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How can I increase my productivity at work?

David Reese, vice president of people and culture at MedalliaDavid Reese, vice president of people and culture at Medallia
David Reese, vice president of people and culture at MedalliaCourtesy of David Reese

Leadership Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What’s your best advice for staying productive at work? is written by David Reese, vice president of people and culture at Medallia.

My best advice for staying productive at work? Stop thinking about work as a place, and then do less work. This follows the platitude that everyone is different. Everyone has a unique chemistry for being more productive.

Maybe you’re a morning person who does your best work between 6 a.m. and noon in a quiet place with a strong cup of coffee. Or maybe you thrive in the chaos of an open office when you’re ideating, but need to be home alone to execute on important projects. Maybe you prefer to take your meetings outside on a walk, or over happy–hour. Maybe there’s no place you’d rather crush your to-do list than sitting in a cubicle and basking under fluorescent lights.

Nonetheless, I think it’s an archaic belief to think that only real work gets done between the four walls of an office, conference room, cubicle, or computer screen. It’s why I’ll often encourage my team to get up from their desks; to go outside; to do one-on-one’s while walking and talking; to attend events that speak to their passions or improve their expertise; and to seek environments — from coffee shops to couches — that will inspire them to do their best work.

You need to know yourself and what makes you tick best for this trick to work. And you also need leaders or managers who can create an atmosphere where you want to work in the first place. In my experience, once you have these elements in place, you’ll not only be more productive, but you’ll also find yourself in an environment where you feel happier, more creative, and more respected by your leaders.

Of course, some roles and companies have limitations because of the clients they serve or a variety of other needs they have, which might make them less capable of the flexibility I’m describing. But this is where it takes some creativity on the part of leadership to first challenge these assumptions by asking why certain processes, procedures, and organizational structures exist — and then, for the remaining necessities, design new environments or opportunities for employees’ freedom.

This could be as simple as converting break rooms to accommodate different working styles. Or, for a dispersed workforce that might not get the benefits of interacting in an office, provide opportunities to easily connect with other employees and develop skills online. Regardless of the circumstances, I challenge organizations and leaders who believe there are no opportunities to evolve, to keep this approach in mind.

Perhaps, more broadly, this part of my advice is logical, and it’s a management style that’s gaining traction beyond the tech startup world. But as for my second piece of advice, why would I be recommending people produce less to be more productive? Because I want to reclaim the very word ‘productive’ from the busy people of the world. You know who you are, and to some extent we’re all guilty of it. We create ‘work’ for ourselves — things done or volunteered for that keep our to-do lists long and us sitting at our desks. But, in doing so, we’ve confused productivity with busy work and lost sight of impact — impact that’s ultimately going to make you and your business successful. Look at your to-do list. What on it will bring the most impact? Are those things a priority? If so, are there more opportunities for similar work and less of the filler?

If you can do these two things — change the way you think about work and then produce less of it — then you’ll truly become more productive. You’ll have the energy to tackle important challenges and the headspace (and time) to get that most impactful work done. People will start to take notice, no cubicle or laundry list required.

Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: What’s your best advice for staying productive at work?

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The real reason you can’t focus at work by Sandhya Venkatachalam, co-founder and partner of Centerview Capital.

Want to be more productive? Start understanding your brain by Ryan Smith, CEO and founder of Qualtrics.

3 ways to stay productive while working remotely by Jeff Rodman, co-founder of Polycom.

This CEO says you should work less to be more productive by Jim Yu, CEO of BrightEdge.

The biggest career lesson this Navy SEAL learned in Iraq by Chris Fussell, chief growth officer at McChrystal Group.

Here’s how to keep your employees happy (and productive) by Michael Keoni DeFranco, founder and CEO of Lua.

9 things you can do every day to be more productive by Ryan Harwood, CEO of PureWow.

How managers are killing the productivity of their employees by Todd McKinnon, co-founder and CEO of Okta.

Warby Parker’s Co-CEO: Why it’s okay to say ‘no’ to your boss by Dave Gilboa, co-CEO of Warby Parker.