Cause And Effect – Productivity Is An Action, Not a Result

Discussions on “productivity” often focus on leverage or other financial management measurements. However, at its core, productivity results from better workload processing behaviors. People are the ones doing the behaving. So, to increase productivity, we must look at how they are managing the flow of work (and other things) during day. Small changes in these behaviors can drive dramatic results.

For example, if an individual increases his/her measured productivity by 1/10 of an hour per day (or 6 minutes), that improvement aggregates to 24 additional hours of production per year. That’s three days of additional production. Or, at $200 an hour, it’s almost $5,000 in increased billings. Multiply that result by the number of people in an organization and the productivity gains are significant.

More importantly, though, is my belief that better workflow/time management practices improve responsiveness, effectiveness and efficiency.

  • Responsiveness is delivering considered advice to a client in a timely fashion.
  • Effectiveness is having a solid handle on what must be done and an accurate understanding of when and how things will get done.
  • Efficiency it increases the amount of work getting done during the same time frame.

These are all key components to building and maintaining solid working relationships with colleagues and clients.

Individual productivity comes down to increasing the amount of time an individual is focusing on the work at hand. To increase focus, the distractions and interruptions that bombard us during the day must be reduced.

For example, one of the most repeated productivity recommendations in today’s world is to turn off the new e-mail notifications received via Microsoft Outlook or other e-mail clients. These new e-mail notifications are self-inflicted distractions allowed under the pretense of responsiveness. The reality is that they slice focus in half and actually reduce productivity.

Allow me to demonstrate my point. The other day I was working with an individual on some other Outlook efficiency settings. She was right in the middle of executing a simple instruction I had given her when a new e-mail notification popped up in the lower right hand corner of her screen. I watched her physically look away from what she was doing with me, review the preview pop up, then look back up at what she and I were doing. I ticked off the seconds in my head between the time she looked away and the time she began completing the simple instruction I had given her. The result was three seconds.

“So what,” you ask? Well, multiply that by even 100 e-mails per day. That aggregates to 300 seconds (or 5 minutes) a day of activity with no associated productivity; nothing happened. You can argue that the e-mail may have been more important than what she was doing with me, which is a fair point. However, even if she’d jumped onto that project, the lost productivity associated with the original distraction would still creep back into her day when she returned to the task we were completing.

I’m not advocating ignoring your e-mail; I’m advocating managing it better. In fact, I think most professionals need to check their e-mail as frequently as necessary, up to two or three times per hour. The point I’m making is that self-inflicted interruptions like these are adversely affecting productivity on both sides of the analysis. Checking e-mail is one thing, but being interrupted every single time one enters an Inbox is an unnecessary and unproductive distraction.

As this small example demonstrates, slight changes in workflow processing behaviors have dramatic effects on productivity. Increasing productivity improves responsiveness, effectiveness and efficiency. When achieved, the result is greater satisfaction – for you, your colleagues and your clients.

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