Let’s Rethink Productivity

Let’s Rethink Productivity

Productivity in its basic form means to produce more. This is a misleading statement for any individual or business because the definition suggests that volume is the aim. Productivity could be better described as producing what is good, better. Matt Perman, author of What’s Best Next, describes it as a focus “not primarily on doing more things in less time but rather in doing the right things in a flexible way”

Right, good, these seem like high ideals: world peace, protecting the abused and marginalised; don’t these ideals often sit outside our remit of work? Matt Perman would like to suggest otherwise: that this is a focus on the right and the good of our own day-to-day work.

Everything can be done well, even the books, the housekeeping, the posting (both traditional and media based). Given infinite time we can do things better and better, normally there is an exact correlation between doing something well and the time we spend over it*. It doesn’t sound like very good productivity advice to say “do everything really well”, we’d never sleep if we genuinely took on this advice.

So here’s the tricky bit: deciding what things are worth doing really well and spending a lot of time over and what things are not worth it. Once we’ve picked the important things, we can focus on them, create a vision around them, and carve out time for them. The less important things can be attacked with an arsenal of productivity tools in order to reduce them: outsourcing, automating, delegating, reducing, action plans, and project support systems: kapow-boom-splat!

How do we decide what’s important? This is as individual as you, but here are a few pointers about things we all share in common:

1. We are people orientated.
Art Markman, author of Smart Thinking says “The interactions we have with other people affect the way we feel about life. Our close relationships keep us grounded and influence both happiness and the sense that we are part of a larger community. Interestingly, even our interactions with people we do not know that well give us a sense that we are part of that larger community”

2. We get a joy out of serving others
There’s a Chinese proverb that says “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.” Or put in a more scientific way by Jenny Santi in an article on time.com “Through fMRI technology, we now know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex.”

3. We cannot ever be truly motivated by money

“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A report published in the Harvard business review entitled “Does money really affect Motivation?” shows that “there is less than 2% overlap between pay and job satisfaction levels”

In business ‘your people’ are your customers, even if you don’t have direct contact with them. Orient your goals around serving them and the rest might just start to fall into place. Working with and for people is not efficient, it’s slow and hard work, but also fulfilling and there’s no bigger killer of efficiency than lack of fulfilment.

*Although it can be argued that too much time is also a killer of good work, especially in the realm of creativity.



As soon as possible. What does this really mean?

Operations Director Amanda, whilst managing an advertising studio in Wandsworth Town decided to ban it entirely: here she is explaining why: “ASAP conveys no useful information about when a thing is actually needed for. It might mean that it’s urgently needed today or in the next hour, or it might mean that it’s needed at the earliest convenience but need not bump any other priority work. It takes very little more effort to say “the event is on Friday so they need to see this Wednesday at the latest for approval” or “it was actually due yesterday so could it be done first thing this morning?”

“ASAP conveys no useful information about when a thing is actually needed for” Amanda Leat, Operations Director

I’ve added this into my topic on stress management because stress is clearly heightened through unclear priorities; when you are not sure how to order your goals or tasks in priority order the haze can start to descend and even the rational thinking professional can start to lose it.

So, spare a thought for those receiving your message when you type out those 4 letters, especially at this time of the year: They are up for interpretation. They mean nothing.

Get your diary back in the black this Friday

Get your diary back in the black this Friday

What better day to kick off my new theme in Stress Management than on the busiest shopping day of the year.  So let’s define stress in basic, scientific terms:

“Stress is a biological and psychological response experienced on encountering a threat that we feel we do not have the resources to deal with” Saul McLeod, Psychology lecturer at The University of Manchester, author of simplypsychology.org

McLeod goes on to say that when we experience long term stresses  spanning over several hours, days or weeks hormones are released to maintain a steady supply of blood sugar to keep us going. You could say that we are built to cope with stress and can even thrive under it. The body even suppresses our immune system in this mode; ever wondered why you always get sick on Christmas day? Stress had your immune system in overdrive, fighting off the flu, up until the point you relax.

So a few pointers for stress management in the silly season:

  1. The feeling of control slipping out of your fingers; the tipping point beyond which nothing makes sense is a horrid whirlwind of craziness that should be avoided at all costs, but come the moment when that starts to happen, spare a thought for your delightful adrenal gland keeping you going.
  2. Stress may be manageable in small doses but don’t let it go on for long (You want sherry not Lemsip on Boxing Day, right?). If you know you are stressed: STOP. Stop everything, just for 10 minutes. Walk away, take a pad of paper, sit in a room by yourself, leave your phone on your desk.
  3. Use the 10 minutes to write down what is really important about this day or week. Also write down the things that can be ignored, even if it’s just for a short while. If time is your most critical resource then your diary, especially your work diary, is like your bank account; go back to your desk and cancel non-critical meetings, block out time to work on critical things, and leave an hour for lunch (your body’s got to get blood sugar from somewhere).
  4. Don’t behave like this every day. Stress clouds our ability to make normal decisions so this is just a reaction to help keep those emotions under control. Once peace is restored you can start going to non-critical meetings and apologise to the people you’ve been ignoring!

I always feel slightly nervous about giving out time management advice on my blog posts because I can only write it from one perspective. I only offer one-to-one coaching sessions for this reason, all advice should be tailored to the individual and this post cannot be tailored. As a result, I’d love to hear your experiences of stress and any comments you have about this advice below.

Define: Eternal Optimist

Define: Eternal Optimist

Optimism is an overused and broad topic in coaching. The term “Positive thinking” is becoming so commonplace it doesn’t really mean anything anymore. It evokes images of cross-legged legging-clad women looking serene or men on mountains looking like gold medallists.

But, much like the state of flow discussed last week, optimism is not something you can conjure up. I propose that it is instead a bi-product of good working practices and, of course, your own personal tendencies.

As far as personal tendencies are concerned no-one really is an eternal optimist – no one is always positive, but you’ll probably be able to think of somebody you work with, if not yourself, who tends towards this outlook. Optimism gets bad press because it is often associated with these two common pitfalls:

2 main pitfalls of the eternal optimist:

  1. Being insensitive to people’s low feelings about difficult situations
  2. Burying your head in the sand and ignoring issues that need to be solved

This is where my good working practices come into it. A healthy dose of realism can help you steer optimism in useful directions. Focusing on the pitfalls will stop the hidden qualities of true optimism shining through:

2 main qualities of the true optimist:

  1. Assuming that the people you rely on will be reliable
  2. Assuming there is always a solution to every problem, even if it’s not immediately apparent

For the pessimist or cynic this approach seems foolhardy at best, but coupled with a realist’s approach to people’s feelings and a project’s failings, an optimist can overcome disappointments and struggle on to achieve results when a pessimist may have given up under a cloud of “I-told-you-so”.

So rather than a mantra to success that you keep repeating in the hope you will somehow become happy, optimism is a tool for approaching and fixing problems.

Oh dear, my first entry for this topic of optimism has been rather practical and advice driven, mostly because I feel so passionately about being an optimist myself. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on some of my advice so please feel free to comment below.

Define: Contingency

Define: Contingency

If you speak to a designer contingency means ‘lying about the deadline to make me work faster’. For bank managers and insurance brokers it’s hoarding cash for another crash. But what does it mean for those of us who want to make effective use of our time, no matter what our business?

It’s a familiar practice to build in contingency to large scale projects to ensure it’s delivered on time and on budget even when unforeseen issues arise but have you ever thought about building in contingency for your own personal goals and deliverables at work?

Some designers, developers and project managers I’ve worked with in the past have been brilliant at this: They consider the tasks they need to do and how long it will likely take them in normal circumstances and then estimate effort slightly longer/pricier than this.

It can feel dishonest when you are on the receiving end of an estimate which has been ‘padded out’ with contingency but you may need to ask yourself: “Is it wrong to plan for the worst case scenario?” In my experience, the worst case scenario is very likely to happen!

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

Define: Procrastination

Define: Procrastination


to_doWelcome to the first entry in my procrastination series. Procrastination literally means putting off for tomorrow. In my experience this is a tomorrow that is all too often more than a sunrise away; a “Mañana, Mañana” sort of tomorrow.

How about your experience of procrastination? Designer Jonny says it’s “self-interested laziness…ignoring what I need to do, in favour of doing pretty much nothing at all!” Developer Dave defines it mostly as “the action of a treasonous part of my brain that prevents me from achieving all my goals in life”.

Leave your comments below, if you have the time… or if you don’t, perhaps a quick pause might give you a fresh perspective on the dregs of your to-do list which have slowly shunted themselves into the urgent GET-THIS-DONE-BEFORE-BANK-HOLIDAY-WEEKEND-OR-ELSE list. I’m sure a short break won’t lead you into procrastination…I guess that all depends on who is steering