Dealing the Cards Wisely: Five Ways NOT to Delegate Tasks and Responsibilities

“Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” – George S. Patton, U.S. Army General during World War II. As business leaders, we've all had it pounded into us that we should delegate work to others, so we can more easily complete all our responsibilities. The advice is worth hearing repeatedly, since all high-level jobs come with too many responsibilities for just one person. Anyone who tries to use the old "if you want it done right, you've got to do it yourself" tactic or who micromanages everything under their control has made a terrible mistake. The C-Suite builds high-level jobs with delegation in mind. You're meant to delegate most of the responsibilities necessary to achieve your collective objectives. Typically, your … [Read more...]

Through a Mirror Darkly: Five Predictions About the Near-Future Workplace

"Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future. " — Niels Bohr, Danish physicist and Nobel Prize winner. Knowledge workers have experienced enormous change in the past 50 years. We've transitioned from typewriters, landlines, and snail mail to computers, cell phones, and email. These advances have profoundly changed both our personal and professional lives, skyrocketing productivity and capacity. Right up until the mid-1970s, few prognosticators anticipated the computer revolution; even science fiction writers who had people colonizing space by the 1990s had them using slide rules. (If you need to look up "slide rule," you must be a child of the Electronic Era.) Not until the mid-1980s did everyone realize home computers were the Next Big Thing, and only after Y2K … [Read more...]

You’re Doing It Wrong: Four Examples of Iffy Productivity Advice

"You're Doing It Wrong is a catchphrase commonly associated with FAIL image macros and videos. The phrase can be used to suggest there is room for improvement in almost any context. " — Know Your Meme website. As with many things in life, when it comes to advice on productivity, there's so much open to interpretation. Some methods may work differently for different people, so sometimes, there is no right and wrong. Dilbert creator Scott Adams once joked that if a CEO found success while using a tongue depressor, he could write a best-selling book about it and make millions while other people made it work for them, too. So, I hesitate to call any productivity advice bad advance, unless it's something obvious like, "Try multitasking! It works wonders!" And even that may change as our … [Read more...]

A Serene Mind: Six Ways Meditation Can Make You More Productive

"If the ocean can calm itself, so can you. We are both salt water mixed with air. " — Nayyirah Waheed, enigmatic 21st century poet. Some workers believe the best way to maximize productivity is to stay busy all the time. Yes, of course you need to stay focused, even driven at times. But I'd hope any regular reader of this blog would have realized by now that truly effective productivity involves more than just busywork—rest and reflection are also vital components.  Now, I don't necessarily believe slow and steady wins the race (how many tortoises can really beat a hare in a footrace?), but just like quantity, hard work has a quality of its own. It's when you tweak hard work with smart work — and never doubt you require both! — that you win the productivity race. We all know that … [Read more...]

Returning to First Principles: Five Basics of Productivity

"I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is, we reason by analogy. [With analogy], we are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. [With first principles] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths… and then reason up from there. " — Elon Musk, American industrialist and inventor. It's easy to forget what productivity truly is, especially when it's cluttered with various initiatives, politics, and personal agendas. As I read this quote from Elon Musk, it led me to think, “What are the first principles of productivity?” I thought it would help to clarify the basics (both procedural and human) that must underlie productivity for it to really work. … [Read more...]

What Are Productivity Systems Really For? Five Elements to Include in Yours

"You can’t be productive unless you have a system, a method, a process, whatever you want to call it … Some people invent a system. Some people learn a system. But everyone has a system. " — Daniel Threlfall, American business writer. If there's one thing you can count on, it's that modern white-collar workers will almost always find new ways to be collectively productive. Despite all the hurdles we must leap—complacency, overwork, recession, disengagement—Western workers tend to push ahead on the productivity front. While productivity growth occasionally drops on a quarterly basis, that's uncommon; productivity has consistently risen since 1970. Why? Partly due to new technologies coming into play. Partly due to corporate restructuring. Partly due to the growth of productivity … [Read more...]

The 2019 American Time Use Survey: The Hits Keep Coming

“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” – American humorist Mark Twain.. Every June since 2003, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released the results of its American Time Use Survey for the previous year. The data for ATUS 2018, extrapolated from 9,600 individual interviews (down from 10,200 for 2017) was released on June 19, 2019. For the second straight year, ATUS's press release focused on the percentage of employed persons who worked on an average weekday (89% vs. 2017's 82%), as opposed to those who worked on average weekend days (31% vs. 2017's 33%). While the weekend workload has decreased slightly, significantly more of us are working on weekdays. (The total working percentages exceed 100% because some people work on weekdays and weekends.) Based on … [Read more...]

Productivity vs. Efficiency: Four Ways They Differ, and What Matters Most

"Profitability is coming from productivity, efficiency, management, austerity, and the way to manage the business. " — Carlos Slim, Mexican business magnate Most of us know the difference between effectiveness and efficiency. Effectiveness is doing the right things, while efficiency is doing things right. Their intersection yields high productivity. I even wrote a book about it: Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time. But many people remain confused about the difference between productivity and efficiency. Too often, the terms are viewed as synonyms. They're not. They're related but certainly not interchangeable. Indeed, in some cases, they couldn't be farther apart. Productivity is simply output per unit of time. Efficiency is the best possible output … [Read more...]

Attention Management vs. Time Management: Five Ways to Emphasize What Truly Matters

"I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day. " — E.B. White, American writer and co-author of ¬Elements of Style. When it comes to using modern English, E.B. White, along with his mentor William Strunk, have influenced the style, readability, and productivity of five generations of Americans. If such a towering literary presence had trouble focusing his productivity, then it's no surprise the rest of us do. Indeed, the entire industry of time management has grown up around our desire to use our most limited of resources effectively, so we can accomplish as much as possible in what time we have. Time management has become one of the more ingrained productivity toolkits of the … [Read more...]

Forgotten Productivity: Four Facts About Total Factor Productivity to Keep in Mind

"The standard growth theory tells us that economic growth in per capita basis comes from mainly two sources: capital deepening and total factor productivity growth, or TFP growth." —Toshihiko Fukui, Japanese civil servant. If you work in customer service, administration, human resources, or IT, you might sometimes wonder how your work contributes to the organization's bottom line. After all, you don't actively bring in income, so does it really matter whether you maximize your productivity? Of course, it does! Support jobs are crucial to a business's survival. Just because your job doesn’t generate revenue doesn't mean you don't move the organization forward. Every report efficiently produced, every product documented, every brilliant mind hired and retained—it all contributes to the … [Read more...]