How Your Peer Group Influences Your Productivity

Who influences your productivity “set point?”

Here’s what I’ve noticed. The company you keep is a good predictor of how productive you are.

Let’s explore:

  1. How your peers influence you and…
  2. How to harness that influence for good:

If you’re in a hurry, grab my list of hand-picked resources that can upgrade your productivity through the exposure-effect.

How do your peers influence your productivity?

Let’s begin with a quick story. Holly was a skilled developer who was hired into her dream job - working for a well-known Silicon Valley company.

She quickly immersed herself in the busy work environment and was impressed with how the team pulled together to efficiently tackle projects. Everyone was dedicated to their work.

Seeing this, Holly worked harder. She was chosen for some key projects and found that as her reputation grew, she was offered more challenging projects.

She described how this group thrived on both teamwork and a sense of competitiveness at the same time. It was an environment that valued achievement, where peers encouraged and fed off each other’s drive to succeed.

Holly was promoted quickly and found herself managing several key accounts. However, she also discovered a flipside. The culture of the workplace valued hard work and talked about balance, but in practice, employees worked long hours and didn’t take breaks or vacations.

For a while, she adopted this same pattern. But it eventually caught up with her. “I was so burned out that my productivity was going downhill, and I wasn’t the only one.”

Your peer group will influence your productivity more than you realize. Holly spent a lot of her time at work and was immersed in the culture. And unfortunately, it was a culture that only understood one side of the high-productivity equation.

Researchers have found that worker productivity is contagious.

In fact, at work this “peer pressure” might emerge from forces that were not purposefully created by a firm. People tend to create their own workplace norms, so for companies that want to encourage productivity, it’s important to be involved in creating those cultures intentionally.

Your peers aren’t just those you work with, it’s the people you hang out with the most outside of work too. Friends, family, who you listen to on podcasts, or who you watch on television can all influence your productivity.

Jim Rohn famously said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, and this is one of the ways that truth comes to life.

Who influences your basic assumptions about what’s “normal” when it comes to the intensity of your work and the quality of your rest when you oscillate to recovery mode?

Research shows this form of passive social influence is quite powerful. When it comes to obesity for example, even friends of friends influence the likelihood that you will be obese.

Choose Your Peers Wisely

Our friends, family and peers have a big influence over how we think, feel and behave. If you feel low on self-control (a major component of productivity), surrounding yourself with strong-willed friends can help. Workplace peer-pressure can work positively to improve productivity, particularly as a way of keeping up with highly productive co-workers.

On the other hand, we can become co-conspirators with peers when it comes to things that might not be in our best interest (such as eating too many sweets).

This all suggests you should carefully choose who you spend most of your time with. It will impact you in ways you don’t even notice.

Does this mean you should ditch those friends who might influence you to be less productive? Some people do take it this far, but I wouldn’t be hasty to get rid of a good friend.

Instead, look for ways to adopt a healthy balance. For example, you can just add a few more people to your immediate network, particularly those who are highly productive.

You could also enlist your current peer group for good by being open and explaining what you’d like to achieve. They may be willing to help you stay on-track.

For example, you might ask them to check in with you on your progress and hold you accountable. Harness the power of peer pressure for good.

Select Some Influences

Saturate your mind with the right reading material and you’ll experience an automatic upgrade in your productivity. Adopt virtual mentors in the form of podcasts, books, or email lists like this one.

Repeated small doses are the key to success with this method. For example, I send out a regular email newsletter that raises your awareness of the productivity choices you are making (whether you notice it or not).

There are also some fantastic podcasts that will literally get the voices of very productive people floating through your thoughts each week.

The point is, you have options besides ditching your friends if you want a positive influence over your productivity. Books, podcasts, newsletters, blogs or video channels can serve as surrogates when you need to balance your peer group influence.

Limit Negative Influence

Let’s talk about “time vampires.”

These are people who consistently pull you away from your most important tasks, ignoring the value of your time.

This might be a co-worker who always wants to stop and chat when you’re in the middle of something, or a friend who asks for help on problems they could solve without relying on you if they tried. They just don’t recognize the value of your time, or the cost of using it up.

“Energy vampires” are similar. Like a time vampire, an energy vampire drains your productivity. But they drain your energy instead of your time. They deflate your positive morale. Or they have a negative interpersonal style that drains you emotionally.

Sometimes we have close friends or family who can be characterized in this way, and we don’t want to simply cut them out of our lives. My advice is to care for them in ways that leave you in control.

Before interacting with them, put on a mental shield by reminding yourself not to carry their negativity away with you. Be present with them for a time, and be the one influencing their thoughts, but without straining or trying to control. In other words, come alongside them for a time, helping to carry their load. But then set down that heavy burden, go your own way, and don’t carry their problems off with you.

Is there anyone you should cut out of your life entirely? Probably anyone who can be described as “toxic” overall. These people have every sort of “vampire” covered and will mess with your head too, especially if they get you entangled in their mind games. Not only is your productivity affected, but your overall well-being as well.

The Influence of Social Media

It probably comes as no surprise that social media usage has a negative impact on workplace productivity. But consider the way your friends can create pressure to spend more time on social media.

Sometimes, it can spawn a feeling that you need to keep up with others. If your connections are the sort who post about their meals, their dog, their kid’s school activities, and every aspect of their lives, you can start to feel that you need to spend more time posting to social media just to keep up.

In the long run, few people value the time they spend on social media as much as they value the sense of accomplishment from getting a meaningful task done or spending real one-on-one time with people they care about most. See Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism for an excellent review of the research.

Social media can be interesting, useful and convenient, however it can also generate envy, fear of missing out and social media addiction. It can easily become another time vampire in your life.

This raises the question, what can you do to improve the social network that influences your productivity habits online?

Here are my recommendations:

  1. Be deliberate. Set just one time-limited session per day on social media.
  2. Use social media to have conversations rather than just posting and liking.
  3. Be ruthless when it comes to notifications from social media. Turn them all off.

The Influence of Television

Have you ever watched a movie about a high-flying action hero and then felt sort of invincible as you walked out of the theater into the parking lot? That sort of influence can go both ways. And it builds up over time. So be mindful of the peer group you surround yourself with in the virtual world of TV.

Psychological research shows what we watch on TV can have a huge influence over how we think, act and feel. For example, people can get some of their social needs met by watching sitcoms. They start to feel like they really know and relate to the character on their screen and feel like they have socialized with an old friend after watching.

Television or movies may be a virtual world and a one-way interaction, but they can act to regulate our sense of what is normal behavior, influencing your set-point for self-discipline and productivity. Casual entertainment can have a significant psychological impact.

Get my picks for positive productivity influences here.

Get a Productivity Coach

Your peer group plays a key role in your overall productivity. Who you surround yourself with, including friends, colleagues, family, social media, television and other forms of media influences how you think, act and feel.

One of the most powerful ways to immediately upgrade your peer group is to work with a professional coach. A coaching relationship builds accountability and a regular schedule of focused influence into your life.

As a psychologist, I know all the literature inside and out when it comes to emotional well-being. Yet I’ve still hired a coach when I wanted to shift my mental state toward a more empowering emotional state of happiness. Why? Because it makes it automatic.

When it comes to the intangible, but powerful, world of the mind, habits, and beliefs, there are no physical reminders. So it’s easy to set an intention but never follow through for more than a day or two.

That’s where a professional coach can help. They know the right questions to ask to shift your mindset toward peak productivity and high performance over and over until it becomes a habit that sticks.

My challenge to you is this; choose two actions you can apply to upgrade the impact of your social sphere on your personal productivity. Brainstorm five ideas and then pick the best two for implementation this week.


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