4 Non-Chemical Ways to Stimulate Productivity

Many workers rely on tall cups of java and nootropic pills for brain fuel, but startups can produce better results by caring for employee well-being and time management.

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By Frank Schilling


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Silicon Valley has become obsessed with milking every bit of hidden productivity it can find -- so obsessed, in fact, that many companies have lost sight of what sustainable productivity actually looks like.

To live up to this unrealistic standard, some workers have recently turned to nootropics, pills designed to boost brainpower, increase drive and produce other pleasant (and unverifiable) effects. While these cognitive enhancers might be the next logical step in our coffee-crazed culture, companies can't advocate for magic productivity pills without opening themselves up to potential liability.

Related: 5 Ways That Coffee Affects Productivity

While most aren't cramming their workers full of stimulants, few businesses actually invest in the well-being of their employees. I like to think of our employees at Uniregistry as the organic, free-range kind -- they might be more expensive or require a little extra effort, but in the end, they're worth it for the health of the business.

Optimizing productivity the right way

Nootropics such as Modafinil fail to address the reality that creating a productive environment takes time and money. In fact, a recent study by Dr. Andreas G. Franke and others found that the drug had some unexpected side effects that could do as much harm as good. Chess players who used Modafinil before play did improve slightly, but their reaction times were also slower than average -- meaning that any potential gains in processing power were matched with poorer time management.

No, happy pills aren't the answer. Better systems and technology negate the need for what nootropics aspire to be. Instead of drugs and stress, our team takes a more wholesome approach that still manages to get the most from our workers. While they may take a little more out of the company budget, these approaches can be far more valuable -- both to the employees and to the company as a whole.

1. Fuel your team properly.

At Uniregistry, we are big believers in providing high-quality food to our employees in-house, because the stress of finding a decent meal (let alone a healthful one) makes lunchtime more distracting and draining than it should be. How can people be productive if they spend 40 minutes of an hour-long break finding, cooking, preparing and cleaning?

Related: 3 Ways Providing Company Meals Increases Productivity

Likewise, we find that these shared lunches inspire people to collaborate. Hungry people make bad decisions, and some of the best ideas and most revolutionary updrafts in our organization have come over a daily lunch break, which happens impromptu and in collaboration with others.

Eating cleaner and healthier isn't cheap, but we absorb that expense for our people, and they become brighter-eyed dynamos who need fewer nootropics.

2. Encourage efficient time management.

While productive times vary from person to person, most people don't work their hardest during the first or last hour of the day. Often, those windows between 10 a.m. and noon and between 1 and 4 p.m. are the most productive. That's just five hours a day.

Use morning hours for task-specific meetings to set direction for the day. As mentioned above, brainstorming freeform sessions are best over lunch, because food and casual conversation lead to more relaxed ideas and breakthroughs.

One more trick we use is the 30-minute meeting. According to research compiled by Attentiv, 64 percent of all meetings last more than an hour. These meetings often force people to drag out content and discourage getting to the point. The more people in the meeting, the more time wasted. We cut that time down so meetings can serve their intended purpose of exchanging information and making group decisions.

We advocate for frequent breaks, as well. A study by The Draugiem Group shows that people tend to work better when they focus for a little under an hour, then take a short break before diving back in. No one can go 100 miles per hour all day, every day.

Related: Here's Why the 8-Hour Workday Doesn't Work

3. Implement better management software.

Whether it's time management or project management, all the time spent between actual work adds up quickly. Research by Bain and Co. shows that, on average, companies lose a full 20 percent of their production to non-work processes and structures.

The right management software helps boost productivity by taking the guesswork out of where your efforts should go. Someone amped up to do work shouldn't expend half of that energy figuring out what needs to be done.

Trello boards help coordinate tasks for novices, while Jira is better for more technical operations. Communication software like Slack has taken off in tech crowds, but we prefer Skype -- it's natural, it's simple and it doesn't have a steep learning curve.

One of the main problems with management software is that it adds complexity to something that doesn't need it. Instead, software should be invisible. Hundreds of solutions are available to entrepreneurs take the headache out of working on how to work. Find one that makes sense, and put it to use so you can start working on your business (and not just in it).

4. Talk openly, but value reflection.

Workplace stress takes a toll, especially when compounded with all of life's other roadblocks. Talk openly about challenges and successes to create a culture that values feedback and active listening.

To de-stress, consider implementing a mindfulness meditation program, which can help workers learn to put their full attention into the present moment. When the distractions of the world don't bleed into the task at hand, that task suddenly becomes much simpler.

We don't need supplements and high-pressure tactics to get productivity out of our teams. With a focus on eliminating time waste and an investment into employee well-being, productivity gains happen naturally.

Frank Schilling

Entrepreneur and angel investor

Frank Schilling is an experienced technology entrepreneur, angel investor and important thought leader in the domain name industry. As the founder and CEO of Uniregistry, Frank is behind the creation of dozens of new domain name endings (such as .cars, .photo and .game) as well as the fastest-growing domain name registrar and aftermarket sales platform in the world. His instincts and passion have inspired a team of engineers, brokers and designers to create products and services that are shaping the future of how people launch new businesses and get online.

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