Autonomy and Productivity… Better Together!

Tuesdays from 4:00- 5:00 pm.  In the car. While our middle child is in gymnastics, I have found that this hour of concentrated time in a concentrated space leads to some productive homework time with my oldest.  While his newborn brother snoozes in his car seat, we tackle third-grade homework. And there is a lot of it. 

Take our list for Tuesday of this past week: 

-A math worksheet due Wednesday

-At least 10 minutes of multiplication facts practice that has to be signed off on each day by a parent for a grade

-Practice for a vocabulary test on Thursday (this is our greatest challenge usually)

-Practice for a spelling test on Friday

-Reading for a READO (think BINGO) assignment that requires reading five books in five different genres and passing an AR test (80 or above) to “READO” for the grading period

Where do you start?  

I used to dictate how this list played out.  Sometimes I opted to start with the hardest thing to conquer on the list, or maybe the most time consuming or maybe depending on my mood, I’d choose the opposite route- easiest, longest, etc.

But, now, I’m letting the eight-year-old decide what he wants to start with, and it seems to help his motivation. His motivation seems to come from a lowered stress level given the little bit of control I give him over conquering the homework. 

And he’s not alone.  Giving people control, or autonomy, in the workplace, also impacts stress and performance.  Take a listen to Your Brain at Work: How Do Humans Fit into the Future of Work?  Guest of the podcast, Lynda Gratton, a professor at the London School of Business says this:

“A lot of places aren’t healthy and that seems to be a real focus right now.  And actually one of the variables that seem to impact healthy workplaces is the level of autonomy that people have…..if people have control over when and where they work, that’s a really good thing.” 

She relates the correlation of healthy workplaces and autonomy by a lowered stress level when autonomy is present.  Dr. David Rock goes on in the podcast to cite two studies about the impact of autonomy. One in the workplace were allowing workers to make simple choices about their workspace led to increased productivity. And, interestingly enough, in a retirement home where simple choices about décor led to increased wellbeing as seen in a reduction of the death rate!

Third-grade homework isn’t life and death. For us though, it is often a source of stress.  By allowing the person under stress a level of autonomy as to how the work gets done leads to better productivity and wellbeing.  

It isn’t so much the order of how it gets done. The order in which he wants to get it done changes with his mood too. It’s the simple fact that he gets to choose the order that leads to better results. 

Maybe next we will move on to allowing him control over where the work gets done.  For now, though, the controlled environment of the car seems to work well. 

Where do you allow for autonomy in how work gets done? 


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Mary Ila Ward

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