Productivity. It’s a word that can fill you with dread or excitement, depending on which way you’re wired.
Traditionally, productivity is expressed as a ratio between output volume and volume of inputs. Put simply, it means ‘how can I get more stuff done in less time?’
If we’re running a production line, that’s fine. But taking this ‘Fordist’ thinking into our modern world and the myriad of organisations humans now run – some completely virtual – only works to a point.
After that, we need to get a little more sophisticated.
Is tech the answer?
Often productivity solutions start with technology and there are thousands of platforms, apps and gadgets designed to help us get more done. But this article is not about video conferencing, Slack channels, or the best CRM system.
That’s not to say tech isn’t great to enhance our productivity and output. But we need to think first about whether we’re using the tech to mask a bigger problem and whether our productivity (or lack thereof) is simply us getting busy, well… being busy?
Being efficient isn’t the same as being effective
We can employ every trick and every productivity hack in the book to get more stuff done, to churn through the list and tick things off.
But if we’re working on the wrong things, not being intentional about time spent and not checking in on whether our activities are aligned with larger strategic goals and company vision, then all we’re doing is ‘stuff’ that keeps us occupied but doesn’t move the business forward.
Even if we’re the most efficient, organised, time-management obsessed humans, it’s meaningless unless we’re also being effective.
So how can we be effective, not just efficient?
The ultimate aim of course is to combine effectiveness with efficiency, and the latter is where our tools, apps and mindset hacks can come into play ONCE we’ve answered these key questions…
- WHY am I doing what I’m doing?
- WHAT does the task/s actually entail, how will I know if I’m successful?
- HOW am I going to do this most efficiently?
Why am I doing what I am doing?
This links back to company purpose, vision and values. If we don’t know WHY we’re doing what we’re doing, with no ‘north star’ to aim for, it’s like driving with no destination.
It’s easy to fill days with tasks and get very efficient at doing so, but the effectiveness comes with ensuring the items on the agenda are pushing us towards our greater goals.
What does success for this task/s look like?
This is about having clear and defined expectations. Sounds obvious, right? But so many businesses get this wrong where employees aren’t really, 100% sure about what they’re employed to do and what success in the role looks like.
KPIs can certainly help but also open and honest conversations around expectations are key.
How can I do it in the most efficient way?
Thinking about how YOU best work is the ultimate productivity hack. Listen to productivity and time management gurus and you’ll hear things like:
- Do the most important task first
- Limit distractions
- Task block so your mind can cope
- Only check emails twice a day
- Only use yellow highlighters etc.
Whilst there’s nothing I don’t agree with (including the yellow highlighters), if we FIRST shift our thinking to how we best work given our unique strengths, we’re happier, more motivated, and in turn more productive.
Then the tweaks and the ‘hacks’ can be added.
Have an analytical person on your team? Let them analyse the data but don’t provoke anxiety by making them present it to the client.
Give that to the guy who thrives in sales meetings so long as he doesn’t have to do the initial data crunching.
This is not to say we shouldn’t encourage growth and development, but allowing people to flourish in areas of natural strength increases collective productivity and the bottom line will thank you.
Matching efficiency and effectiveness
And because this is a productivity article and you’d feel ripped off if it didn’t include some hacks, habits or routines, here they are…
Quarterly: conduct a team ‘purpose pow-wow’ to ensure everyone is still on the same page, understands why the company exists and sense check whether the strategy is still aligned.
Monthly: (at least) check-ins with every team member so they are fully across what is expected of them along with conversations about how best to play to their strengths.
Weekly: plan your ideal week, allocating and blocking time specifically for those higher value tasks and projects that can so often get lost in the daily grind.
Daily: set intention about what ‘state’ you need to be in that day, is it the time for strategic thinking or is it the time for action taking?
This is where task blocking – so working on strategy in one chunk of time and conducting meetings in another – can make a massive difference to your output and therefore the outcomes.
Ultimately, efficiency and effectiveness are not the same thing. Effectiveness needs to come first to get us on the right path and working towards our true goals.
Then we can employ the efficiency techniques, tools and habits in the right way to get the right stuff done.