Before you can improve productivity, you have to define it for yourself . The definition I use for myself and to inform my work with clients is, “achieving or producing a significant amount or result.” (Emphasis mine).
Productivity is subjective (and hard to measure) because each person gets to determine what is significant, and the significance changes with the timeframe: what might be “significant” for you to achieve today or this week will probably be insignificant when you look back a year from now.
You may not have considered the following three components of productivity in this light before; see if they help you put things into perspective, which may help you achieve more of your own “significant results.”
1. Be balanced.
In my experience, too many people view the parts of their life as a zero-sum game. They feel that they can’t achieve “balance” because in order to succeed at work, other parts of their life have to suffer. But you are more than an “employee.” There are many other parts to you and indulging all of them will help you to be happier.
Work-life balance includes the ability to be present in whatever experience you’re having, whether it’s being immersed professionally, or being fully engaged in personal activities in your off-time. Doing other things (besides work) replenishes your creativity, your inspiration, and your motivation. It’s important to remember that sometimes the best thing you can do for your work is not work.
“Health is not merely the absence of disease but the balance of mind, body and soul.” ~ Proverb
If sacrifice in your personal life (like your relationships and your happiness) is the cost of professional success, is this the kind of “success” that you aspire to? If you’re a leader, understand that professional success (of yourself or anyone in the organization) at a high personal cost is neither sustainable nor beneficial for long term organizational success.
2. Get clarity.
With requests coming from all levels inside and outside the organization, it’s easy to get caught up in being reactive all day, which relegates your significant results to the back-burner. But when you’re clear about the most important parts of your job and the direction of the company, you gain clarity over what to prioritize.
Leadership needs to be clear on how day-to-day behaviors align with various job roles, and how each role relates to the mission of the firm. When the team can focus on their most important job roles, it’s easier to filter the irrelevant noise and take effective action.
The ability to identify and stay focused on the big picture (the company mission and how individual roles serve it) provides a beacon for knowledge workers that illuminates the important over the (seemingly) urgent. This also provides some guidance for defining significance, as mentioned above. Gallup research shows that understanding expectations is important to success, and at least half of employees report that they lack this clarity.
3. Regain control over distractions and attention.
You’re likely bombarded with distractions all day—from your technology, other people, or your own thoughts of, “oh, I better do that before I forget” causing you to constantly switch gears. Studies show that these continual distractions and task-switching (commonly known as multitasking) cause everything you’re doing to take longer and have more mistakes.
My clients often tell me that “if I didn’t multi-task, I’d never get anything done,” when in fact, the opposite is true. High demands combined with little control is a recipe for increased stress, risk for disease and staying trapped in reactivity.
Humans are motivated by achievement; every email message checked or instant message responded to creates a brief but appealing sense of accomplishment. Yet most people really don’t have the new skill set required to manage today’s level of complexity in our lives and work, so we gravitate toward those things that feel productive, like checking off one more email. But this is really confusing “busyness” with productivity.
By learning how to control your attention, knowledge workers gain new control over their work (and personal) life.
These three components of productivity (balance, clarity, and control) are addressed in detail in Work Without Walls. Chapter 1 begins the process of understanding how to get what you really want out of your work (and life). Download it here now.