This column is authored by Shalu Bhuchar, Practice Lead, OD & TMI at InspireOne
Employee productivity is recognized perhaps as the most significant lever today for any organisation to consistently achieve short and long term goals. Yet, it continues to be one of the most elusive and complex of “productivity levers”. No surprises there, personal or employee productivity involves “people” and people operate at complex levels and have unique ways of achieving productivity. What may work as a productivity best practice for one person / team may not work the same way for another individual Add to that the fact that productivity is not even understood the same way by everyone! According to Koss and Lewis, remarkably many managers who every day make decisions about improving efficiency do not know how to answer the simple question: “What do we really mean by productivity?”
Productivity and performance have often been used as synonyms. Productivity is commonly defined as a ratio between the output volume and the volume of inputs. In other words, it measures how efficiently production inputs (resources), such as labor and capital, are being used in an economy/organisation to produce a given level of output. Employee productivity, therefore, is a relationship between how an employee manages their input/resource – time – in a logical, structured and focused manner, in alignment with their goals.
An oft-heard lament from those in a supervisory role is that their team members are unable to manage time according to priorities and either take too long to do their critical tasks or don’t do them at all. The people they manage have a different story to tell. They are constantly battling ad-hoc requests from their stakeholders and yet not getting enough “goal critical” activities done. They’re staying in office for longer hours or carrying office back home and thereby denting work life balance. So time is not being used in alignment with critical goals and yet everyone is overworked.
A poll conducted by InspireOne with employees across levels recently indicated that 41% people felt their productivity was coming down because of their inability to manage time thanks to ad-hoc requests. This was followed by 25% saying interruptions from their supervisors impacted their productivity.
Enough has been written about managing time, so I will focus on some key things in this, and subsequent blog entries, with the aim of uncovering strategies for increasing productivity.
What time management truly is:
It’s not about blocking your calendar, it’s about logically prioritizing it in alignment with your goals.
Often, I see people choking their calendars with back to back meetings, sometimes even two or three things in parallel. I remember the case of one gentlemen with a fair amount of experience who accepted one meeting request with some colleagues on a special project and then blocked time to upskill a team member at the same time! Not the most productive either for himself or for either of the colleagues.
1. Remember to: Keep one chunk of time for one thing alone
The human brain is NOT meant for multi-tasking (well, at least until the advent of multi-window smartphones. But hey, even for those, you can only concentrate on one thing at a time!) Don’t believe whatever they say. Multi-tasking is not about doing 3 things at the same time. It’s about doing one thing at a time with a high degree of focus so you can finish it faster and with great quality. Try it, you’ll see what I mean.
2. Keep space between two tasks
While we may be getting there, we have not yet learnt to teleport ourselves from one meeting room on one floor/in one corner of the office to the other. Also when we switch from a meeting to a call, our brain needs to switch OFF the previous task before it begins to comprehend the next. Respect the need of the brain to transition from one task to the next. Failure to do so results in fatigue, memory lapses, confusion – all resulting in errors and eventually not achieving things that need to be.
3. Write them down
“When you write down your ideas you automatically focus your full attention on them. Few if any of us can write one thought and think another at the same time. Thus, a pencil and paper make excellent concentration tools.”
– Michael Leboeuf
Research tells us that when we write, we create spatial relations between the various bits of information we are recording. Spatial tasks are handled by a specific part of the brain, and the act of linking the verbal information with the spatial relationship seems to filter out the less relevant or important information. Also, interestingly, when we write something down, neuroscience suggests that as far as our brain is concerned, it’s as if we were doing that thing. Writing seems to act as a kind of mini-rehearsal for doing.
So if you really want to get things done and increase your productivity, write down that tasks list.
4. Align all tasks to your goals
When someone – including your boss – comes with an ad-hoc task request, ask yourself: which goal is this task aligned to? Or which project am I working on that this task will further? If the answer to those (and similar questions) is “none” or “I don’t really know”, it may be a good idea to have the discussion with your manager or relevant stakeholders to prioritise / reprioritise or set realistic expectations.
Try these 4 simple steps to amplifying your productivity and let me how they worked for you.