Especially in the current climate where clients are all demanding more for less, productivity is vitally important in dictating an organisations profitability. It relates to the effectiveness of the resources that are involved in delivering any product or service and is measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input.
It’s especially difficult for organisations in service industries (especially where the service is transparent such as live events) to balance increased costs (incremental salary increases and inflationary cost pressures) with reduced or even stagnant client budgets. There are different methods they can use to do this. One is by looking to reduce the cost base (employ lower cost people, outsource certain functions, use lower quality materials and strip non-essential items) or they can look to improve the productivity of the resources in hand. Sometimes both – depending on the positioning of the organisation.
From an individual’s perspective, how productive we are depends on how well we use the resources available to us and how effective we are with our time. This means ensuring that we are generating more valuable output than we cost in order that we are seen as adding value to the organisation. This means that we have to be super focussed on what we do and how we do it.
Many of us face organisational challenges that are beyond our making, and which make it difficult to focus throughout the day. Examples of this include: –
- being in an open plan environment – something championed as being great for increasing collaboration and creativity, but which creates a constant stream of interruptions
- having an ‘always on’ culture, where instant responsiveness to emails and phone calls is regarded as best practice
- involving everyone in brainstorm meetings because its good to get everyone’s views and ideas
- Using expensive resource to fulfil lower grade tasks just to cope with short lead requests
Did you know that every time we are interrupted in a task, it can take us between 15 and 20 minutes to get back to where we were and maintain our original focus? It is anticipated that every worker loses around 2 hours per day from interruptions. That’s 10 hours per week lost to needless distractions. In an office consisting 10 people – and just basing this on the real living wage for London (grossed up) @ £11.30p/h – that’s £54,240 per annum a business is potentially losing in lack of focus because of disruptions and misguided decisions on ‘best practice’.
Add to this, research from the University of California that suggests that we are only able to maintain solid focus for 2 hours before we interrupt ourselves because our bodies are programmed to need a ‘recharge’, it’s no wonder that organisations struggle with productivity.
There are a number of things we can do to improve our productivity just by making a few simple changes to our day. Granted some will need organisational buy in, but those who make the changes reap the rewards.
- Track and evaluate your time
Many organisations have nominated apps/systems to allow workers to track their time. The trouble is few then analyse the time effectively – often because it relies on workers recording their time accurately and this can be a sticking point.
I can’t be clearer on this. If you want to be productive you need to be aware of how you are spending your time. You can then evaluate which elements are taking you towards your goals for the day / week and which are value draining. Anything that is value draining needs to be managed out / minimised from your working day. Only you can do this, and you can only do this by stopping and starting the clock each time you change your attention!
- Plan and manage your time in blocks
It’s very rare for me to come across a workforce that isn’t super busy, most saying there isn’t sufficient time in the day to complete their tasks. And yet few effectively schedule their days/week – instead, most work off ‘to do’ lists to plan their workload.
Hands down ‘the’ most effective way to accomplish more is to pre-plan your week in blocks of time. At the beginning of every week physically block sections of your diary where you will: – focus on the outcomes that you need to achieve for specific projects/tasks; respond to emails and client calls; be available for meetings; complete administrative tasks etc. The time you will need to allocate to each will depend on your job role. Within these blocks will set your ‘to do’ items
Build in 20-minute blocks where you can move around and recharge your body and mind.
Where possible have a regular block pattern in your diary. Your body will become accustomed to this and it will soon be natural. Furthermore, your colleagues and clients will also soon become familiar with this pattern and it will become the norm for them too.
To maintain agility, I allow a ‘spare’ block in my day each day (usually early to mid-afternoon) to allow me to respond quickly and in a focussed manner to any unexpected opportunities that occur during the day.
- Manage your communications
It absolutely isn’t necessary for you to be instantly available to anyone (unless of course a real emergency). It is also not healthy (or good for productivity) for you to be responding to work emails or calls once you leave the office / stop work. Note that I am not saying every day should be a 9 – 5 day, because in certain industries this isn’t feasible, but I am saying that good planners should be able to plan in advance their ‘on’ hours each week and these should be maintained. Exceptions will apply of course – especially where key projects/events are looming – but these should not be the norm.
It is though good practice to manage people’s expectations when they are trying to contact you, and this can be done professionally and productively by: –
- Turning your email and phone notifications off.
- Schedule 30 minutes – 1 hour first thing in the morning to respond to / handle any overnight emails/phone messages.
- Schedule 30-minute slots every 2 hours to check and respond to / handle emails/phone messages received in the previous 2 hours. You can change your out of office notification/voicemail message during the day to read that you are away from your desk and will respond within 2 hours. This will cover you and most people will agree that this is an acceptable time frame for a response.
- Check your emails/phone messages before you leave in the evening and change the out of office message to say that you will respond first thing in the morning
- Manage your meetings
Plan for every meeting before they are scheduled. This means: –
- really evaluating who needs to be physically at the meeting and ensuring that anyone who is invited will be able to fully participate
- conducting and sharing any research on the meeting topic with the relevant meeting members in good time before the meeting, alongside a timed agenda – and ask them to come prepared so that you can make the most of the allotted time
- assessing whether the meeting needs to take place physically or whether it can be held online (which is often less disruptive)
Where possible have a policy where all meetings are held either at the front or back end of the day – to allow for focussed blocks during the day
Introduce and apply meeting etiquette rules such as
- starting and finishing on time – 100% of the time
- having a meeting chair and note taker
- no phones, laptops, or tablets
Research has shown that it isn’t productive to individually take notes during meetings as we tend to miss detail and nuances, and this affects our effectiveness and contribution. This does however rely on the note taker being able to take detailed and precise notes and circulating these quickly post the meeting.
- Follow email/calendar best practice
- Only touch each email once. Either delegate the task; acknowledge receipt and schedule as an action block; file or delete.
- Unsubscribe from emails you regularly delete without opening
- Use email rules to automatically syphon off emails ‘for information’ (for example from suppliers). These can be read in the blocks you set aside for keeping abreast of industry developments
- Use email scheduler to avoid recipients seeing that you may be sending emails outside of office hours (it really doesn’t send a healthy message)
- Set reminder flags to emails that you send where you are expecting a reply
- Have standard email templates drafted that you can use for email requests / scenarios that you receive regularly (even where you want to personalise slightly – it really does save time!)
- Allow others to access and schedule meetings directly in your calendar. By using blocks of time to schedule your project work this will guide people to booking meetings only where you have kept space aside for meetings.
- Eat the frog
‘Eat the Frog’ is a phrase coined by Brian Tracy. In his book of the same name, he suggests that, really urgent tasks aside, people should get the most daunting, difficult task out of the way first thing in the day in order to be much more productive for the rest of the day.
Science suggests that when we accomplish challenging tasks, we get a sense of real achievement and this drives momentum and increases the energy and vigour that we give to other tasks. Conversely when we leave the task to the end of the day, we are more likely to procrastinate and tackle the task with low energy resulting in lower quality work.
Ultimately we all have the same hours in the day, it’s just that some use their hours more effectively than others and they do this by planning and controlling time rather than letting time dictate to them how much they can achieve.
Here’s to a more productive future for you and your organisation.
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