Productivity – Just What ARE We Trying To Do?

productivity, organization, workTime management apps, list making apps, pen and paper, notebooks, sticky notes, ergonomic desks and chairs, quiet rooms…what do all of these things have in common? They are some (and only some) of the things people use to increase their productivity. While work productivity is an age-old and ongoing quest, there seems to be something curious going on with the current concept of productivity.

Is it the fault of Lean thinking, the Great Recession or something else?

There has been this line of thinking of somehow producing products, services or results with as few resources as possible. Some of this comes from Lean. And yet, more and more companies are trying to do more with less. There are workplace and technological trends that encourage this way of behaving. Nearly everyone has a smart device so it is easy to stay connected and work in other settings beyond the traditional office. So, if there are more tools and ways to be productive, why are there so many blog posts (yes, I’m guilty of writing those posts too) explaining how to be more productive?

The usual obstacles

One of the most frustrating obstacles is when you have to wait for someone else to complete a task before you do your next part. But there are some that are more personal like fatigue, procrastination, impulsively checking email or social media streams, illness, stress overload, multitasking, distractability and inattention. Organizationally, you may find your productivity hampered by poor communication, inconsistent policies, lack of coherent action plans, lack of appropriate resources and poor management.

Something more in play here?

I call it the “Cult of Productivity” but it could easily be the “cult of doing” or the “cult of business.”  There seems to be this mindset that we must be busy doing. Somehow we are all being encouraged to act like workaholics regardless of how high or low we are in our organizations. This ignores the growing body of research providing reasons and correlations as to why working excessive hours and days is counterproductive and unhealthy. According to study in Pakistan by Subha Imtiaz and Shakil Ahmad of COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, “Stress results in high portion of absence and loss of employment. The ratio of stress affectees in organization are increasing on alarming rate which effects both the employee performance and goal achievement.” Their findings are similar to results in North American & European-based research.It’s as if an infection is growing globally that is putting pressure on every one to remain at work or that blurs the lines between work and personal time. This Cult of Productivity affects not only the bottom line but hurts people’s lives.

Just what are we trying to do?

Workers at all levels of an organization are often expected to have high workloads and tight deadlines. Work is getting done. But if we stop to look at productivity, what kind of philosophy or mindset is pushing all of us to work as constantly as possible?

Productivity – do we really know what we are doing? And why? Join us on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz on Friday, May 16, 2014 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT to add your insights and expertise to our conversation.

How do we define a “good day’s work” in 2014?

What does productivity really mean if many of us are knowledge workers?

What kinds of observations have you made about productivity obstacles?

Who sets the “rules” for how we define productivity?

If we spend so  much time “doing” and fretting about doing, how are we changing what a productive life looks like?




Global Growth, Emotional Awareness & Productivity

KaizenBiz , Twitter chat, One of the recent introductions to the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz in 2013 has been the “Bring Your Own Headline” discussion. This conversation is usually much more wide ranging and even better when someone from the KaizenBiz community shares something that caught their attention. Have you come across any interesting posts or new stories that make you stop and think? This week, we are going to move from topic to topic and see what big ideas are popping up. So, check out these stories and bring your own this Friday to the live Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am.

Better global economy?

There have been glimmers from regional economies that growth is occurring. Ireland exited the bailout last week and other parts of the Eurozone are showing fractional improvement. The Japanese economy is looking better. While economists are more positive, they are not saying it’s entirely bullish.

What observations have you made regarding the economy where you are located?

How are different sectors responding to the economic news?

What is same/different about this economic recovery?

 Being able to read organization’s emotions can improve odds of success?

There are probably leaders all over the world who just don’t get “it.” In the US, President Obama’s approval rating and the exit of Steve Ballmer as CEO of Microsoft are good examples of how that emotional stuff can interfere with any strategic plan, no matter how well thought out or designed it might be. As Quy Huy, INSEAD Associate Professor of Strategy and Director of the Strategy Execution Programme, wrote in his post,  many executives “fail to…take into account the hidden traps related to soft human factors, including the collective emotions of middle managers and others who influence the process of strategy execution and have a critical impact on the outcomes.”

Steve Tobak recommends in his Inc post that we should ignore emotional intelligence because it is a business fad. (Although this fad seems to be going on for decades now) He cites a list of leaders who are not known for being kind or compassionate but their companies are successful. Tobak and many others show an oversimplification in their understanding of emotional intelligence. It still doesn’t answer why leaders ignore the zeigeist of their company while following the strategic plan. Quy Huy’s point about ignoring emotions reminds us that people will express in their behavior their willingness to execute or derail any plan.

What fosters the disconnect between upper management, middle management and the workers?

While models like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are touted as successful examples, why do people continue to fail to execute strategic plans?

Does an emotionally intelligent leader have to seem “nice” or can there be other expressions of awareness?


We all have lots to do. As my good friend, Kneale Mann reminds me, we all have the same 24 hours each day as everyone else (including all those famous people). There are always posts telling us what highly successful (read “highly productive”) people do with their day. There are reports that our productivity rises or falls depending on where, when and how we do our work. However, it seems to boil down to our daily choices and habits.

One of these habits has to do with email. In an interesting post on Fast Company, Laura Vanderkam discusses the pros and cons of checking email first thing in the morning. Reading and responding to email can certainly use up time we meant for other activities. MIndset certainly plays a role in this. Seth Godin suggests that we become productive when we are “non-productivity and deciding to do something that matters, right now.”

How is productivity different from efficiency?

What expectations do people have about their workload or daily schedule?

How do we buy into the idea that we are so busy that our productivity is hampered?

Please join us Friday, December 20, 2013 on the Twittter chat, #KaizenBiz at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT as we take a look at these and other topics. Bring your own suggestions and a question.






How Important Is Choosing Where We Work?

Last week on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz, our conversation was a potpourri. Unfortunately time ran out before we got to the last headline. Give the recent outcry about telecommuting and flexible workplaces, it seemed worth taking a closer look at what was really underneath the discussion.

It all started with Marisa Mayer

As I wrote in the brief introduction last week, It is uncertain that Marissa Mayer was intending to trigger an intense conversation about where people work. I imagine she was looking at Yahoo and how it could function better. However, she touched a nerve.

This response highlights a major shift

There has been a progression in the workplace to being connected twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. This means we can work anywhere with our laptops, our tablets and smartphones. But this does mean that the old model of coming to the office and staying there for the workday has become outdated and maybe even impractical. Yet, there are holdouts. Last week, there was a report about a recent study done in Ireland in which 73% of employers feared a “loss of control” if their workers had a flexible workplace. Now, they also expressed concerns about the cost of this workplace practice as well as productivity.

What if we treated workers like the adults they are?

In a Harvard Business Review blog post, Leigh Thompson notes that workers are seeking autonomy. It is a remarkable thing when your employer recognizes you as an skilled adult who can manage a workload without babysitting. Thompson noted that some people like the structure of coming into the “commons”. Being in the physical workplace can provide boundaries that increases productivity. For others, they crave the “cave”, being home provides comfort and space that can increase productivity. These are choices that honor autonomy.

Would a conscious choice to allow workers to choose their best work environment prevent negative behaviors?

There are upsides and downsides to companies dictating where you can work. There is also the danger of workers simply tuning out and creating their own workspaces, regardless of any company policy.


Why do employers believe they have to contain their workers to foster high productivity?

What is the furor triggered by Marisa Mayers’ decision really about?

What is the real/actual impact on business goals and revenue growth when companies use flexible workplaces as their norm?

How would you incorporate flexible workplaces into industries that require workers to be on site (ex. manufacturing)?

Is the search for some control or autonomy in the workplace reflecting something larger in society? Why or why not?

About the author:  Elli St.George Godfrey, founder of Ability Success Growth, small business coach and executive coach, 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 locally or internationally, Ability Success Growth guides established small business owners and executives to unlock the CEO within during times of transition and growth.


Creating Workable Strategies To Encourage Genuine Productivity

Productivity strategies, Self-awarenessAre 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.

Goal achievement

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.

Will power

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.