The Main Thing: Five Signs You’ve Broken Your Productivity System

"The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing." —Stephen Covey, American productivity expert. We’ve all used the wrong tool for a task. I’ve often used my fingernail as a screwdriver (usually with disastrous results), but I’ve found a dime or a butter-knife can sometimes work as well. Did you know a brick can be used as a hammer in a pinch? However, none of these substitutes do the job as well as the tool specifically designed for the job. Similarly, a snapped screwdriver or a hammer with a broken handle isn't nearly as effective (or efficient) as a complete tool. You can't even do some things without a specialized tool. You can't really tighten a hex-bolt, for example, without an Allen wrench. Using the wrong tools or broken ones might eventually get the job done, but it will … [Read more...]

Bold Steps: Five Ways to Improve Your Productivity After a Promotion

"Every time you win, you get another fight." —Chael Sonnen, American mixed martial artist. Laurence J. Peter is famous for the business principle named after him, which states that workers are promoted to their level of incompetence. In other words, the better you do your job, the more likely you'll get promoted into a position you're not good at. I don't necessarily agree with the Peter Principle, but I have noticed that, to paraphrase British satirist Terry Pratchett, "If you dig the best ditches, they give you a bigger shovel." Unless you fight it or make yourself irreplaceable, at some point someone will promote you to a higher position in your organization. For those who crave success, this is a primary goal of work. For others it’s not as important as the paycheck that lets one … [Read more...]

Three by Three: Creating a Mini-Crisis to Improve Your Productivity

"You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." —Rahm Emanuel, American politician and former mayor of Chicago. In his Spenser PI novels, the great mystery writer Robert Parker created an unforgettable character in Spenser's girlfriend, Susan Silverman. She thrives on crises, often of her own making. In fact, when preparing for an appointment or presentation, she would often wait until the last minute to get started, knowing the stress will push her to productive heights. Forcing yourself to accomplish too much in not enough time is an intriguing concept, but by definition, it can’t work if constantly practiced. We all remember times when we had to push to do more in less time—say, because we had … [Read more...]

What Does Productivity Mean to You? Four Important Questions to Ask Yourself

"You can, you should, and if you're brave enough to start, you will." —Stephen King, American novelist. We all know the standard definition of productivity: the amount of something produced in a given unit of time. That’s difficult to determine in some jobs. How do you easily determine daily or weekly productivity for the HR analyst? How about for a sales person who makes only two or three enormous sales per year, bringing in millions from the company? Or the idea man who spends most of his time immobile, thinking about ways to save money? Even Henry Ford, one of the 20th century moguls who helped quantify productivity with his assembly lines, valued his idea man—although his productivity wasn't obvious to others. Some jobs don't seem productive at first glance, especial in the short … [Read more...]

Shooting Yourself in the Foot: Five Ways Internal Competition Kills Productivity

"How can we trust one another if we're competing in a dog-eat-dog culture? Instead of trust, fear prevails." —Evan Rosen, executive director of The Culture of Collaboration Institute. In military and police organizations, the professionals involved are well aware that if they're not extremely careful, their actions can be lethal to co-workers. Navy SEALS call it "blue-on-blue," but it's better known as "friendly fire." This occurs when personnel find themselves accidentally under fire from their own side. Most police or service people with combat experience have stories of tragedies or near-tragedies that occurred during the aptly-named "fog of war." Sadly, friendly fire can kill you just as dead as enemy fire. Friendly fire is common in the workplace, too. While it may not prove … [Read more...]

Easy Come, Painful Go: Four Wrongheaded Productivity Fads We’re Better Off Without

“Never underestimate the human capacity for self-delusion.” – Roger Cohen, American journalist and author. Business fads come and go just as surely as fads in music and fashion, and I've seen too many organizations unwittingly hurt themselves with the latest flavor-of-the-year. The smart ones reverse gears as soon as they start hemorrhaging profits; however, it can take years for some to change course, even when they see the writing on the wall. In this article, I review a representative sample of such fads, some of which you've probably experienced yourself. You may even be a fan. But here's the thing: no matter how shiny something looks, all that really matters in business is productivity and profit. Ultimately you must determine if earning colored belts or making sure every document … [Read more...]

The Rising Tide: Six Ways Helping Your Teammates Increases Personal Productivity

“A rising tide lifts all boats.” – John F. Kennedy. 35th President of the United States. Does a rising tide really lift all boats, as JFK once famously claimed? Politicians like to say so, at least in reference to their favored brand of economics. But cynics have pointed out many exceptions to the "rising tide" meme—you could be stuck in the mud; your boat could be full of holes or overloaded with idiots; you don't have a boat; or someone torpedoes your boat. Whatever your economics, there are always some people who can't keep their heads above water in a particular "rising tide" economy. That said, in the workaday world where people interact in good faith, a "rising tide" of social cooperation does lift all boats. In combination with talent, training, and hard work, helping your … [Read more...]

Fine-Grained Planning: Five Steps Toward Developing Quarterly, Monthly and Weekly Goals

“Someone's sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” –Warren Buffett, American businessman and investor. “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, English philologist and novelist, in The Hobbit. To paraphrase Dwight Eisenhower, while plans might prove useless once the rubber hits the road, planning is indispensable. All but the most oblivious of companies, organizations, and businesspeople make long-term planning an essential part of their infrastructure; those who don't go the way of the dodo. It's a harsh type of natural selection that constantly hones productivity and its pleasing by-product, profit. In pursuit of both, over the years "long-term" has been repeatedly redefined as … [Read more...]

Managing Your Manager: Four Ways to Create a Productive Relationship

“A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.” –David Brinkley, American journalist Just because you may lack the title of "manager," that doesn't mean you don't manage other people at work. You manage co-workers sideways, in the sense that you help them when you can and ask for help when necessary. You also "manage up," managing your own manager's expectations for you, as well as getting him or her to do what you want and need. Managing up and sideways helps you maintain smooth, productive relationships with others. It’s not about "sucking up" or flattery. Effectively managing up means you know your leaders well enough to anticipate their needs and support their mission. Here are four ideas on how to do it well: Communicate … [Read more...]

The Work/Life Conundrum: 7 Ways to Keep Personal Issues from Damaging Your Productivity

“Everything can be taken from a man but the last of human freedoms – the ability to choose one's attitude in a given set of circumstances, to choose one's way.” –Viktor Frankl, Austrian Holocaust survivor, in Man's Search for Meaning. Emotion affects and informs everything human beings do. As such, you may find it difficult, at times, to separate work from the rest of your life. Some people can do it as easily as flicking a switch, but it's rare for anyone to remain completely productive in the workplace while facing difficulties elsewhere. So here are seven ways to help you maintain high workplace performance, even when you’re experiencing issues in your personal life. If your organization has an EAP, take advantage of it. Employee Assistance Plans (EAPs) exist specifically to … [Read more...]