In business, the only thing that counts is results, not how hard people work or how many hours they put in. Have you noticed in your startup or around your office that some people are always at work and busy, but others seems to consistently get more done? Studies of software teams, for example, show differences as great as ten to one in productivity between working team members.
Much has been written about the external influences of office environments, motivation, and personal health impacts, but I see evidence that there are personal productivity tactics that contribute just as much. Along these lines, I just finished a new book, “The Productivity Project,” by Chris Bailey, who conducted dozens of interesting personal productivity projects on himself.
His conclusions validated much of the conventional productivity data, but also highlighted several additional factors to increase productivity that may not be intuitive to most business professionals:
- Slow down and work more deliberately.For most people, trying to work faster means trying to do multiple things concurrently. Research shows the result of multitasking is a focus on what’s in front of us only 50 percent of the time. Constant task switching kills efficiency, and usually more than offsets the value of multitasking. Slow down and focus.
- Schedule less time for important tasks.When you limit how much time you spend on an important task, you create urgency around the task, overcome your urge to procrastinate, and dive in with more energy and focus. The result should also be fewer total hours at work, improved health, as well as improved productivity and attitude.
- Define more activities as unimportant.All business tasks are not created equal. Yet many business people continue to be distracted by the crisis of the moment or a peer request for help, rather than focus on work more critical to their success or the business. This classification of activities requires an overt effort, but pays back in productivity.
- Prioritize daily only the top three results required. Thinking in threes allows you to keep important activities on top of mind, and better manage your time, energy, and attention. Trying to create and manage a long list of priorities, in concert with daily distractions, leads to mental thrashing, fatigue, and lower productivity on all items.
- Strive for imperfection on key activities. Perfection is not an affordable target on most business tasks. Yet many people continue to work well beyond the point where they are “good enough.” The most productive follow the Pareto Principle, which asserts that 80 percent of the results comes from 20 percent of the effort. Don’t be a perfectionist.
- Keep potential distractions at least 20 seconds away. This 20 second rule, studied by psychologist Shawn Achor, asserts that if we move more than 20 seconds away from snacks, cell phones, or peer questions, our focus will remain on critical tasks and efficiency will increase. Distractions are the enemy of productivity. Move away from them.
- Eliminate unproductive procrastination. Productive procrastination is doing some lower priority activity to keep busy while avoiding what really needs doing. Unproductive procrastination is wasting time and effort, pretending to be busy, organizing your desk, checking email, surfing the internet, or taking another break. Reduce procrastination.
The value of increased productivity in business is self-evident. It reduces your costs, increases competitiveness, and generally improves the morale and payback to employees. For businesses that depend on people, high productivity can mean the difference between success and failure.
As a result, every entrepreneur and professional I’ve met in business wants and needs to be more productive, but finding the approach that works for them can be elusive. I think you will find the techniques presented here well worth adding to your work ethic.
By Martin Zwilling