The productivity myth

This post has been boiling up in side me for a long time…  born out of the frustration of watching friends, family, workmates, associates, management, businesses, training providers, productivity gurus… in fact everyone getting the productivity thing wrong.

<puts on flame proof jacket – this might will polarise some people>

Here are a few simple facts that I am sure you will agree with that will set the context for what I am about to talk about.

  • No matter how hard you try, you always have too much to do, and not enough time to do it.
  • No matter how hard you try, almost every meeting you walk out of at work, you leave knowing you could have spent your time better.
  • No matter how hard you try, you can not seriously tell me that you actually work at at 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 or 100% of your best when you are in the office.

Let’s talk about increasing productivity…

When people are looking to “increase their productivity”, most flock to productivity gurus and their simple, yet complicated systems.  These systems are all very clear when you read them in the book (purchased in an Airport bookstore for $19.95), but when you try to put them into practice you usually find that they cause you to be less productive.

And I will be honest.  I have been there.  Religiously I scan the bookshelves for the magic productivity bullet every time I have 5 minutes to spare in an airport/bookstore/amazon.com.  Here are a few of my experiences…

Productive meetings? MYTH!

There is the one book about getting the most out of meetings.  Great.  The idea is fantastic… of course I want to get in, get the information/actions I need and get the hell out.  But guess what?  To achieve that meeting utopia you are relying on everyone else in the meeting to feel the same way. 

And we all know that the chances of that happening exponentially decrease as you add more people around the table.

In fact… more than 2 people (and in some cases more than one!), and I am fairly certain that you are wasting your time.

Productive work environment?  MYTH!

I love the ones about setting up the perfect work environment.  You know what I am talking about – make sure that your desk is pointing in the right direction – your pens (two blue, one black, and one red) are in the right spot just beside your stationery holder – your filing cabinet is of the two draw variety (with appropriate Foolscap Manilla folders and hanging  and within 1.2m of the centreline of your swivel chair.

They are a great way to sell more office furniture.  I wonder if anyone has actually gone to management and demanded office furniture reform throughout their multinational based on some unquantified position that productivity will improve.  Pity it will only work for those who are between 5’6 and 5’8 tall who perform the same ‘robotic’ tasks (sorry to all those full time filers out there!)

Productive workload management? MYTH!

What about GTD?  I have tried Getting Things Done – and it worked. 

For about a week. 

Then, like most I am sure, I lost track, I lost focus, I got distracted by… you guessed it… ACTUALLY DOING WORK.

GTD definitely has its merits in helping you organise how you are going to tackle the work you need to tackle (if you are one of the few in the population who can maintain a steadfast focus on the system)…

But all that GTD is doing is removing wasted time between tasks (or making sure you only have to do what you have to do).  There is still a big fat hole in that productivity story…

How about we actually DO SOME WORK?

How do you complete the WORK you need to complete in a more productive way?  How can you get the outcomes and the deliverables you need to deliver more efficiently and effectively? 

GTD can’t help you with that (unless you are a manager and are delegating work). 

What about productivity for those at the bottom of the corporate hierarchy?  The ones who are micro managed.  The ones that are project managed.  The ones that sell, service and deliver to your customers

The people that productivity systems just don’t (and can’t) work for?

This is my problem with productivity as we know it…

Everything you see is ALL about managing your workload, not actually completing it!

The worst part is, this is breading a workplace full of what I like to call “The Teflon Army”.  You know exactly who I am talking about – the ones where nothing sticks.  Always delegating work, always passing the buck. 

But to members of the Teflon Army, they are just being productive.  It is funny though, they will always have the time to tell you just how busy they are!

So what is the solution? 

Well first we should define what we are trying to achieve.  To me, in today’s information economy we are all trying to do two things, and two things alone.

  1. Capture our ideas/experience/expertise… and
  2. Share them like crazy!

Simple as that.  If you work in an office today – that is all you are employed to do. 

You work in a call centre?  You need to capture all the ideas, experience, and expertise in your head about the business and its processes, and then share it like crazy with the customer who just called you.

You work in a cubicle producing reports?  You need to capture all the ideas, experience, and expertise in your head about the best way to present this information, and then share it like crazy with your key stakeholders.

You are a CEO?  You need to capture all the ideas, experience, and expertise in your head to set a vision for your organisation, and then share it like crazy with the people who need to make it a reality.

So how can you capture and share in a more productive way?

You might not realise this, and it may shock you (especially if you love buying and getting half way through reading productivity books), but EVERYTHING YOU NEED to increase your productivity by at least 100% right in front of you.

That’s right.  All there in front of you.  100% increase.  Guaranteed.

Well… let me rephrase that.  You have the tools you need.  There is one thing that is missing – the knowledge to extract as much value out of them as you can.

And that is what frustrates me sooooooooooooooooooooo much.  Everyone has the opportunity to get so much more out of their work day.  To do more with the same, or even better… to do the same with less.

Everyone has the opportunity to get work OUT OF THE WAY so you can focus on what is really important in life!  You know – those things you never have the TIME to worry about.  Friends… family… actually enjoying life!

Let me ask you a few more questions:

  • Do you know how to use the 20% of features in Microsoft Office / Open Office / Star Office / Google Apps that have the potential save you literally HOURS every week?  Like the feature that has been in Word since 1992 that will change your world and save you time every time you use it.  The one you could use EVERY TIME you create a document.  The one that has been sitting right in front of you, staring at you for almost 18 years and you still don’t know about it!
  • Do you know how to use the features of your desk telephone or mobile phone to connect with people in the most efficient way?

I will let you know the truth.  You don’t.  No one does.  And again that is what frustrates me.  We have these great tools at our fingertips, and yet NO ONE USES THEM!

The problem?  Probably the start of another rant – training and communication.

Training courses are great and telling you about ALL the features, but they don’t tell you how to actually use these tools to be more productive!

It doesn’t take a 5 day advanced Word course (@$2500 a pop) to be productive with Word. 

And when was the last time someone ran through with you some of the productive features of your desk phone – you know, the ones that help you connect with people to SHARE YOUR IDEAS!

Seriously, how many times have you been sitting there twiddling your thumbs as you wait watching someone struggle to connect a conference call?  Me? EVERY SINGLE DAY!!!!!

I am going to put some numbers out here.  This is gut feel.  There isn’t any empirical evidence.  This is purely based on what I know from watching the people around me.

It takes 20 minutes to learn the 2% of your favourite “productivity tool” that will get you 50% of the potential productivity impact.  It will take you an hour to learn the next 20% that will get you 80% of the potential productivity impact to tool could have on your day.

The rest… well… is just being unproductive.

Do you agree?  Do you disagree?  Follow me on twitter @paulwoods, and make sure you comment below.  I am ready to start a productivity revolution – and I need your support.

Paul W

5 thoughts on “The productivity myth

  1. So it’s getting more from what you’ve already got? I agree – learning shortcuts certainly helps.

    Primarily though I’d say productivity is a function of motivation.

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