Productivity is not only doing more work. It was only after 7 years into my leadership career that I came to fully appreciate the meaning of productivity. I was managing a fairly large team, and it was safe to say that they were a sufficient number for the amount of work we had to manage.
However, we struggled for months to meet deadlines and churn out the excellent work we always envisioned for the projects we undertook. One day, I took a look at each and every member of my team as they walked into the office on a Monday. I went to each person and asked them what tasks they expected to complete for the day.
To my surprise, only a single person had a plan for the day. They knew exactly what they were about. They had clarity on how they wanted their day to start and to end. It was then that I came to understand that productivity is simply about strategically managing our time and energy levels to improve our performance. Since then, I have adopted the right tools to leverage my growth and success as a leader of myself, my team and my businesses.
Management is a key skill required not only of leaders but employees, too. Some employees can be more productive than their superiors. Productivity is not inherent in people in leadership positions. It is a soft skill to be studied and practiced. Anyone can learn to be a better and more effective person. If you are productive as a person, you can translate that into being a great leader who is able to manage small to large teams to be consistent and also productive. The bottom line about productivity is being able to get more done in an efficient and sustainable manner. Does that make multitasking a good skill to be more productive?
Well, research has shown that our brains are not nearly as good at handling multiple tasks as we like to think they are. In fact, some researchers suggest that multitasking can actually reduce productivity by as much as 40%. In order to determine the impact of multitasking, psychologists asked study participants to switch tasks and then measured how much time was lost by switching. In one study conducted by Robert Rogers and Stephen Monsell, participants were slower when they had to switch tasks than when they repeated the same task. Another study – by Joshua Rubinstein, Jeffrey Evans, and David Meyer, found that participants lost significant amounts of time as they switched between multiple tasks; and lost even more time as the tasks became increasingly complex.
“What is it that makes multitasking such a productivity killer? It might seem like you are accomplishing multiple things at the same time, but what you are really doing is quickly shifting your attention and focus from one thing to the next. Switching from one task to another makes it difficult to tune-out distractions and can cause mental blocks which can slow you down,” Kendra writes in VeryWellMind’s psychology section.
Multitasking is not all bad. There is a better way to multitask without causing brain damage or being less productive. University researcher Clifford Nass recommends the following to avoid the possible deleterious impact of multitasking:
- Limit the number of things you juggle at any given time to just two tasks.
- Use the ‘20-minute rule’. Instead of constantly switching between tasks, try to fully devote your attention to one task for 20 minutes before switching to the other.
Entrepreneur.com also suggests that you work on related tasks together. When you work on a task, your brain activates all the circuits and neurons related to that task. When you switch to a new task, your brain has to adjust. The shift happens quickly, but it takes a toll on your memory, focus, and productivity. “The more times you switch, the more times you have to keep changing the state of your brain,” says Markman, cognitive psychologist and author of Smart Thinking (Perigee, 2012). “You’re losing time.”
If you need to multitask, then minimize the switching cost by bundling related tasks together. The more similar they are, the easier it will be for you to move fluidly between them.
If multitasking is not the solution to getting more done, then what is? The world is extremely busy now, and the urgency to be productive is more crucial than ever. There are hundreds of apps and hacks on the Internet, all in the name of helping people to be more productive. There is no hack to being productive. At the core of being successfully productive is discipline. And there is compassion for the way you work as an individual. If you are doing the work, here are three tips recommended by New York Times:
- Trust the small increments: You can’t expect to change years of working habits overnight. Small changes in how you work can gradually add up to big changes in productivity. Try one tip to start, and keep adding more as you find the strategies that work best for you.
- Be accountable: Whether it’s weekly check-ins with a co-worker or setting your own deadlines and announcing them to others, having to answer to someone else can often force you to get the job done.
- Forgive yourself: You are human: Accept that you are sometimes going to slip-up, become distracted and have a bad day. It’s more important to move on than to dwell on your mistakes.
Here are my 4 key recommendations on how to perform at optimum levels to get the work done.
- Challenge the Status quo
Strategic leaders are constantly challenging the status quo. Is there a more efficient way to complete a particular task? What could be changed to increase team unity and trust? As leaders, we must be open-minded and welcome conflicting viewpoints, even if the viewpoint being questioned is our own. If we want to develop our capacity to challenge preconceived notions, we must focus on the causes of an issue instead of the symptoms. We must make a list of our company’s established assumptions and think about them critically. We must also encourage debate and differences of opinion, and be sure people know in advance that it is the expectation.
- Be Malleable
As leaders, we must strategically promote an inquisitive workplace culture. We must search for lessons in successes and failures alike, and not be afraid to question long-held beliefs or practices. The ability to be self-critical is essential. Thus, we must review all major decisions and document whether they were successful or not. Be transparent about our discoveries. Laud employees when they bravely try something new, even if it ends up flopping. Conduct regular reviews and audits to see which departments are not producing as they should, and seek out the causes.
- Clearly Define Expectations
Before we can leverage any other way to improve our productivity and that of our team, we must absolutely make our expectations clear. When our expectations and our employee expectations go awry, the ramifications can be numerous and extreme. Certain team members may be falling short of their productivity goals simply because they do not know what those goals are. Do not assume they do. Instead, be as specific as possible about what they are expected to do – from daily to monthly goals. The important thing is that these goals should come with objective descriptions.
- Develop standard processes for projects.
As leaders, project processes are important investments for us and our team’s productivity. We do not want people reinventing the wheel every time they take on a new project. This is not just inefficient; it also increases the likelihood that the project will not be successful. We must create templates for regular projects. Details here are extremely important. You want to eliminate opportunities for a staff member to introduce any amount of variability.
While you need definite processes, it is also wise to accept suggestions for refining them. This will ensure they continue to improve as time goes on. As leaders, we must be sensitive about how we deal with productivity, because it can spell the demise of our business. By inculcating these strategies, we can leverage our productivity to ensure maximum performance. It will be extremely unfortunate to spend hours and days doing ‘work’ but getting no work done.
Every person and every workday is different. We must remain cognisant of the fact that we may need to adjust our tactics and mindset to align with our mental health and life circumstances. Sometimes to be productive, we must slow down or even pause. Listen to your mind and body. If you can take care of both, they will be in the best shape to help you get the work done.
As leaders, we must not only be interested in the work. We must also be kind about how we allocate tasks and set realistic expectations for when work should be done. Every day is a new chance to be better. Productivity is getting better at getting our tasks done.
Are you ready for TRANSFORMATION?
Dzigbordi K. Dosoo: The H.E.L.P. Coach
Dzigbordi K. Dosoo is a Soft Skills Expert, Personal Impact, Professional Growth and Influence Expert specializing in Humanness, Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Power – H.E.L.P.
In a career spanning over two decades, she has established herself as a Certified High Performance Coach, Speaker, Author, Wellness Expert and award-winning Entrepreneur with a clientele ranging from C-Suite Executives, Senior Management, Practitioners and Sales Leaders spanning 3 continents.
She is the Soft Skills Expert and Founder of Dzigbordi K. Dosoo (DKD) Holdings; a premier lifestyle business group with brand subsidiaries that include Dzigbordi Consulting Group& Allure Africa.
Dzigbordi has been featured on CNN for her entrepreneurial expertise. She is one of the most decorated female entrepreneurs in Ghana having being named ‘CIMG Marketing Woman of the Year’ in 2009; ‘Top 10 most respected CEOs in Ghana, 2012; Global Heart of Leadership Award and, Women Rising ‘100 Most Influential Ghanaian Women’, 2017.
She can be reached on [email protected] and @dzigbordikwaku across all social media platforms.