Maintaining productivity in the modern workplace is a constant challenge. No matter how good our intentions, our tools, our systems or our productivity strategies, most of us still struggle to stay on top of our commitments and priorities. Many organisations throw personal productivity training at the problem, and while this undoubtedly helps, people revert back to old habits easily and quickly.
To create a truly effective and sustained boost to your team’s productivity, you need to look at productivity from two angles. A performance motor racing team can increase the speed of their car in two ways. Build a bigger engine that delivers more thrust and power, or change the body shape to reduce resistance and drag. Personal productivity training is like building a bigger engine. Reducing the productivity friction we all experience in the workplace is like reducing drag. We experience friction when we receive too many unnecessary emails, get pulled into too many ineffective meetings, or collaborate with others in an unproductive way.
Our effectiveness as workers is greatly hindered by productivity friction, yet we have come to accept this as ‘just the way that it is’. A senior executive I worked with recently was getting close to 500 emails per day, and he thought this was normal. He believed there was nothing he could do to stop this from happening, and had become a victim of his inbox. But there are plenty of things that we can do that will not only improve our productivity, but also the productivity of those around us.
Here are four strategies that you could implement with your team.
1. Reduce email noise
Many of us receive more than 100 emails per day, but do not need to receive anywhere near that many to be effective in our roles. Overuse of CC and ‘reply all’ functions is overwhelming many workers. Talk to your team about your expectations about being copied on emails, or involved in email conversations. Email others in a mindful way and expect the same from them. If you need to, set up rules to automatically delete or file less relevant emails.
The key is to take control of your inbox — don’t let it control you.
2. Have 100% fewer meetings
Yes, you read me right — 100%! This is easy to achieve if you break it down into four easy targets. Schedule 25% fewer meetings in your week. Hold 25% shorter meetings. Invite 25% fewer participants to meetings. Finally, reduce wasted time in meetings by a further 25% by taking the time to plan the meeting with an agenda. Easy. Well, maybe not easy, but not that hard.
3. Make projects visible
Many of us are not dedicated project managers, yet we are expected to manage a range of projects alongside our operational day-to-day work. Unfortunately these projects are often managed in an excel spreadsheet at best, or in our head at worst.
To collaborate productively on this type of work we need to make these projects visible to ourselves as well as the wider team. By doing this we gain control of the work, and can plan the why, who, what and when of the work. There are now many simple web based tool available to make projects more visible like Trello, Asana or MS Planner.
4. Reduce unnecessary urgency
“When is everything needed around here? Yesterday!” I hear this all the time in my client companies. Everything feels urgent but this urgency comes at a price. Pressure, stress, mistakes, rework. Much of this urgency is false, and not urgent at all. It often seems urgent because others have reactive work styles where everything is left the last minute. Sometimes we do this to ourselves.
Focus on prioritising by importance, not urgency for a week. See if this starts to shift what you work on as a team.
We are working in complex environments, doing complex work. But some simple strategies could make a huge difference to productivity — and make your racing car go faster!