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3 Harsh Truths About Your Productivity — and What to Do About Them

3 Harsh Truths About Your Productivity — and What to Do About Them

As the father of a four-year-old, I often find myself in conversations with other parents complaining they no longer have time to get anything done. They have to get the little ones dressed and fed in the morning, drive them to school, then bolt out of work to pick them up, shuttle them off to an activity and back home, prepare dinner, and finally get them bathed and into bed. Lights out. Day over. No time left to be productive. All right, all right — it’s usually me complaining. And I’m dead wrong.

Ready for some harsh truths?

How to Overcome 3 of the Real Reasons You’re Not as Productive as You’d Like to Be

1. You’re not a “victim” of “distractions” — you’re choosing to avoid the work

There’s a new narrative spreading so far and fast that it’s becoming a full-blown cultural meme. It goes like this: In the digital age, information is “coming at us” all the time, and we’re all but powerless to stop it.

You hear it in our language: With smart phones, tablets, and social media, we’re “bombarded” with information. It’s “everywhere.” Most of us can barely “keep up.” How are we supposed to “deal with it all?”

Sorry, but that’s called… [censored for publication].

Being productive is a choice. So is being unproductive.

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You want to constantly stop working (or not start at all) so you can check email, read headlines, or browse your friends’ Facebook status updates? Or maybe read a blog post, or 10? Okay. But please understand that these things are not “distractions,” nor are they “coming at you.” You’re selecting them — and you’re doing so, often, as a way of procrastinating.

What to do about it:

Two suggestions, both of them easier than you’d think:

First: Fight back! Reclaim your productive time. Yes, today you have constant and immediate access to every conceivable entertainment and distraction you can think of on any number of electronic devices on your desk or in your pocket. Leave them there. Set aside enough time for the real task at hand — whether that’s your job or a creative project or whatever you want to accomplish — and “single task” the hell out of it.

Second suggestion: Trick yourself. Sometimes you put off starting a new project because it seems overwhelming. Don’t think about tackling the whole thing at once. Simply promise yourself you’ll put in 15 minutes before you take a break. Can you guess what will happen?

In most cases, the very act of digging into the project, getting started, putting some energy into it, will get your creative and productive juices flowing — and you’ll keep right on producing well beyond that 15-minute goal you set. (And all the incoming emails or tweets won’t distract you at all.)

The late Roger Ebert wrote, “The muse visits during the act of creation, not before.” That’s Ebert’s ingenious way of saying that the great ideas and productive energy don’t fall out of the sky. You have to earn them — by starting.

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2. You’re avoiding the work… because you’re depressed

By this I don’t mean you’re experiencing clinical depression; I mean that you are in a negative emotional state. But when it comes to your productivity, feeling even slightly depressed can have the stopping power of a cannon.

In the brilliant book Finding Flow, a follow-up to his groundbreaking psychological work Flow, author and professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, notes that when you think about yourself, you tend to drift into negative emotions.

Indeed, the main concept of “flow” is that when you engage in certain complex, all-consuming activities (playing the piano, rock climbing), you lose all sense of yourself — and as you become fully engrossed in the flow activity, you experience more joy and productivity.

What to do about it:

Get out of your head.

A well-established principal in psychology states that you can’t experience two opposite emotional states at the same time. What a great thing to know!

If you’re feeling down, chances are you’re focusing on some aspect of yourself — your problems, your shortcomings, your frustrations. Luckily, there’s a simple, but not easy, way to climb out of this trap. Find something else, something positive, to focus on. As long as you can hold on to that positive feeling, you can’t — literally, cannot — fall back into a depression.

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Sounds difficult, right? It will be. But keep in mind that you need to switch your focus from whatever is bothering you only long enough to get started on your project. Maybe you can think about how great it will feel to finally be done with the task. Or maybe you need to put on some uplifting music. (Movie scores are a great choice here; as you work the background tunes will make it seem like you’re conquering an army!)

A few minutes into the task, and your natural positive energy will start to take over (see tip 1), and you’ll leave those feelings of depression behind.

3. You’re afraid to start the work… because you might make a mistake

Why when deer see car headlights coming at them — or a human being, for that matter — will they freeze instead of running off the road to safety? Because often in a terrifying situation, they’re so afraid of doing the wrong thing that they instead do nothing. Running this way might be a mistake. Running that way might be a mistake. Splat. Humans sometimes make the same choice.

One reason you might not be as productive as you’d like is that you’re feeling anxiety. The fear of going in the wrong direction, making a bad choice about the project you’re tackling, stops you from moving forward at all.

What to do about it:

Embrace mistakes. They mean you’re making progress.

Take writing as an example. Do you think any novelist or playwright has ever sat down to a blank sheet of paper, began writing, and just kept on going in one shot to a complete final draft? No deletions? No edits? No way!

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Don’t let anxiety win. Accept that you will make mistakes… start anyway.

Bottom line: The reason you’re not as productive as you’d like to be is not that you’re too busy. And it’s not my kid’s fault (oops — I mean it’s not your kid’s fault). We all make a choice in every minute of every day, either to push forward on the projects and goals that matter to us, or not.

So set aside the distractions (even the really fun ones); tell yourself you’ll give the big task just a few minutes at first (you’ll keep going, I promise); and then get out of your own head so you can focus on the work. And don’t waste time worrying about making mistakes. Of course you’ll make them, and then you’ll fix them.

To your productivity!

Featured photo credit: Unproductive man at work/Robbie Hyman via Shutterstock

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Last Updated on February 18, 2019

How to Motivate Employees and Boost Team Productivity

How to Motivate Employees and Boost Team Productivity

These days, in a world with cognitive, AI, and extraordinary advances, we have failed at the most basic stimulus: motivation. Why do I say so? Just take a look at these statistics:

58 percent of managers said they didn’t receive any management training as per a CareerBuilder.com survey. Only 12% of employees leave their jobs because of more money. Research indicates that around 80% of employees leave their jobs due to “lack of appreciation”. Due to fear of failing, more than half of American workers don’t take their paid vacations. 53% of Americans are unhappy at work (not engaged). And 1 in 3 are working in a field they don’t like.[1]

Archaic people management and HR structures are the root cause.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

So how to motivate employees and boost team productivity?

Here are 3 key things that you can do to motivate your employees and boost team productivity:

1. Run Your Team/Group/Company like a Lean Startup

The Lean Startup phenomena by Eric Ries has been socialized across millions all over the globe. In a nutshell, it is a methodology for developing businesses and products, which aims to shorten product development cycles and rapidly discover if a proposed business model is viable; this is achieved by adopting a combination of business-hypothesis-driven experimentation, iterative product releases, and validated learning.[2]

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Encourage Your Employees

When you empower your employees (or family members) to do what they deem to be best for a particular roadblock, idea, or improvement, you create magic. You create genuine trust. You enable innovation. The result is happy, inspired employees who feel they have a say in the grand cosmic stage at work.

Note that increasing the competency level of employees and coaching and mentoring them along the way is key. You yourself, need to do the same. Nourish your brain – and get a mentor that will keep you at the edge of your game.

Offer Rewards

Motivation is also intrinsic. The startups I have worked at offered instant rewards — not just fat checks or equity increments, but Oscar-style nominations.

The non-monetary rewards were actually more coveted, and grandiose: lunch with the CEO, tickets to an Obama fund-raiser, horse-back riding with a world-class equestrian.

Compare this to a dodgy, corporate, white-cubicle dinosaur that had a “yearly performance review” where both parties dread the conversation. In a world of instant WhatsApp messages, having a conversation about performance, likes and dislikes cannot just happen annually in 60 minutes. Employees need to be rooted in the belief that their manager genuinely cares about them.

Give Autonomy

Another key attribute is autonomy. Most employees start brushing their resumes and cruising LinkedIn when their hands are tied in their current positions: approval forms, long meetings, escalations, and more meetings. In the world of agile and scrum masters, deliberating for the sake of deliberating is poison. You will choke the very employees that giddily accepted the job initially to “change the world”.

Within a reasonable realm of assessment and deep-dives, trust your employees to do the heavy lifting. Give them access to the knowledge, people and resources that help them directly make the choices that will shape the future of your team, and your company.

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Eliminate yourself as the bottleneck – and interject yourself as a benevolent, servant leader that is the symbol of high-performing organizations.

2. Apply the 90/90/1 Rule

I recently saw a video by Deepak Sharma (a leadership adviser) about productivity and this principle stuck with me. Here’s what it’s about:

Devote the First 90 Minutes of Your Day to Important Project

For the next 90 days, devote the first 90 minutes of your day to your most important project—nothing else. Do this for yourself and your employees.

We usually get sucked into the most wasteful, operational activities in the morning which robs our focus, and steers us into an unwanted rabbit hole. So mute your notifications, avoid the temptation to check your exploding inbox, and scroll your Instagram feed later. Instead, focus on that ONE thing that will provide real value to you, your team, or your business/company/home.

Apply this rule to yourself – and your team. Your team will thank you. Note: If you’re feeling really stretched for time, you can always hack the rule by testing out a “45/45/1” version.

A To Do Scheduling System

Another version of this is to use the Kanban concept, developed by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota. Kanban is a scheduling system employing boards and cards.

The most basic version is a canvas with “To-do”, “Doing”, and “Done” boards (or columns). Each activity or task is a “card” that moves from one column to the other. I use Trello (a Kanban-inspired app) that is a key system for my personal and professional life. It allows me to understand my workload, their priority, and due dates.

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I use importance and effort metrics (scores) for each task to understand what is truly necessary in my life to work on. It negates the FIFO (first-in, first out) paradox that has plagued millions of people. Instead, it allows me to take stock of what is on my plate, and then bite on what truly will move the needle for me, my team, my life, and my company.

With a limited appetite (at least for some), would you eat the veggies, fries, mashed potatoes and leave the sizzling steak? No, you wouldn’t (unless you are a vegan and ended up in the wrong restaurant).

Approach your work with a weighted vengeance – and encourage your team to do the same.

3. Align Passion and Skills to Purpose

The heart of human excellence often begins to beat when you discover a pursuit that absorbs you, frees you, challenges you, and gives you a sense of meaning, joy and passion.

“The most fortunate people on earth are those who have found a calling that’s bigger than they are—that moves them and fills their lives with constant passion, aliveness, and growth.” — Richard Leider

An ace team-member once told me that while she enjoys working for the company we both used to work at, she really hated anything to do with technology. She was more of a “people” person, and did not want to sit behind a desk sifting through lines of code.

What struck me was that she was in that role for more than a decade and had just spoken up. The good thing is she spoke up. She expressed her desire and interests. And it allowed her to get into a role of her liking within 30 days.

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Ask If They like What They’re Doing

If you, or a team member is frustrated, demotivated, or not performing at their best – one of the questions you should ask is whether they like what they are doing. Then genuinely try to help them get to the role they should be in (whether in the same team/company or not).

There’s a reason why 53% of Americans (and perhaps more or same across the globe) are unhappy at work. A butcher cannot be an ace salad maker. Pursue your passion – and help pave the way for your team. Unlock your potential and theirs. You will command and lead a supercharged team.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

The Bottom Line

Sometimes, passion has to be ignited. It is dormant, clouded by busy-ness, buried by wrong career choices, and plagued by non-supportive eco-systems. Some will climb out of it, but we as society — and in the case of business teams — incumbent upon the manager/CEO/leader to foster, grow, and nurture the employee.

Teach her the ropes. Show her the path. Advise him as you would yourself. Let them lead, and make mistakes. Do not fear them, rather make them the leader you would want to become.

For your not-so-great team members, understand that it is not personal, it is just not a good fit. Help them move on to the pastures they would be fit to graze on. Hence, hire slow (and fire fast).

Your team is a reflection of you. Boosting their confidence and helping them achieve the impossible is motivation. Focus on that, and you will have a productive team that you and your company will be proud of.

More Resources About Team Management

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

Reference

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