Taking advantage of the relationship between engagement and productivity

Ken Murray continues his series on workplace energy levels by examining the relationship between engagement and productivity.

Each of the articles in this series has been formulated to step you through a journey. I have condensed everything I’ve learnt in the topic of engagement and productivity. It has worked for me to pick up my level productivity, keep up my engagement and therefore maintain my mental fitness in the face of some pretty rough days.

Without the right level of mental fitness, a few rough days that have happened because of factors you feel are outside of your control or sphere of influence can send you into a downward spiral that becomes much harder to get out from.

Let’s do a recap:

  • Part 1: The problem and the benefits, taking control of your own engagement and productivity regardless of circumstances. Like you’re being pulled out in a rip – don’t panic, start swimming sideways.
  • Part 2: Tapping into more purpose and meaning in what you’re doing by using second degree change (the same way our mind bounces around with negative thoughts when something bad happens).
  • Part 3: Understanding energy as a capacity to work and the way we become mentally fatigued.
  • Part 4: (This one) Engagement is directly proportional to how productive we feel and how productive we are or can be.

I will loosely define productivity as: the action we take and the results we realise. Have you ever got stuck into a project and just flown through it, completely smashed it, feel great about it and suddenly looked up, realised it was nine o’clock at night, you were the only one left standing and you didn’t know the alarm code to lock up? #facepalmmoment.

So you go home feeling energised, ready to take on the next challenge.

On the other hand there are days when you leave at 5pm, go to sleep at eight o’clock only to feel just as exhausted as when you left the day before. A lot of that stems from not feeling productive.

Not to say you didn’t do any work, but Peter Drucker’s words are burning in your mind: “There is nothing so wasteful as doing with great effort, that which needn’t be done at all.” 

Wasteful indeed. It doesn’t just waste your time, it wastes your energy too.

Further amplified through the phenomena is cognitive dissonance, where you go home tense about what you haven’t achieved that day, then when you hold tension in your sleep you don’t rest… and down we go.

Cognitive dissonance is essentially the mental stress that occurs when you are behaving contradictory to your values. In other words, you work on something all day that feels like busy work that serves no purpose. In these times you are using your core will power to push through.

Whereas when you feel empowered to work on something and you know you’re the best person for the job, you are being pulled to achieve.

The distinction between pushing yourself and being pulled through is vital in:

  • Managing your energy,
  • increasing your capacity to be more productive, and therefore
  • your level of engagement.

Sure, you can’t do engaging work every day, and more often than not work is anything but. This brings us back to the ideology that only the employer can control how engaged we are by what they delegate to the employee… but that’s not working. Otherwise, you’d have no interest in reading this article.

It is the entrepreneurial story flipped around.

An owner had to hire people to delegate work to. These people were necessary because the owners themselves were either not good at the task or had other higher value work they could do. It is inherent therefore you won’t always have fulfilling work laid out in front of you and will either be using your willpower to solve complex problems or you’ll be pulled to complete the task because of some kind of motivation whether that is extrinsic or intrinsic.

Hint: intrinsic motivation gets better results, especially in our game.

In 1962 Glucksberg modified the famous Candle Problem (a cognitive performance test originally developed by Karl Duncker in 1945). Essentially this test explores creative problem solving and innovative thinking in a time critical manner.

Here’s how it works.

On the desk in front of you, take:

  • One candle,
  • a box of matches,
  • a box of thumbtacks, and
  • a cork board wall adjacent the table.

The requirement is to light the candle in such a way that the wax doesn’t drip on the table.

In the original Candle Problem by Karl Duncker in 1945 they tested extrinsic motivation – i.e offering  a cash reward with one group, and another group where they simply explained “we’re timing for norms”, no rewards given, but “please finish it as quickly as you can”.

In these two groups the non-incentivised group (intrinsics) actually beat the incentivised group – which goes against how employers approach incentives.

In Glucksberg modification he changed one crucial aspect of the experiment; he took the thumbtacks out of the box in this scenario the extrinsics beat the intrinsics hands down.

What this tells us is extrinsic motivation works where mechanistic skills are engaged where there is a logical, clear and known or obvious process to get the result.

Intrinsic motivations works where creative problem solving skills are required to find a solution that is non-obvious, surprising and creative.

Intrinsic motivation makes us more productive for most of the work we’re doing.

When you’re calling on creativity and complex problem solving skills, intrinsic motivation, synonymous with your personal engagement is the most effective approach by far.

Key takeaways:

  • Focus on maintaining intrinsic motivation,
  • being productive helps you to stay engaged,
  • build momentum by starting your day with higher value activities,
  • build rituals to tackle mundane tasks that you don’t feel are important or don’t offer much reward, and
  • remove friction from your mind by identifying the tasks that are causing your cognitive dissonance and knocking them off.
Ken Murray
BY Ken Murray ON 13 October 2015
Ken Murray is the director of marketing for MEI Group, having now clocked over seven years of senior marketing experience specialising in the industrial sectors and B2B. 
Ken's background stems from a keen interest in pattern recognition and problem solving, which would eventually lead to an academic background in sociology (the 'why' question) to strategic marketing and business (the 'how' question). He believes success in business and marketing is about connecting the individual customer's 'why' to the business' 'how'. Next step is to operate efficiently and then you've got results, which is all he's interested in. Follow him @Kengetsitdone.