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Productivity maybe . . . but for what purpose?

Productivity maybe . . . but for what purpose?

Why choices about what to do with the time and effort you save are more critical

    One reasonable definition of increased personal productivity is creating the ability to do more with less effort and in a shorter time. Nothing wrong with that — at least until you ask what you will do with the time and effort you have saved.

    Not so many years ago, many people — including governments and businesses — thought that a rapid increase in individual and corporate productivity would lead to an explosion of leisure time; that we would all be working only two or three days each week, with the rest earmarked for leisure. There were concerns about how people would spend all this free time, and whether it would produce fresh possibilities for businesses, or some kind of social unrest.

    We know now, of course, that it didn’t happen. Far from working less, people are working even longer hours, despite all the increases in productivity over the past few decades.

    Why didn’t it happen?

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    I think the answer lies in the question that I started with: what do you do with the time and effort saved by increasing your productivity? Do you spend it; and, if you do, what do you buy?

    That question remains critical for all of us.

    The rise of consumer-driven economies . . .

    One way of spending the time and effort saved by greater productivity, of course, is to produce still more. That’s become the orthodox approach. As productivity rises, you don’t allow employees to work less, you use the effort freed by improving processes and systems to add to production. By this definition, for an organization to be more productive means to increase output indefinitely; preferably reducing unit costs at the same time. In personal terms, it means doing more and more and increasing your earnings as a result.

    Where is all this extra production to go? People must buy it to keep the whole cycle in place. That’s what has produced a society in which people work longer and harder in order to buy more; and an economy that depends on this process continuing — even increasing. If growth is driven by consumption, consumption must increase — not just by increasing overall wealth, but by encouraging all of us to buy more and more, regardless of need.

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    Of course, one way to speed up the process is to make credit as easy as possible, so that mere income no longer limits what people can buy. We’re seeing the result of that answer today, and it isn’t very comfortable.

    . . . increases the need for consumption-driven individuals

    At an individual level, the same process drives those who work long hours to increase their income; then spend it on consumer goods and expensive, designer labels. In many cases, the possession of the latest, flashiest, and most expensive product becomes an end in itself: a display of personal power and success, much like a peacock spreading its magnificent tail to demonstrate dominance. It has to be this way, since all the time allocated to working and earning leaves no time for spending money on vacations or leisure time or anything that cannot be purchased in an instant.

    Easy credit allowed such people to leverage their spending power, running up huge debts in the process. Some did it for display, others as a means to earn still more by riding on the back of the explosion in house prices. Then still more people copied them, especially by buying real estate, whether as a home or an investment.

    For a while, they were all the darlings of the economy: the driving force behind boom times for corporations and shareholders. Now things have gone wrong, there are fears that, by stopping such manic spending, consumers will drive world economies into a painful recession. If people don’t consume, companies can’t produce, and the entire cycle comes to a halt.

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    It’s all about choice

    Let’s bring this down to the personal level. Suppose you increase your own productivity, either by using one of the many techniques available or just by becoming more focused and better organized. You can now do what you used to do in less time and with less effort.

    What will you do with the “savings?”

    • You can “spend” them — by working just as much, or more, and increasing your monetary earnings. You will then have more cash, but still less time to enjoy it: the typical position of most people today. This answer honors the notion built into the Puritan Work Ethic that idleness causes moral hazards and work is good in itself. It’s what the US economy has become dependent upon.
    • You can spend them on leisure. You can keep your output (and probably your earnings) at the same level and devote the extra time to something else, whether that’s pleasure, volunteer activities, family time, or simply hanging out and enjoying life. Some people will label you as idle and lazy, but you don’t have to accept either description. Your choice will, however, depress activity in any consumer-based economy — and the earnings of a good many corporations as a result.
    • You can save them. Yes, you can “bank” your extra time — even invest it.

    How do you do this? By allocating the time to something that will bring you “interest” in terms of future increases in earnings, productivity, or enjoyment.

    This something is called learning. Time spent on learning will improve your ability to do whatever you choose in the future. It’s the equivalent of a corporation using productivity savings to finance research and development that will itself result in new products and fresh ways to become still more productive.

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    That won’t help the consumer sector of the economy in the short-term, but it will boost long-term creativity and add to activity in the education sector. It will also likely improve the chances of the nation leading the next wave of economic activity, based on products that haven’t yet been invented.

    Think about it carefully

    The choice of how we spend our productivity savings is crucial for the way we will live in the future, both at the personal level and for society as a whole. It’s worth taking some time to think about it quite carefully.

    As with all savings, there will always be people eager to take what you have and use it for their own short-term gain. My strong suggestion is that you hold on and make your own decision. As today’s financial woes have shown, jumping into simple answers and spending productivity gains right away can leave you with an almighty hangover.

    Photo credit: Artful Scribe at Morguefile.com

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    Published on January 16, 2019

    How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

    How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

    We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

    You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

    You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

    That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

    Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

    1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

    Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

    We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

    To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

    At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

    The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

    2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

    Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

    The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

    In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

    It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

    It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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    So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

    • Are you a great strategist?
    • Are you an effective planner?
    • Is Project Management your strength?
    • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
    • Are you the ideas person?
    • Is Implementation your strength?

    Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

    3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

    One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

    Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

    Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

    Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

    4. Take Time for Planning

    “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

    One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

    You can take the time to think about:

    • What’s the purpose of the project?
    • How Important is it?
    • When does it need to be delivered by?
    • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
    • What are the KPIs?
    • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
    • Who is working on this project?
    • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
    • What tolerances can I add in?
    • What are the review stages?
    • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

    Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

    5. Focus on Priorities

    Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

    Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

    One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

    1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
    2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
    3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
    4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

    James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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      The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

      If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

      If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

      6. Take Time Out

      To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

      If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

      Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

      In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

      Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

      7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

      Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

      I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

      Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

      If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

      8. Stop Multitasking

      Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

      So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

      When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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      If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

      9. Work in Blocks of Time

      To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

      I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

      Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

      Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

      Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

      Then take another 10-minute break.

      Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

      By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

      10. Get Rid of Distractions

      Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

      “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

      Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

      If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

      11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

      You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

      Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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      Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

      12. Take a Time Audit

      Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

      Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

      You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

      Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

      Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

      At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

      If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

      13. Protect Your Confidence

      It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

      When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

      Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

      When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

      Final Words

      A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

      The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

      If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

      Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

      Reference

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