Are you in an organization that is “doing more with less?” Individual productivity becomes more important in that environment. But rather than just saying, “do more”, it is important to understand what contributes to productivity in the first place. Productivity is closely aligned with habit formation, goal achievement and will power. When we understand these, we can find ways to encourage genuine productivity.
*Please join us Friday, October 5th at 5pm BST/12pm ET/9am PT for the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz as we discuss “Creating Workable Solutions To Encourage Genuine Productivity”. Not sure how to participate? Please click here for tips and advice.
Some days it feels like an exercise in futility
Ever had one of the those days where you look back and you feel as if you got nothing done. What did I do for 10 hours today? Dr. Gloria Mark, associate professor at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, studies how work gets done. In her research on information workers, she has discovered that people work in uninterrupted time for minutes in each day. Yes, minutes a day, not hours. While there are external interruptions like phone calls or people physically talking to us, a significant portion of what interferes with productivity is self-interruption. She also discovered that self-interruption becomes a habit.
Quite a lot of our behavior is a habit. We tend to follow the same routine everyday so it would make sense that we’re accustomed to checking our email, favorite social media sites or even suddenly remembering we forgot to do a task. We’ve built up neural pathways for these behaviors and they become automatic. (Even as I was writing this post, I found myself wanting to check my email or read another intriguing psychological study.) Essentially, we’re creating the interruption that lowers our productivity which causes us stress.
But productivity is more than our attention span or our habits. The way we set goals and achieve them has an impact on our productivity. One of the more surprising findings to come out of research on goal achievement is that fantasizing how awesome it will be when you finish a task actually diminishes the likelihood that you will finish said task.
So, you might start thinking you can muscle through tasks so you hit your productivity goals. However, maintaining productivity depends on our ability to persist and control our tendencies to follow our habits rather than our conscious decisions. In other words, will power. Recent studies on will power has discovered that it is more akin to a muscle than a cognitive event.As we engage in email, online destinations, external interruptions, stress and other emotions, interpersonal interactions, hunger, fatigue and a host of other things, we constantly exercise our will power. Trying to get refocused on a task after interruptions is compromised and it takes will power to get ourselves back on track. This will power gets depleted over time and distraction and procrastination can set in.
But there are deadlines to meet and quotas to fill…
It might be as simple as changing how we work. That’s not to say it would be easy but it could be simple. With so much advice out there, the simple solution is to find your way to work. One of my colleagues, Elaine Rogers, makes a good point in her post about time management by saying that it is more important to be effective rather than efficient. And then there is Leo Batauta’s recommendation that we “Toss Productivity Out“. We know interruptions are going to happen. Traditional tips for staying productive are either being ignored or do not work for most people. We’re not paying enough attention to habit, goal achievement and will power to support effective productivity.
It might be as simple as mindfulness. When doing a task, be present with that task. When you are not able to be present, discover why your attention has wandered. It might be time to stop working. When we increase our awareness of how we, individually, operate, it is much easier to find the strategy that works for us.
What do we not understand about productivity?
What would happen if we allowed ourselves unproductive time?
How would you use mindfulness to support productivity?
What practical strategies have you observed working to encourage productivity?
How could workplaces be designed to maximize productivity?
About the author: Elli St.George Godfrey, founder of Ability Success Growth and small business coach/trainer, is the host of KaizenBiz. I’m passionate about business becoming a more human-centered place so I host this chat to connect business ideas and develop people.This passion shows up in my work with my clients. Whether you are expanding in your own backyard or into another country, Ability Success Growth guides established small business owners to unlock the CEO within during times of transition and growth.