Regaining Your Mojo: Eight Steps for Coming Back from Burnout

“Burnout often has as much boredom in it as exhaustion.” – Ingrid Fetell Lee, American author. Productivity experts have riffed on the topic of burnout for decades, because it's a highly visible theme in the business world. We all know about karoshi, the phenomenon of working oneself to death sometimes seen in Japanese culture. We see it less in Western culture, possibly because most Western nations have limited work-weeks and lots of PTO. Or maybe we don't see it because we just don't look for it; American work-weeks tend to be longer than most, and there's no government-mandated minimum vacation. Most business articles on the topic of burnout focus on preventing it. That's laudable, but what if you've already become entrapped by it? Well, here's how to start climbing out. … [Read more...]

Maintaining Contact: The Pros and Cons of Each Managerial Communication Preference

“Effective teamwork begins and ends with communication.” – Mike Krzyzewski, American college basketball player and coach. Whenever you start working with a new manager, make one your first goals to determine the ground rules of your relationship, especially how you interact. Some rules are baked-in, based on your relative positions in the organizational hierarchy, but a surprising number aren't. Ideally, your new leader will let you know the basics, but if they don't, it's up to you to step up and ask. One of your most significant "rules of engagement" is determining your manager's favored communication method. This is a key aspect of effectively "managing up." Ideally, the lines of communication should always remain open and clear, with communications coming to you from your … [Read more...]

When Money Whispers: Five Limits of Financial Motivation

  “Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.” – Ayn Rand, Russian-American writer and philosopher. There's an earthy American saying that goes (when used politely), "Money talks, BS walks" —i.e., money persuades better than words. Interestingly, while the concept of money as a motivator is firmly entrenched in managerial culture, it seems many workers have selected the "BS walks" option instead in the last few decades. Research —some recent, some as much as a century old — indicates that money's power as a productivity motivator is more underwhelming than most people believe. Some of you may already have experienced the effects of financial rewards improperly used. For those who haven't, consider this: … [Read more...]

The Ever-Tightening Noose: Six Ways Too Many Rules Strangle Productivity

“Rules are mostly made to be broken, and are too often for the lazy to hide behind.” – General Douglas MacArthur. Too few rules results in anarchy; too many stifle advancement and kill productivity. One role of management is to find a workable balance between the two extremes. It's imminently possible, but not easy, as I've chronicled in this blog for years: hence everything from too much paperwork, emails, and meetings on one end, to excess social media and Internet use on the other, and back to micromanaging, timewasting initiatives, and overly rigid adherence to process. In some offices, productivity becomes little more than a side-effect of the workplace process. The symptoms are easily visible. There's an old tale, possibly apocryphal, about the early days of a joint … [Read more...]

Productive Worry vs. Unproductive Worry: Six Ways to Make Worrying Work for You

“If you can't sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying. It's the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep.” – Dale Carnegie, American motivational writer. We all worry sometimes. Most dictionaries define worry as unrelenting, repetitive, and unresolved thoughts about the same topic. But as any deep thinker knows, worrying can sometimes prove productive—especially if you come at a topic from different directions, one at a time, and can actually do something about it. The difficulty often lies in worrying constructively rather than allowing yourself to fall into a spiral of negativity. To avoid the latter, keep two things in mind: the famous Serenity Prayer, and the difference between productive worry and its unproductive counterpart. You may recall … [Read more...]

The Psychology of Productivity: Five Things to Harness for Optimal Results

"Not all impediments to productivity result from poor organization. Many are psychological... Productivity, or at least how productive you consider yourself, is surprisingly subjective." —Leigh Buchanan, American business writer and editor The workings of your mind control everything you do. I don't talk about that much here, at least not directly, though that truth generally lurks beneath the surface of my tips, suggestions, and advice. Your psychology always effects your productivity. How you think about your work, and whether you care for it at all, makes a huge difference in final performance. That's why full engagement works so well. Admittedly, there's also a mind-body link: if you feel poorly on a physical level, you can't perform as well as when, all else equal, you feel great. … [Read more...]

The New Productivity: Four Innovations Changing the Working World

"The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible."—Sir Arthur C. Clarke, British science fiction writer and inventor of the geosynchronous satellite Once upon a time (and it's been a while now), some people thought the world would bring about a future so advanced that we humans would have very little left to do —something like George Jetson's grueling four-hour workday, where his worse problems were his overbearing boss and the aching index finger from pressing buttons all day. Well, at least The Jetsons accurately predicted RMIs. If anything, work has gotten tougher for the majority of white-collar workers since the 1960s, even as we adopted technology intended to make it easier. That we haven't enjoyed quite the surge of productivity … [Read more...]

Too Far Ahead of the Pack? Six Indicators of Overproductivity

"Culture is perishing in overproduction, in an avalanche of words, in the madness of quantity."—Milan-Kundera, Czechoslovakian-French author Allow me to introduce you to a term you may never have considered before in reference to your job: "overproductivity." It's not a common word. But common or not, it's real, and it may affect you if you're not careful. Overproduction is one of the seven deadly sins of lean manufacturing, as it's considered more wasteful than "Just In Time" or JIT production. As a white-collar worker, you may not consider yourself constrained by the tenets of lean manufacturing, but "lean" as a philosophy has long since entered the office-work canon. You can in fact be guilty of overproduction in an office, though it manifests differently in the white-collar … [Read more...]

Stoking Your Engine: Four Ways to Reignite Productivity When Motivation Fades

"It's not the load that breaks you down, it's the way you carry it.” —Lou Holtz, American football player, coach, and analyst. Most of us are well aware of the statistics for workplace engagement. For at least a decade, most surveyed workers have reported they're just moderately engaged or completely disengaged rather than fully engaged with their work, at a rate of about 3:1. It's changed very little from year to year. Either upper management doesn't care, or the things they've tried so far haven't worked. I suspect it's the latter more than the former. Despite the rhetoric of productivity, and our focus on boosting performance, most of us care more about paying for the mortgage and childcare than we do about maximizing our organization's bottom line. We don't live to work, but vice … [Read more...]

A Bigger Shovel: Six Ways Being Too Good at Your Job Can Hurt Your Career

“…But the reward for lots of work seemed to be lots more. If you dug the biggest hole, they just gave you a bigger shovel.'” – Sir Terry Pratchett, British fantasist. There's an old saying that goes, "No good deed ever goes unpunished." Sadly, that's often true in business, especially in terms of personal productivity. Like so many other things, high productivity can backfire in surprising ways. I have a colleague who came roaring into a new job, working 60 hour weeks for the first six months, doing his best to impress his superiors. It worked too well. He was their golden boy while overclocking it; but once he'd settled into his job, he cut back to 45-50 hours weekly. Afterward, they treated him like he was slacking, despite consistently exceeding the number of hours his colleagues spent … [Read more...]