When searching for ways to improve performance at work, you’ll discover a wide range of tips and tricks. And while many can be useful, lasting value only happens when those tips work together in a coordinated system.
To improve performance at work, rather than choosing from a scattered set of tips and tricks, leaders should identify and implement a proven workflow management system. Workflow management systems combine validated methodologies and tools to help people overcome frustrations and achieve higher levels of performance.
In my recent article, 12 Ways to Organize Your Work Life and Feel Better, I describe how individuals can improve their performance at work. That article and this one will work together to help you begin making the right changes that will lead to reduced frustrations and higher levels performance for yourself and others.
10 Ways to Improve Performance at Work
Let’s explore how to improve work performance using a workflow management system. I’ve developed these 10 strategies over two decades of helping leaders increase productivity for themselves, their companies, and their teams. Each of these strategies is a part of my larger workflow management system.
1. Leaders Change Their Habits Before Asking Others to Change
Leaders won’t succeed without people who can perform. And to perform consistently, people need leaders who remember that the way they work has significant implications for their teams. To improve performance at work, leaders must first commit to making meaningful changes themselves, before asking others to change. And, as the most effective leaders know, they must both promote practices that are proven to improve performance and remove barriers that stifle it.
For most people, becoming more productive requires changing habits.
And while we tend to think that the success or failure of “habit change” efforts depends solely on the person needing the change, the reality is that habits don’t exist in a vacuum. The environment, as well as the behavior of the leaders around them, is an important factor in habit change.
Through their behaviors, leaders can reduce a person’s ability to eliminate habits that sabotage productivity, or they can support the ability to establish new habits that improve productivity.
One major factor I share with the professionals I train is that successful implementation of a workflow management system requires not just support, but also participation, from leadership.
To improve performance at work, leaders need to start by looking at ways to improve their own performance. If leaders expect their people to develop new, more productive habits, then they must make some changes, too.
2. Adopt a Workflow Management System
What is a workflow management system and how does it work?
A workflow management system is a collection of behaviors anyone can use to most efficiently manage their work. It provides a reliable way to process the information you receive through meetings, emails, and other messages.
A workflow management system can help ensure that your team stays on top of the huge number of details involved in work routines and projects. It can also help your organization succeed by increasing the visibility of how things are working.
And, a workflow management system makes it easier to solve problems as they arise by making the information needed to solve them more readily available.
However, adopting a personal workflow management system is about the long-term. If your team is doing well but burning out, then you only have short-term success on your hands.
My goal is to help you and your team achieve the same or greater levels of success as you do now, but in a way that is easier and more efficient.
I want to teach you a workflow management system that can sustain your success over the long-term, and help you and your employees improve performance in a way that is energizing instead of draining.
I developed and refined The Empowered Productivity™ System over decades of teaching productivity skills to busy professionals like you. It is a flexible workflow management system built for our digital age.
You can learn more about the Empowered Productivity System by clicking here, and decide if it is right for you.
3. Practice Attention Management Skills
The foundation of my Empowered Productivity System is attention management. The entire system is based on the skill of being able to control your attention and focus in order to better achieve your desired results.
I created a model that divides our mental states into four distinct categories, each uniquely suited to help you achieve a particular type of task. To improve your performance at work, you can learn to recognize the state you’re in, and switch to the state that will produce the best results in that moment.
Start by evaluating your work down through the lens of the four quadrants of attention management (reactive and distracted, focused and mindful, daydreaming, and flow). This will help you decide how much undistracted work time you need, and you can plan accordingly.
Most people make an unconscious calculation that they are distracted all day, so the only time they can get “real work” done is evenings and weekends. But this is a recipe for burnout, so you need to create undistracted work time during your days, instead of just allowing constant distraction. You can do this by exerting more control over your environment and your technology.
4. Prepare Your Team to Handle Distractions
We typically consider incoming information, whether it comes in from email, phone calls, or drop-ins, as “unexpected” changes to our day.
But the truth is that we already know we’re going to receive new communication every day that has the potential to change our plans. So our personal workflow systems need to be dynamic and adaptive, also.
To guarantee a higher level of performance at work, we have to help our team members build the skills to effectively, and proactively, handle distractions and refocus their attention.
Generally speaking, we can see a lot of distractions coming. It’s worth taking time to look ahead at distractions that will come around, and plan for them in advance. For example, perhaps you can create “office hours” where you are accessible to your team, but outside of those hours, they have to solve problems on their own, or hold them until your next office hours. (Except for true emergencies, of course.)
I believe attention management is the most essential productivity skill of the 21st century. This is because distraction significantly impairs a person’s ability to dedicate sufficient mental resources to work. In our digital age, distraction is an increasingly common part of our world.
A good workflow management system will include a plan to account for expected distractions throughout the day, whether those distractions come from other people, technology, or even our own intrusive thoughts.
5. Empower Employees to Set Boundaries
One problem many people have at work is they don’t feel empowered to set the boundaries they need, in order to ensure they are in control of their attention throughout each day.
They feel as if they need to be immediately responsive every minute of every weekday, and often on the weekends, as well.
But, reactive and distracted behaviors—such as immediately responding to every incoming message or allowing colleagues to constantly interrupt focused work—are not productive behaviors.
Grant employees permission to set boundaries with technology, and with other people. (For detailed help with setting boundaries with technology, read my article Control Your Tech.)
6. Set Clear Expectations Around Work Hours
Research shows that after working 50 hours a week, productivity decreases.
So working with your team to set expectations around how many hours they work per week can be a life preserver for everyone involved. This includes communication hours—times when employees should be generally (although not necessarily immediately) available via your various communication channels.
Research from Project: Time Off shows that people who take vacation are more likely to get promoted and get a raise. Vacationing employees who check email (even just once in a day) won’t reap the benefits of their time away from work.
So, in addition to defining work and communication hours, specifically define vacation at your company in a way that allows your team to truly understand what you expect when they’re away. Let them know they have permission to completely disconnect from work while they’re on vacation.
7. Collaborate to Improve Performance at Work
As we discussed, the people who surround us have a meaningful impact on our ability to adopt new and useful behaviors. And that impact can be detrimental or helpful.
Recognizing this fact, leaders can easily add a lot of value for their teams by creating, facilitating, and participating in an opportunity for people to work together to learn how to improve their performance at work.
Through my EPIC (Empowered Productivity™ Implementation Coaching) program, groups of individuals within companies work together, and with my team, to identify their unique challenges relative to workflow management, as well as solutions for those challenges.
This program adds value for the companies because, as the saying goes, the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. I’ve been continuously amazed by the insights I and others have gained through the EPIC discussions.
I’ve seen participants help each other feel less distracted throughout each day, become better organized, improve email and calendar management, improve prioritizing and tracking of their work, feel more accomplished, decrease stress, and increase their sense of control, as well as work-life balance.
8. Clearly Define Productivity, Roles, and Responsibilities
I define productivity simply as achieving your significant results. The word ‘your’ in that definition is key. As people work to achieve goals that are important to their organization, they should also be working to achieve goals that are important to themselves, including advancement goals.
To help, leaders need to clearly define roles and responsibilities so employees can act with confidence.
Does everyone on your team know what their highest and best use is? What is the most important outcome of their role? If not, providing this clarity will minimize distractions and questions, and empower your team to prioritize their work appropriately.
The Empowered Productivity training for leaders will teach you exactly how to empower your team members to unleash their genius to be most productive for themselves and their teams.
9. Improve Employee Performance by Being Less Accessible
Leaders need to communicate that they support autonomy and initiative, and back that up with action.
When leaders aren’t always accessible, it challenges employees to solve their own problems, building skills and confidence in developing solutions, rather than just seeking answers.
This reduces distractions for both the employees and leaders, and creates a solutions-oriented culture, empowering employees to solve problems independently.
If your employees often come to you with issues, they may feel like they are not empowered to solve problems on their own.
When they come to you with problems, if you offer solutions instead of encouraging them to do what they think is best, you will reinforce the idea that they are not empowered to solve problems on their own. And that will further their unhappiness, and guarantee continued distraction for yourself.
When people are encouraged to take ownership of work, they develop solutions rather than simply reporting problems. They are aware of what is going on and where potential problems lie, and they do what they can to help solve those problems.
When people work proactively, they are less likely to always be reactive, making better use not only of their attention but also their time and energy. They keep problems from occurring in the first place, reduce the effect of problems that do occur, help others feel less stressed, and help reduce wasted effort.
10. Mentor In Hindsight
Mentoring helps you prepare employees to advance within your organization. In many mentoring interactions, leaders give advice based on their own personal experiences. But it’s generally more effective to give advice based on the mentee’s experience, rather than the leader’s.
Mentees learn much more when they have the opportunity to experience their own successes and failures, and discuss them with a trusted advisor later. Mentoring in the workplace doesn’t mean doing the work for people; it’s teaching them to do it themselves.
Effective workplace mentoring requires setting boundaries to make sure that, not only is there time for mentoring, but leaders can manage their attention and be more present.
Leaders should open mentoring meetings and discussions by asking about challenges faced that week, what was done to address them, and then discussing how it worked out. This allows them to “mentor in hindsight” by offering advice when reflecting back with the mentee, instead of allowing themselves to constantly get interrupted for help on the front end.
Organizations that invest in a workplace mentoring program experience a significant number of benefits, ranging from increased employee productivity and decreased turnover, to reduced learning costs and more comprehensive knowledge transfer.
In fact, nearly 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a mentoring program in place.
Mentoring is even more important in the modern workplace because knowledge work is affected by an employee’s satisfaction with their work, and their relationship with their manager is a key component of this satisfaction. And “mentoring in hindsight” is the most effective type of mentoring.
What Is Empowered Productivity?
Empowered Productivity is my workflow management system. It’s designed to help you get back in the driver’s seat of your work and personal life.
Online, Video-Based Course
Individuals can take an online, video-based Empowered Productivity course. You’ll move at your own pace as you navigate through 5 modules that cover:
Attention Management – Learn how to resist distraction and focus on your most important tasks. Attention management is the key to unlocking productivity.
Action Management – Learn how to use systems and tools to collect, store, organize and prioritize your daily tasks. (Some of the tips in this blog post come from the Action Management module of Empowered Productivity.)
This course is totally focused on helping you boost your productivity while decreasing your stress. What you’ll learn will make your work easier and your life more fun. You can spend less than 10 minutes a day watching the videos and implementing the strategies. The amazing thing is you’ll start to see results in just a few days.
But I only open registration for online Empowered Productivity training for individuals once or twice a year for a few days, so that my team can provide the very best support to those who enroll. Click the button below if you’d like to get notified when registration opens.
Live Training for Teams
If you’re a leader looking for live virtual or onsite Empowered Productivity training for your team, in addition to the Attention Management and Action Management modules mentioned above, other available modules include:
Communication Management – Learn how to manage the constant influx of messages in the form of emails, texts, and team communications. Manage meetings so they are effective, as well.
Burnout Management – Learn about work-life balance and how to achieve it. And if you’re a leader, you’ll discover strategies to help employees be more engaged and enjoy their work again.
Behavior Change Management – Learn how to successfully change habits.
Culture Change Management – Learn how the behaviors of the leaders and the culture of the organization might be undermining the team’s productivity, and get a blueprint for course correction.
For more information about virtual or onsite Empowered Productivity training for teams, please contact me here.
How to Improve Performance at Work
When leaders commit to participating in adopting behaviors that improve performance at work, they signal to employees that the changes are meaningful and have their full support.
When seeking ways to improve performance at work, leaders can coordinate efforts by employing a workflow management methodology, such as the Empowered Productivity System. The Empowered Productivity System provides the structure needed to pull all performance improvement efforts together.
In addition to implementing a workflow management system for themselves and their teams, leaders can further enhance likelihood of success by mentoring in hindsight, encouraging their teams to work proactively, and allowing them to set boundaries as needed.
Leaders won’t succeed without people who can perform. And to perform consistently, people need leaders who lead by example. Leaders need to both support progress and remove barriers that prevent it.
Now, for a limited time, I’m offering a FREE Empowered Productivity Mini-Course. This 4-part video course will give you a small taste of what you’d get with the full course. Fill out the form just below to get access.