True Performance: Five Ways to Avoid Fake Productivity

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE "Better productivity means less human sweat, not more."—Henry Ford, 20th century automobile manufacturer. We all know the classic definition of increased productivity: producing more goods or services per given amount of time; or, as the online Oxford Dictionary puts it, the effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input. That's foundational knowledge, right? The problem is, while these definitions may have applied when our economy was based almost entirely on agriculture and manufacturing, they don't necessarily apply to our modern service-based economy or knowledge jobs. Here's what I mean. Consider the editor who cuts 10,000 unnecessary words out of a novel. Using the old … [Read more...]

Sharpening Your Tools: Six Reasons Why Mental Fitness Matters in the Workplace

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE  "To survive, a man needs food, water, and a sharp mind." Louis Zamperini, Olympic runner and World War II veteran and POW This isn't a just another blog about how to hone your mental acuity so you can boost your workplace productivity. There are plenty of those out there, and I've done one or two myself. No, this article is about the why, not the how. You may think the why is obvious, but is it? Most people only have a nebulous idea that mental fitness is a good thing—and, of course, they're correct. But it's important to know why it's a good thing in detail, because this makes its value easier to pin down and focus on. There are always the basic arguments for keeping your mind sharp. It may help you live longer and avoid Alzheimer's and other forms … [Read more...]

Making the Right Choices: Five Observations About Intuitive vs. Analytical Decision-Making

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE “Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.” Peter F. Drucker, Austrian-American Father of Productivity. Making solid decisions is key to effective and productive work at all levels—individual, team, division, or corporate. Most of us make a remarkable number of decisions daily; some researchers claim we make thousands, if we include every little choice, like what to eat and which task to do next. In the case of routines, most represent decisions made in advance or enforced by deliberately limited choice, so we spend time more efficiently. Most decisions are personal and have limited impact on others. But the decisions you make during work hours can impact thousands or even more, depending on your position—not … [Read more...]

Shutting It Down: How to Be a Productive Project Closer

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE “A project is complete when it starts working for you, rather than you working for it." -- Scott Allen, American computer programmer and author. In business, there are two types of "closers," both of which boost the organization's performance in different ways. The more common type of closer is a salesperson or marketer who's adept at closing deals with potential clients, bringing new projects on board. Let's call them deal closers. Without deal closers, we'd all be without work. The second type of closer is less obvious, but in their way is also imperative to effective, profitable business performance. The project closer, usually (but not always) the project manager, makes sure a project ends neatly, with no confusions or loose ends. He or she gets … [Read more...]

Three Steps to Greatness: Using Your Habits to Influence Your Goals

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE “First, forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit is persistence in practice.”— Octavia Butler, America author and MacArthur Fellow. As complex as people are, when it comes down to it, you might consider us intelligent meat machines fueled by chemical reactions and guided, in large part, by programs we call habits. These boil down to repeated, automated actions—something like those of a robot on an auto assembly line, though not as stringent, and not always occurring in the same order. One of my colleagues almost always makes a large cup of coffee first thing each morning, eats a bagel, and gets to work. After years of doing it daily, he doesn't have to think about the process of … [Read more...]

Out of Whack: Five Reasons Tracking Work Time Wastes Time

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE "Here's my timesheet, filled out in increments of 15 minutes. As usual, I coded the useless hours spent in meetings as "work," whereas the time I spent in the shower designing circuits in my mind as "non-work." Interestingly, even the time I spent complaining about my lack of productivity is considered "work.""—Dilbert to an HR colleague, in the comic strip Dilbert by Scott Adams, September 15, 1995 Anyone who's ever labored in a corporate environment has been required, at one time or another, to track their work time. You've probably been there, scrambling to figure out what the heck you did from 1:15 to 1:30 last Thursday afternoon. Were you working on Project A, B, or C? Were you cleaning your cube or organizing files to enhance your long-term … [Read more...]

Bearing the Burden: Five Tips for Handling Your Cognitive Load

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE Even after more than a century of R&D, the human brain is the still the most efficient computer on the planet. That's likely to remain true until we invent quantum computers, assuming that's even possible. Pound for pound, nothing beats the brain's processing and command-and-control ability. It finds patterns where mechanical and digital computers don't, can make intuitive leaps, holds astounding amounts of information, and to some extent can even fix itself when damaged. Its only limiting factors are the speed of synaptic connections, and how fast the body can respond to its commands. That said, your brain has limitations. The old saw about using only 10% of your brain is a myth; you may use only 10% of your brain consciously at any time, but the … [Read more...]

Preparing to Succeed: Six Ways Front End Work Assures Productive Success

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” —Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States. While a journey of a thousand miles really does begin with a single step (whether you're hiking, driving, or flying), what you do before taking that step is crucial. There are always at least a few things you'll need to prepare before you head out. For example: you wouldn't go camping without packing a tent, sleeping bags, food, and a lighter, would you? So why go off half-cocked on a work project? When starting a new project or task, few things are as crucial as the "front-end" work. Often, this is the sort of thing where you can adapt existing methodologies or create new ones before moving forward. … [Read more...]

Stumbling into Proficiency: Four Ways Mistakes Can Improve Your Productivity

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE  "Many times what we perceive as an error or failure is actually a gift. And eventually we find that lessons learned from that discouraging experience prove to be of great worth."—Richelle E. Goodrich, American author. Experience sets veteran workers apart from novices and is a large part of what makes them attractive and important to any organization. Most veterans aren’t necessarily smarter than their younger colleagues or more talented. They have much more experience, wisdom, and better connections. More significantly, veteran workers know what they're supposed to do, how to do it, and have done it so many times it's become ingrained habit. But here's their real advantage: Veterans not only know what to do — they also know what not to do, and when … [Read more...]

Managing Expectations: Five Ways to Ensure Co-workers Follow Through

“The price of greatness is responsibility.”—Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of England during World War II Not so long ago, it seemed most Americans had dropped the word "accountability" from their vocabularies—or perhaps had never learned it. When things went awry, it was never the fault of those responsible, because they refused to be held responsible. Even politicians would admit only that "mistakes were made", hiding behind the passive voice instead of admitting their errors. I feel we've mostly gotten beyond this style of double-think, as the Millennials and post-Millennials — those so vilified by the previous generations of workers before they took over the economy — have jettisoned old, failed ideals and taken responsibility for all aspects of their own fates. The … [Read more...]