Every manager I know – heck, every business I know – is having to do more with less.
Fewer resources. Fewer people. Hopefully not fewer consultants! That means that every person on staff needs to be more productive. Productivity is one of those tricky numbers – it’s a ratio of output to input – that seems more attuned to an industrial age than to a time when the world is moving to an information-based economy. Still, one thing I speak with clients about all the time are results – key performance indicators, things we can measure to gauge our progress. Sometimes I even get paid based on those productivity measures so I’m very focused on improving them.
One thing I’ve found is that we sometimes confuse putting out more with making more value. I think many of the technological innovations which we enjoy these days were originally designed to help improve our ability to be productive. In fact in many ways I think they had the opposite effect. We’ve become tools of our tools. For example many years ago when I began in business I was very careful about how I wrote each and every document because someone would have to type that document and if we needed to make changes we had to retype the entire thing. Once word processing became the norm it was very easy to make revisions. In theory we could put out the document more rapidly since changing a word didn’t mean retyping everything. The reality is that we spent a lot more time focusing on formatting – how the document appeared – and making little changes – a word here and there – because we could. We didn’t think through what we were saying before we started to write. I’m not sure we became all that more productive.
Email is another tool that should make us productive but has the opposite effect in many cases. It’s easy to add recipients to a chain and everyone seems to want to weigh in. What could be a 5 minute hallway conversation turns into an 8 hour chain of notes. We’re less productive.
I advocate doing less to be more productive. Send less email (but have more face to face conversations). Don’t respond to every note unless it’s directed to you. Don’t multitask – finish one thing before starting another. Trust your staff and delegate. Spend more time on the 20% that produces real value and less time on the other 80%. Maybe even pretend that a lot of the “productivity tools” don’t exist. What are your productivity secrets?