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...]

Disengaging Autopilot: How to Recognize and Fix Workplace Sleepwalking

“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.”—Elie Wiesel, American-Romanian writer, Holocaust survivor, and Nobel laurate Indifference is the death of productivity. We've all seen the employee disengagement figures, with more than two-thirds of all American workers partially or completely disengaged from their jobs. When you don't care, you let your work degenerate into routine, mindfulness abandoned, so you can just survive the day. Your job becomes little more than a paycheck, so you do just enough to keep that paycheck coming in. This is something many observers of the rank-and-file overlook: most … [Read more...]

Calling It a Day: Five Ways to Leave Work on Time and Still Be Productive

“We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ lists.” —Michelle Obama, former First Lady of the United States. Part of crafting a work/life balance that you can maintain indefinitely is knowing when it's time to pack it in for the day. You may not have the option of leaving at 5 PM, but then, who does these days? Still, setting a reasonable time to leave work will keep you sane — and profitable. If you regularly read my blog, you probably know that after about 50 hours a week, the typical worker stops being productive due to both mental and physical fatigue. Those who work 80 hours a week rarely get more done than those who work 40-50 hours a week, according to studies, and too many hours endanger your health, too. There were good reasons why labor and … [Read more...]

Bumping Up Productivity: Five (Relatively) Easy Team Performance Boosters

“Great acts are made up of small deeds.”— Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher Sometimes it's hard enough just ensuring your own performance is up to snuff, much less implementing techniques to push it higher. But since few of us work alone (even I have a small entourage, virtual and otherwise), team performance is just as important. This is especially true if you happen to manage or otherwise lead your team. Even if you lead other co-workers, you can do many things to help boost team productivity. During my career I've studied hundreds of workplace performance boosters, from silly games to solid concepts. Some are difficult, and others are a pain.  As Warren Buffet once said (a bit crudely, perhaps, but vividly), “No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take … [Read more...]

The Right of Refusal: Six Ways to Politely Say No to More Work

“It's only by saying "no" that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”—Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Longtime readers of this blog know that one of my least-favorite phrases is, "That's not my job." I believe most workers should willingly try to handle all aspects of their positions. Taking on new tasks is the only way of really understanding and internalizing them, no matter how well-documented the task is. Some nuances only become evident when you're in the thick of things. However, sometimes "That's not my job" is a valid, if ill-advised, excuse—especially if you already have too much to do, or find yourself on the verge of overwork, where one last procedural straw might break the back of your ability. I recommend you phrase it in a way that doesn’t destroy … [Read more...]

Renouncing Workaholism: Five Ways to Overcome the Habit of Overwork

“Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window... but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”—Mark Twain, American author and storyteller Unlike the form of substance abuse it was named after, workaholism is neither a disease nor an addiction. Rather, it's an out-of-control bad habit that can damage your health, ruin relationships, destroy self-esteem, and even kill you. It may make you a bit more productive, but the productivity rise typically proves minimal; for most workers, a 40- to 45-hour workweek is just as productive as an 80-hour week. The human mind and body soon hit a point of diminishing returns where fatigue and mistakes slow you down. There are much easier, more reasonable ways to boost your productivity. Fortunately, the habit of overwork can be broken (ironically … [Read more...]

Maintaining an Attitude of Gratitude: Few Cons, Many Pros

“Complaining can be an easy way to bond with people. Feeling like things are less than perfect can be an automatic place for your mind to rest.”—Marie Forleo, American media pundit During these trying COVID-19 times, when everyone is stuck at home, it can be difficult to be grateful. Oh, sure, you thought you’d love to be able to work from home full-time, but when it happened, many people changed their minds and got down in the dumps. It’s hard not to be able to go anywhere and visit your favorite restaurants. So how can we be grateful in times like this? When I began researching the concept of gratitude as a productivity enhancer, I wanted to take a holistic view and discuss both the positives and negatives. Admittedly, the term "gratitude" indicates a lack of negative associations; … [Read more...]

Whetstones for the Mind: Four Fun Off-Duty Ways to Sharpen Your Mind for Work

“... a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”—George R. R. Martin, American novelist Work is work, and rest is rest. But there's no reason you can't spend a little time cleaning and honing your most important work tool (your mind), even while you're taking it easy— as long as what you do is fun and doesn't interfere with your rest. Even better, it should be as different from work as possible. Except for those happy few whose hobbies are the same as their work (meaning they don't really work a day in their lives, according to the old saw), the above description may sound like something of a paradox. On the face of it, it is. But it's mostly a matter of making sure you don't let your brain turn completely to mush during your time off. Sure, you … [Read more...]

Should We Reward Efficiency with Shorter Work Days? Five Reasons Why That Won’t Work

“The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more."—Jonas Salk, the inventor of the polio vaccine. We all perform our work tasks at different rates of speed. What might take one person eight hours might take another four, due to experience, training, focus, automation, or systems. And therein lies one of the biggest issues at the heart of the standard modern business model — one that has increased annual productivity on the one hand and stalled it on the other. Until recently, the productivity increase has outweighed the slowdown; however, that’s becoming less true as time goes on. Have you ever finished your tasks and meetings for the day, double-checked everything, and then found yourself with nothing urgently due? Many of us have. Sure, you could start on some other … [Read more...]