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Apple’s New Sustainability Targets, Productivity Paranoia and the Dangers of Busywork: What We’re Reading This Week

April 14, 2023
A look at some news of note.

This week, I’m riding off the rush from all that Easter candy. I’ve also been blessed by lots of warm, sunny days and enjoyed taking the dog for plenty of walks in the fine weather.

Most of all, I feel that change is afoot. I know the old saying that “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” but in some ways, this feels different. For the first time in a while, I feel that some of these changes are positive and sustainable, the start of many great things to come.

It’s a matter of perspective, but when you can look at an existing challenge and come up with new ideas, it’s invigorating.

I know we are in different situations, and perhaps different seasons of life, but I hope that if you’re reading this, that my good mood is contagious. I think one of the greatest things about humanity is that a small gesture, a kind word or seemingly insignificant action can be a spark for someone else.

There are plenty of things that can weigh us down, but I hope you will find things to be excited about, passionate about and create new goals to work toward. Spring is all about renewal, so spend some time in nature and get inspired for all the things to come. And, given that it’s Earth Month, pick up any litter you find to help keep the planet beautiful.

Until next time, stay safe and be well.

Apple ups the Ante on Sustainability

Yesterday, Apple announced another big step to be more sustainable.

Apple will move to 100% recycled cobalt in its batteries by 2025. This includes the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and MacBooks. The company has been working on increasing reuse of cobalt over the past few years. In 2022, 25% of all cobalt in Apple products came from recycled material, double from 2021.

Cobalt is used in the manufacture of almost all lithium ion rechargeable batteries used in the world today, but the process of extracting the mineral is harmful to the miners and the environment.

Apple is making similar efforts to recycle other key materials for its electronics, including aluminum, tungsten and rare earth metals. Apple has previously announced it would double its use of recycled materials in products and eliminate plastic in packaging by 2025; it is also trying to achieve carbon neutrality by 20230.

Given that Apple has a $3 trillion market cap, it seems probable that their actions will cause a ripple that prompts other companies to follow suit. The timing of the announcement is no coincidence. But if, at the end of the day, people are safer while doing their job and the environment is safer for future generations, well, that seems like a win for everyone.

Read more here.  

How Paranoia Zaps Productivity

I understand the feeling of always having to be “on.” I didn’t realize that it’s morphed into something bigger called productivity paranoia.

Microsoft defines the phenomena as “where leaders fear that lost productivity is due to employees not working, even though hours worked, number of meetings, and other activity metrics have increased.”  It’s most commonly found in remote and hybrid work environments. It may also be in response to employers installing technology (e.g., tracking software, surveillance cameras and GPS data) to monitor employees’ active data.

And while leaders believe such technology guarantees workers are, indeed, working, it also creates paranoia and can lead to a toxic work culture and all that typically encompasses them, including turnover, distrust and—ironically—lower productivity.

Typically, these decisions are made at the topmost levels of management, but author L’oreal Thompson Payton offers steps managers and workers can take to help reduce some of the anxiety and fight or flight response that comes with every email or Teams chat.

I encourage you to read the article in full, but there’s one aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked: creating an environment where people feel psychologically safe—and where they take care of their of their mental, emotional and physical health.

Read more here.

The Cost of Busyness

The subtitle for this article immediately caught my attention: “Organizations must stop conflating activity with achievement.”

This article takes a deep dive into how we spend our time at work and our obsession with productivity. It also explores the affects of “time poverty,” or what we all to well know as having too many things to do and not enough time to do them.

I hadn’t heard the term time poverty before reading this article, but researchers and scientists have found evidence that being busy all the time can lead to a decline in mental, emotional and physical health. For example, a 2021 World Health Organization report found that overwork can increase the risk of stroke, heart disease and death.

But unfortunately, it’s not clear that things will change. By and large, we idolize being busy, having a schedule full of meetings, and working nights and weekends. It’s time to reverse course, argues author Adam Waytz.

It’s funny. Adam’s article is quite long, and I wondered whether I had the time to read it and include it in this review. I’m glad I did because digesting it and losing myself in such insightful writing gave me a chance to exercise parts of my brain and helped me reach a state of deep work. In many ways, reaching that mental state can feel more of an accomplishment than crossing off a to-do list full of busy work.

Adam recommends five ways that organizations can stop focusing on being busy. They’re solid ideas, though I think figuring out how to balance and implement them is a daunting task, something that many organizations may not want to invest in (even though there is strong evidence of a return on investment).

In the meantime, I encourage you to read this article and ask yourself these three questions that came to me while reflecting on Adam’s recommendations: How do I spend my time? How do I actually want to spend my time? Are there any changes I can make that would allow me to spend more of my time on things I want to (without any negative or unintended consequences)?

One thing I will try to consider is the frequency and urgency of tasks. Perhaps I can save the last hour of the day for responding to emails rather than responding to them right away, so that I don’t get interrupted or distracted from deep work. Your answers to those questions will vary based on the type of work you do and the environment in which you perform it. Whatever it is, I hope that we can find ways to be less busy and time poor.

Read more here.

About the Author

Nicole Stempak

Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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