Three quick wins for workplace productivity

Soy bean harvest - productivity
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Ben Elijah
Author
The Productivity Habits
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We’d all like to be a little more productive right? Finding ways to stop procrastinating and get things done? Easier said than done though. With more distractions in our workplaces – emails, social media, phone calls - being and staying productive is a challenge.

The good news is that by adopting better habits, productivity can be continuously improved. I shared how individuals can enhance their personal productivity through eight simple habits in my book, The Productivity Habits.

Here I outline just three of these to help you boost efficiency and effectiveness in your organisation:

Capture

One of the most effective ways to boost your team's productivity is getting into the habit of capturing information.

When speaking with a colleague who has taken notes based on your suggestions you can be sure that they mean to act on them. Therefore encourage your staff to capture information whenever it comes to their attention. It's one of the most powerful habits they'll ever pick up. They could use a piece of paper, a smartphone or a dedicated task management tool - it doesn't really matter. Once your team gets into the habit of putting all key actions from email, conversations, meetings and calls into a single task system, it'll be easy for them to decide which task to do. After all, their brains are for decision-making, not storage.

Our brains are for decision-making, not storage.

Situation

Does your working environment help your people to produce their best work, or does it hinder them?

I use a concept called The Context Triangle to answer this question. It's a mechanism which helps you to decide how a situation - a particular combination of space, time and thought - defines the kind of work. One of the interesting conclusions from it is that information-poor environments, such as most offices, are great for focused decision-making but not so good for more open creativity. If your business depends on creative conversations and thinking, you'll see better results in a more information-rich environment, like a café or a park, than the conference room. Encourage managers in your business to think about the kind of work their teams do, and select an environment accordingly.

The Context Triangle also links mood to attention. Mood is as much a part of your people's environment as physical space and resources. It's fairly intuitive - when feeling tired or low the kind of work someone can produce will be different than the high-attention tasks they can perform when happy and energetic. Of course, it's important to do what you can to ensure your team is happy. But by acknowledging that people sometimes need to defocus and zone-out, you can train them to use those moments for low-attention work, like quick bits of admin.

Review

Different sources of information, such as social media, phone calls, and emails, can be described as “channels”. Each channel has different levels of relevance, volume, and urgency. If we focus on volume and urgency we can determine how often employees should review a channel. Your staff probably receive a high volume of email so it's more efficient to batch-process them. Most emails are also low urgency - new messages probably aren't the most important thing in your universe right now. Therefore, does email need to be checked every five minutes? Do emails even deserve the right to make a sound or a buzz, which notifies you to their presence?

Encourage your people to find a cadence for checking email, which reflects the volume and urgency of the messages they receive.

Encourage your people to text or IM each other if something is truly urgent.

Of course, your people might find themselves checking email too frequently. Sometimes it might even be a reflex. The reasons for this are complex, but a large part of it is the fear that the odd email could contain a "bomb"; a genuinely urgent message from the boss or an important client. It wastes a lot of time and can make people feel quite anxious, so making it harder to engage with more appropriate tasks. Instead, encourage your people to text or IM each other if something is truly urgent. Otherwise, send an email. The volume of truly urgent messages will tend to be quite manageable, and because they are allowed to beep and buzz, they won't need to be regularly monitored.

Conclusions

By encouraging your people to capture information habitually, you will make it easier for them to carry out their commitments. By thinking strategically about the kind of tasks your working environments lend themselves to, you can empower staff to make the most of their working situations. And by educating your people to give emails the attention they deserve (i.e., less attention than they're probably giving them right now), they can free up time and attention for more important work.

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