We’ve all heard the tired workplace phrases like “optimize your time” and “prioritize your tasks,” and you’ve especially heard this if you’re in a bustling start up with a mountain of work teetering toward an avalanche. The challenge we’re faced with is to perform the impossible, to prioritize our time and optimize tasks when there just aren’t enough work hours in the day. If you factor in meetings, fielding questions, answering email and so on, the fact remains that you have a pretty limited bandwidth in which to actually work. And with productivity being a relentless buzzword in 2015 as it was in 2014, the question I predict that is going to run the gauntlet this year is: how do you increase productivity without losing your soul? “Losing your soul” is an important risk to mention. We can all increase productivity. We can show up to work earlier, stay later, eat lunch at our desk, web surf a little less, socialize with our peers less...and have a little less soul at the end of the day. The fact is you shouldn’t have to consistently and unreasonably come in earlier each day or stay later. This is important time you need to yourself, to pursue your passions or spend time with your family to unplug and recharge. You shouldn’t have to eat lunch at your desk. It’s important to get out of the office, get some fresh air, and be in a different physical space for a while – which is also why I’m suspect of any company that offers free lunch when we all really need that time away. Moving on, web surfing is an important task breaker that gives micro mental escapes from a series of tasks. It’s a privilege, that when treated with respect, shouldn’t be an issue for productivity. The 10 or 15 minutes you might save in a day when not web browsing isn’t worth what you’re losing out on – which is a chance to introduce a new thought or idea to your mind in the form of small creative interruptions that actually trigger productivity. It’s the same as getting up from your desk to walk around the building for a while – it’s something your mind needs … which brings us to socializing. Socializing with your peers is important for team building and creating rapport. Again, when done within reason, it shouldn’t take away that much time for your day. So we’re back at the question of how do you ‘optimize’ your day without sacrificing these small treasures that are part of creating a positive workplace environment. The dilemma for any company facing this problem is in finding a way to increase individual productivity without turning your workplace into a machine in which each person is little more than a cog. Across the good handful of companies I’ve worked with on consulted for, by far the most successful, effective and relaxed environments were those that offered limited task interruption. The ideal combination was an open work space (an open floor concept that encourages collaboration and synergy, but one in which there were set times for interruptions). This means that questions for team members were saved for meetings and project discussions were also saved for either email communication or meetings. The approach is successful for one key reason and that’s the limited level of interruption such an arrangement is able to ensure. You can read those emails at your leisure when you’re done with a task and meetings are something that can be planned for. Conversely, when each time a team member had to stop and address an outside question or task, they were set behind on their ongoing task by anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes, which doesn’t include the time it takes to mentally “get back into” what you were doing before. If productivity is the name of the game in 2015, find out what interruptions your employees are facing on daily basis and put an end to it. And if your team suffers from group think – something I discussed in an earlier blog post this week – then opt for an anonymous online survey by Survey Monkey. This way you’ll get real answers (and possibly even suggestions for solutions) without anyone being put on the spot or throwing others under the bus.