Flexibility Can Actually Hurt Your Productivity

But managers and employees can work together to make routines more effective, a new study finds.
Flexibility Can Actually Hurt Your Productivity
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If you find that you always do the quickest tasks first or tend to group similar activities together, you may be hurting your productivity, a recent study found.

For the study, researchers from Harvard Business School, the University of Texas at San Antonio and UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School examined 2.4 million radiological diagnoses issued by doctors. They found that as the doctors gained more experience, they were more likely to put their own spin on how they like to get things done, but that digression from the norm actually made their work flow less effective.

The researchers identified that doctors in the study deviated from the prescribed scheduling more than 42 percent of the time, and often batched the same kinds of tasks together, such as examining x-rays. They also found that when the doctors created their own schedules, each task took 13 percent longer to complete than if they completed them in an assigned order.

Related: 10 Successful Founders Share Their Top Productivity Tips

So with that in mind, what can managers do to ensure better productivity in the workplace?

The researchers recommend educating employees about the costs attached to changing up a routine, but also talking with them about what tools they need to complete the tasks in the order that they are assigned more effectively.

“Managers can collaborate with workers to improve scheduling strategies,” wrote the researchers. “Workers can identify when they deviate from the assigned order and why they believe it improves performance. With this knowledge, an individual or organization could test these ideas. Identifying productive deviations could help the individual’s productivity and perhaps result in beneficial changes to the organization’s recommended task schedule.”

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