I was talking with a friend at the start of the year who described her 2017-year like this;
‘The year started with excitement after a great 4 week break. I had ideas how I wanted the year to be, reflected on the previous year and what I needed to do differently and was going to work that up into a plan. But I didn’t quite get that far. Soon after I returned to work a huge tidal wave hit, I saw it coming and I started swimming as fast as I could to stay ahead of it, or at least tried to stay afloat. That was my year and I feel like I simply survived it, I wasn’t productive even though I was working enormous hours and I wasn’t in control. I was reactive at best!’
I felt exhausted just listening to the story and I’m sure we can all resonate with her on some level.
Often we equate productivity to hours worked. The more hours worked the greater the output. This is a common misconception in the corporate world where those who work late are often seen as the hard workers. Studies have shown this to be inaccurate and I equate this back to being busy. Busy certainly doesn’t mean you are productive. This is determined by your output and if you are producing the right things of high quality by the right time, rather than just producing things of average quality or below standard.
With time seemingly becoming scarcer and the expectations of us increasing, we have no choice but to be productive if we are going to be successful. It’s important to ensure we are being productive at purposeful and meaningful work rather than just producing things to make ourselves feel better so we can tick something off a to do list.
As leaders we need to ensure we are role modeling the right behaviours and mindsets to encourage not only a high level of productivity, but so our teams and us are feeling energized and focused. There is nothing more unreasonable than expecting our team and others to be productive when we aren’t leading this expectation through our actions.
Here are four ways to assist you in being more productive.
- Know when you work best.
In his book ‘When, the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing’, Daniel Pink explores timing and how decisions around when to do something are crucial to our effectiveness. He shares that scientists have found that we operate in a certain pattern – peak trough rebound. Most of us proceed through the day in that order but some don’t. You may start with trough, for those who aren’t morning people, then move into rebound and then to peak, those who work best in the evenings. There is no right or wrong with this but it’s understanding when you operate best and what type of work to be doing at these times. Pink suggests that the peak is best for analytical work, trough is best for administrative tasks and rebound is best for creative work. The key is to know what pattern you follow
- Have a plan
Yes this is a no brainer but the amount of people I speak to who plan on the go or who simply operate from a to do list is frightening. The risk of operating from a to do list is that these tasks on your to do list are often reminders to do things rather than productive tasks and they are often untimed and unprioritised. Alan Laein famously said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail”.We often think about what we’re going to do, why we’ll do that, how we’ll do that but the when is left to chance. You can’t leave things to chance is a fast paced, challenging and constantly changing environment. You need to be in the driver’s seat and you need to dedicate time to planning, and then of course executing. Don’t let the day-to-day operational side of the business get in the way of planning. Know what you will be doing and when each day, week and month. This is the only way you’ll achieve strategy fulfillment and execution.
- Avoid distractions
These are things like your phone, your email notification on your computer and your phone, Internet, social media and office gossip. Anything that takes your attention away from the task at hand. Unfortunately, the number of distractions is increasing and our ability to ignore them is decreasing thanks to our technological society where pings and dings get first dibs at our attention way too easily. You need to limit these distractions, that may mean putting your phone on aeroplane mode whilst doing focused work, putting it on silent for periods of time, removing the ‘pings and dings’. It could also mean disconnecting the ability for your watch to ring or notify you of a text message! Just another way technology keeps us connected!And one thing to consider, if you are in an open working environment, which most of us are, you are contributing to other people distractions through all of your notifications if you haven’t put your phone on silent.
- Stop multi-tasking
Let’s clear this up. There is no such thing as multi-tasking. It may sound sexy and attractive to those who like to get things done but we are not capable of multi-task (sorry ladies). What we are doing is switching tasks and this is not productive. We bounce from one thing to another, often at 30-second intervals. We can be writing a report, then checking a text message, then Internet, back to the report then after being distracted by the email notification we’ll check our emails. This switching-tasks contributes to high levels of cognitive overload and stress. In fact, when we do this we are 40% less productive and we do not produce our best work.It is suggested to chunk your time down and focus your attention on one task for a certain period of time. There are many best practices around this. Some suggest doing this for 20 minutes at a time; others suggest ‘go-zones’ where you may focus on like tasks for an hour or two. I will give myself a time limit for certain tasks. Like writing a blog for example will have a 60 minute time limit. It works for me and encourages a sense of urgency with tasks rather than believing I have unlimited time to complete tasks. You need to find what works for you.