Productivity seems to be the “new black” in business today. There were 250 million hits when searching for productivity on Google. Everyone has their own definition of what productivity means. Mine is very simple: “Maximising output given a set input”.
No matter what you decide is the right definition for you, I think the more important question is, “What does it mean to me as a leader and how can I improve it?”
To help you answer this, I would like to introduce a simple concept based on my experience as a productivity expert. Overall I think productivity is a combination of personal discipline and leveraging technology.
The framework I use for productivity is PAPA:
P = Preference
A = Attention
P = Plan
A = Apply
I will briefly go through each section and then provide some practical tools.
What is your thinking preference and how does this relate to your productivity? I spend a minimum of two days a week consulting on productivity and I ask people this simple question: "How much do you know about the brain and in particular your brain and your preferences?"
People look at me quizzically and generally answer – “Very little”. We use our brain every second of the day and invest little time in better understanding how it works. The way you see the world is coloured by your experiences and this impacts your perception of reality.
Your preferences are well-defined and typically only change when you have a major event in your life, eg. having children. Preferences are different to behaviours. For example, you may have a low preference for planning and organising, however you have learnt behaviours to overcome this. Often communication is clouded by our preferences and a breakdown in relationships at work can be rebuilt through better understanding each other’s preferences. A practical tool is the Herrmann Brain profile. If you know your preferences and that of your colleagues, it can make a significant difference.
Multi-tasking is a myth, as our ability to focus our attention on complex tasks simultaneously is poor. Try this simple exercise to help illustrate the point: Hold your nose and ask a friend to read two to three sentences to you. Then you read it back. Hard? Yes, as your ability to concentrate on two tasks at once – breathing and listening – is difficult.
Today’s modern world is full of choices and distractions that constantly attack our attention. For many people the addiction of doing trivial tasks, eg. email can distract their attention from doing what is most important. We are wired to react to stimuli in the lower part of the brain. True innovation and thinking comes from the top part or the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. Some practical tools to help overcome this include:
- The ability to say no. If we constantly say yes to tasks we often become over-loaded. By using a framework of pause, clarify and decide we allow the top part of our brains to be involved – the thinking part of our brains – while pausing so we can do the other two.
- Spend a maximum of an hour a day on email. Create rules to reduce your inbox and don't save emails as to do's. Turn them into calendar, task, contact or note. See additional reading on email development.
- Default calendar. List the key activities that are most important to you and block them into a five day week. Be disciplined in sticking to it.
- Work blocks. Spend a maximum of 90 minutes on a major task and resist the temptation to check phones, email or whatever else you do to avoid doing what you had planned.
- Social networking. Turn off the notifications and read them once a day through a RSS feeder.
For me there is a direct correlation between high productivity and weekly and daily planning. Everyone has their own way of planning and tools to help them. This is a summary of some key points that you may want to incorporate into your planning process:
- Clearly define your five to seven roles and plan activities that cover all roles. This helps to get greater balance in life.
- Planning tool. Pick one that works across all your mobile platforms – avoid sticky pad notes and single page notes.
- Daily reflection. Capture your key highlights at the end of the day. I use the Chronicle app on my iPhone.
I have worked with and alongside a lot of successful people, combined with daily reading and listening to podcasts, and the single word that seems to jump out at me is discipline. How many times have you heard people say that it is hard work that made them successful? Here are some tips to help you:
- Daily routine. Create a 15-30 minute routine and stick to it. I have it set up on my bookmark bar and follow the links to the activities. This includes a daily reflection – a document with key knowledge and tips I have accumulated over my 19 years at work. It also has my personal mission statement and goals to help me stay focused.
- Admin. Are you doing tasks that others could do? I employee a virtual assistant for less than $50 an hour to help with my admin.
- Apps. Get one app for each key activity and maximise your use of it, eg. Evernote for note taking. For a full list of my apps see here.
- Bookmarks. Ever waste time looking for websites you once visited and can’t remember where you bookmarked it? Using categories under Google bookmarks can help.
- Passwords. Get yourself a password manager to save you time. I use 1password.
We typically insure our health, car, house, income, etc, however when it comes to the number one income generating asset – our mind – we like to go solo.
The world is very complex and is going to become more so. Finding 20% of your unproductive time and allocating it to the most important tasks will increase your happiness and success.