When It All Falls Apart: Five Tips for Rebuilding Your Productivity

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE "The best laid schemes of mice and men/often go astray." ― Scottish poet Robert Burns Sometimes, unexpected events occur that tear apart a carefully planned life. Hopefully this hasn’t happened to you, but if it ever does, your productivity is likely to come crashing down… and really, no one could blame you. But some people might anyway. You may even lose a job, especially in this gig economy where speed reigns supreme. This recently happened to a colleague of mine, who had been his mother’s primary caregiver for several years. In March 2023, they experienced a perfect storm of health crises, culminating in his mother entering her final illness. My colleague focused tightly on his mother’s health, to the point where he ignored his clients, and … [Read more...]

Staying Productive During the Never-Ending Pandemic: Four Things to Try When You’re Sick of COVID

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE "Productivity isn't about being a workhorse, keeping busy, or burning the midnight oil… it's more about priorities, planning, and fiercely protecting your time."—Gary Keller, American entrepreneur and bestselling author. As British author John Heywood noted in 1546, It's an ill wind that blows no good. As devastating as COVID-19 has been, some positive things have followed in its wake. For example, the business world has learned to leverage remote work more effectively than any time in modern history, using new technology and approaches to keep teams together. Telecommuting and videoconferencing have reached heights never before seen, and I don’t believe it will ever go back to the way it was. Countless workers have figured out how to work productively … [Read more...]

As COVID Went, So Went the Nation: The Results of the 2020 American Time Use Survey

  by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE "Suspect each moment, for it is a thief, tiptoeing away with more than it brings."—John Updike, American novelist Since 2003, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released the results of the previous year's American Time Use Study (ATUS) during the following June or July. Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic was time's greatest thief in 2020. In addition to stealing time from American workers, the pandemic affected ATUS interviews all year long. None took place from March 19 to mid-May. As a result, the 2020 ATUS is missing data for two months… but that doesn't mean the data collected were useless. Far from it. Homework The most obvious difference this year isn't any real surprise. The number of people working at home nearly … [Read more...]

The Benefits of Coaching: Six Ways It Can Boost Productivity

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE "Coaching isn't therapy. It's product development, with you as the product."—Fast Company magazine. Business experts often cite coaching as an effective way of enabling employees, by making sure they embrace their jobs and maximize performance. By coaching, I don't mean those all-hands-on-deck motivational sessions where a celebrity or high-powered speaker (like me!) delivers a keynote address aimed at improving solidarity or general productivity. Those definitely have their place, but count as coaching only in the most general sense. Coaching isn't the same as an annual evaluation, either, though some coaching may take place during the evaluation. It isn't mentoring, because that usually doesn't involve a manager. Nor is training, another essential, … [Read more...]

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...]

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...]

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...]