfilling, healthy lives. When she’s not working on content strategies, she’s meditating, exercising, or refocusing with self-care. Connect with Dixie at dixiewright.com.
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