Workplace productivity is a huge challenge for nearly every company, business and organization. Leaders struggle to get their own work done (and do the RIGHT work,) while also guiding, empowering and motivating their people to achieve maximal productivity. While the projections vary, estimates suggest that businesses worldwide lose hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars annually due to underproduction.
To help my clients address this important issue, I have divided the path to increased productivity into five steps:
- Plan it: Plan the process in advance to get really clear on task, process and outcome.
- Share it: Involve others in the work through meetings, communication and delegation.
- Do it: Get the work done by removing distractors and optimizing time and energy.
- Sustain it: Develop a mindset and self-care approach that ensures continuity.
- Lead it: Leverage leadership position to motivate others, create a healthy work environment and engage others in meaningful work
Each “step” contains five action items, for a total of 25 items. This article addresses Step 1, “Plan It.”
The planning process is in many ways the hardest part of a task. After all, we are so conditioned to “do” that often we just want to roll up our sleeves and get things done. The problem is that the work we do is not necessarily structured for success, nor is it the work that will produce the best or most impactful result. Planning forces us to carefully consider our options before jumping in and doing.
Here are the five steps of the planning stage:
- Identify the “right” tasks. These are the tasks that will produce the optimal results and address the most critical issues you face. These are often referred to as “big rocks,” as in the priorities that you first need to place in your “jar” (i.e., complete) before filling other things around it (the metaphorical pebbles, sand and water).
- To do this, consider using the Eisenhower Matrix to guide you. The matrix places every task in a quadrant, from “do” (tasks that are both urgent and important, such as a time sensitive customer request), to “plan” (non-urgent but important; this is where your strategic and visionary pieces fit); to “delegate” (urgent but not important items, such as responding to inbound communication); to “eliminate” (or at least limit, like time wasters.)
- Remember the Pareto principle (also called the 80/20 rule), which suggests that 80 percent of our outcomes come from 20 percent of our efforts. Choosing the right place to focus our efforts matters more than we often think.
- Manage and prioritize your to-do list. There is a big debate about the value of keeping a to-do list; if you use one, make it most useful by prioritizing the items on it based on the considerations below.
- Which items, if completed, will have the biggest positive impact. (See Pareto principle above.)
Keep the list short and manageable.
Remove the “ever present” items that never seem to get done but are just pushed further down the list.
Schedule tasks on your calendar to ensure proper focus.
Set positive, actionable goals—goals that drive action are stated in the positive (what you will do as opposed to stop doing) and “SMART.”
SMART is a goal setting system that helps people set goals that produce results. S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable/Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. The most important part of the goal is that it is “specific.” This represents the who, what, why, and how of the SMART model. (Who will do the work; what you (or they) will do; why that is important; how you will achieve the goal; and how the goal will make you feel.)
Organize your workspace. Whether you consider yourself organized or not, research is clear that we get more done when we know where things are. This is true with our physical things (papers, files, gadgets, etc.) as well as our virtual ones. Not only can things be found more easily but there is also a psychological benefit of maintaining a neat workspace. Our external order creates internal order and allows us to do more and better manage challenges. In contrast, a messy workspace sends a subliminal message that your work isn’t important or that the process you’re involved in isn’t critical.
Determine what’s needed. Assess what is needed to get the job done in terms of materials, knowledge and skills. Perhaps you’re lacking a sufficiently powerful computer or CRM option. Maybe you need to learn something additional. Whatever it is, position yourself in advance to hit the ground running so that you experience the fewest interruptions and setbacks possible before getting started.
Now that the “plan” for the work has been laid out, subsequent posts will walk through the process of sharing, doing, sustaining and leading it over time.
Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, is a former executive who supports leaders and their teams through productivity coaching. Take his free productivity self-assessment at www.ImpactfulCoaching.com/Productivity-Assessment. Download his free productivity blueprint at www.ImpactfulCoaching.com/Productivity-Blueprint.