Enough with productivity already. We often spend more time reading, thinking and talking about productivity than executing on basic concepts that really work. Juggling careers, hobbies, exercise, friends and family has a tendency to stand in the way of implementing process improvements…you don’t want to drop the balls, right? After reading this blog post, however, it’s time to quit cold turkey. In fact, you should probably stop reading right now and start executing!
There is a productivity industry because looking for the solution is a natural human inclination. Who wants to take tiny steps towards achieving a goal when a BIG change will deliver a BIG impact and BIG success? Unfortunately, big changes rarely work. What’s more, investing significant time, energy and willpower in a big solution that doesn’t work, can make the original problem even worse.
This is true for any kind of big change. The vast majority of corporate change management efforts fail. 99% of diets don’t work; in fact, they make people fatter (think Atkins). 75% of New Year’s resolutions don’t survive a single week! Efforts to improve your productivity are no different. Big solutions generally result in big failures.
If you are looking to become productive in 2012, take an evolutionary approach. Try this continuous improvement recipe to experiment your way to productivity:
- Stop reading about productivity!
- Think effectiveness instead of productivity. Doing more of the same old thing won’t make a difference. You need to do better at fewer things.
- Make a list of small improvements. Implementation time should be less than a ½ day.
- Put the improvement steps in order of priority and post the list on your wall.
- Implement only one of the small improvements.
- Reality check. Did you deliver on your half of the bargain, REALLY implementing the change? If not, move back one step.
- Evaluate the change after using it for 2 weeks.
- If it worked, great! Time to move onto step 1 with another change from your list.
- Not effective? No problem. Discard the change, pick another change from your list and try again.
You will be shedding the productivity equivalent of 60 pounds in 6 months, but much like lifestyle changes vs. diets, the changes will actually work.
Over the last 12 months, I significantly improved my effectiveness using this recipe. Collectively, small changes made a huge positive impact on my life, my family and my work. Most of the gains came from doing less. Here are just four small examples of changes that worked for me:
- Reduce information gathering channels: Applications like FlipBoard and Zite for the iPad gather information that is relevant to you and present it in an intuitive tablet magazine format. No iPad, no problem. Aggregating websites like Mashable.com may be the solution for you. The goal here is simple: find information aggregators that help you professionally and let them do the work of finding useful content. Don’t go to more than 5 places for your news and when you add a new source, drop another from the list.
- Maintain social presence on LinkedIn, with zero additional effort. Maintaining a social presence on LinkedIn will soon be table stakes for business professionals. It already is for most salespeople. The challenge is to maintain that presence when your to-do list is already endless. However, posting updates that add value doesn’t have to be more work. When you use online information channels, it is very easy to share information that added value to you. Just click and post. Chances are that information that is useful to you will also be useful to many of your connections.
- Be more strategic…say “no” a lot. If you ask the best corporate strategy minds to boil down the essence of strategy, this is what they will tell you: deciding what not to do is more important than deciding what to do. In other words, say “no” a lot. Walking away from opportunities is VERY hard for both individuals and businesses (this is something I hate to do). Who wants to close doors, right? Having clear priorities, discipline about what to do and not to do, and focus will free up your time and significantly increase your productivity. It will also increase your credibility, because when you put to many balls in the air, some will get dropped.
- Take a break. Go out for lunch. My typical day at the office used to start with a 7 am meeting with my boss and continued for 12 task juggling, meeting hopping and deck jockeying hours. Often, I am ashamed to admit, I confused activity with productivity. Now I take breaks and regularly eat lunch with business partners and friends. The result is this: increased focus, increased alertness, fewer mistakes and more energy for my two biggest passions, my family and new ventures. Apparently, research supports my anecdotal experience. Check out the Harvard Business Review blog on the subject at http://goo.gl/RfYts.
Once you have taken this advice and experimented/executed your way to increased productivity, you may be ready to violate step 1 by reading about productivity again. One excellent book on the subject is Getting Things Done by David Allen.