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Know Where to Draw the Line for Enhanced Personal Productivity: Innovation versus Standardization

Know Where to Draw the Line for Enhanced Personal Productivity: Innovation versus Standardization
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One of the most powerful tools we can use to enhance personal productivity is to standardize tasks and processes. This is nothing new, yet it has become part of the much touted Toyota Production System as a way to reduce automobile manufacturing costs. A classic example from hundreds of years ago is the way that railways came up with a standard spacing or distance between the two parallel rails that make up a railway. Before they did, every railcar had to be unloaded and reloaded onto a railcar of a different gauge for each railway it traveled.

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However, too much standardization is also a bad thing. Henry Ford found this out when he refused to introduce new styles and colors when people started losing interest in his Model T cars that were produced by the millions in his day. He only made them in black at the time. Don’t try to come to a date with a standard agenda and present well-organized and detailed lists. How special do you make them feel when you book them in to a time slot? Or if you take them to the same restaurant all the time? Or if you picked up your date in one of Ford’s black Model Ts at the time?

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So, where do we draw the line? The answer for how much you should standardize is actually quite plain and simple: standardize as much as is practical so long as you and the other involved parties (customer, friends, etc.) derive greater value from the standardization than from a competing innovation. For a customer situation, if you have a standard, boring product, they might turn elsewhere for something more exciting. The same is true for a date. There are several areas or ways to standardize. A list of things that should probably be standardized for improved productivity are:

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  1. daily and weekly planning process,
  2. email and correspondence collection and response systems,
  3. sleep, exercise and eating times (your body loves these things),
  4. goal setting and reviews,
  5. business tools including software, notebooks, PDAs, etc. so that there isn’t tremendous waste in fiddling with these things to get them to work,
  6. daily chores list while finding ways to cover them more efficiently,
  7. rest and recreation times,
  8. preparation for any type of competition.

People who become overly preoccupied with the standardization aspects can become a real problem. Taking a family to a GTD productivity seminar on a vacation trip is probably not a great idea. Now, let’s take a look at what should be innovated for improved productivity. The following list of things should be handled with an innovative mindset:

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  1. reading (& audio and video) materials since limiting sources can cause stagnation,
  2. relationships – keep trying new things to keep them interesting and creative
  3. exercise routines themselves since doing the same exercises forever does less then changing the routine does,
  4. personal and professional networks because meeting new people in different areas can greatly broaden experiences and perspectives,
  5. fashion (overly standardizing this one can get you into trouble),
  6. vacations should be kept varied and interesting,
  7. recognition, appreciation and expressions of gratitude,
  8. places you take your dates or spouse to and the things you do.

The ways to determine the limits of how far you should go in standardizing are not always easy to know. We should be careful not to assume. Unchecked standardization might result in you seeing every office coffee mug with someone’s name on it and some there wearing the same suit every Wednesday. This would suggest your office experience is becoming a banal one. The person wearing the suit likely has no idea this is a problem and correctly assumes it to be a practical thing to do. Another example is the guy who brings home the roses every time he screws up doesn’t scream sincerity. There are some simple ways to find out where appropriate limits are such as:

  • asking someone familiar with a routine how it comes across. If handled right, people probably are not aware of it to begin with. For example, someone who always attends appointments on time by allowing an extra five minutes travel time will likely find no objection.
  • testing a new routine before fully implementing it.
  • develop a clear and preferably measurable indicator of success so that if something is working, it can be continued or discontinued.
  • decide if it adds value. If a standardized routine becomes a nightmare, it should be re-evaluated.

Whether you are manufacturing cars or picking up a date in one, know where the limits should be on standardizing versus innovating. Standardize wherever practical, but don’t go overboard or things won’t go well. Use this strategy to maximize productivity without losing spontaneity. Henry probably picked up his wife Clara in a black model T from time to time, but she married him before he invented it so it might not have mattered as much. However, showing up in a Model T to pick up a date today might be a great opener. Just know where to draw the line.

Peter Paul Roosen and Tatsuya Nakagawa are co-founders of Atomica Creative Group , a specialized strategic product marketing firm. Through leading edge insight and research, sound strategic planning and effective project management, Atomica helps companies achieve greater success in bringing new products to market and in improving their existing businesses. They have co-authored Overcoming Inventoritis now available.

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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