In a world where we are constantly being pulled in different directions, it’s essential to have the skills to be efficient with our time, focus, and resources. Productivity is about achieving maximum output while minimizing effort and waste.
At WinShape Teams we desire to see purposes accomplished and people fulfilled. As such, we will explore five cornerstones of productivity that can help individuals achieve their goals personally and professionally. These cornerstones are crucial in laying a solid foundation for productivity and can help individuals and their teams stay focused, efficient, and effective.
5 Cornerstones of Productivity
1. Identify the Real Problem
One key aspect of productivity is being able to identify the root cause of any problems before attempting to solve them. It’s important to avoid simply reacting to symptoms of a problem, as this can lead to wasted time and effort. Instead, taking the time to understand the underlying issue can help to save time and resources in the long run.
For example, if you find yourself working long hours to get everything done, it’s important to assess why. Is this due to having too much on your plate or is it because you’re having to fix errors and rework? By understanding the root cause, you can develop a more effective strategy for managing your workload.
If “urgent” tasks are constantly popping up, take a step back to look at how you and your team are working. If everything is considered urgent, nothing truly is. Ask if the task can be pushed to a later date.
People often label a task as “urgent” when they simply mean “important.” When they actually consider whether said task needs to be completed immediately or if the start can be delayed a week, they realize it makes no major difference.
If the task cannot wait, consider what other pieces of work need to be pushed back to accommodate the urgent task. To prevent burnout, no new task is committed without another task being removed or delayed.
Often, when you (and the person assigning you the task) look at what would need to be pushed in order to complete the task in question, you’ll realize it is actually a lower priority than your current work. If the urgent task is deemed truly urgent, shift your work accordingly by pushing the lowest-priority work.
It’s important to communicate this change of priorities to your people leader so that everyone is on the same page. If other people are affected by these changes, be sure to let them know too.
2. Little’s Law
Little’s Law: Average Lead Time = Average Work in Progress/Average Throughput
If time is money, nothing is more valuable than a quick turnaround time. That’s where Little’s Law comes in. This simple formula is the key to understanding how to shorten your lead time (the time it takes to complete a specific process or task). There are two surefire ways to do it:
Option 1 is to increase your throughput (finding ways to do more work). This can be working longer hours (obviously this option is less than ideal), investing in better tools and technology, or optimizing your workflow by reducing waste. When you can complete more work, you can reduce your lead time and get results faster.
Option 2 (which is may be even more important) is to reduce your work in progress. This means minimizing the number of partially completed tasks and projects that are waiting to be finished.
By focusing on one task at a time, you can avoid the pitfalls of multitasking and improve your productivity. Studies show that multitasking not only takes 50% longer to complete tasks, but it also leads to 50% more mistakes.* So, by avoiding multitasking and focusing on one task at a time, you not only reduce your lead time but also improve the quality of your work.
There’s more good news. Shorter lead times also allow for quicker feedback loops, which means you can identify and address problems sooner, reducing the need for rework and saving you even more time in the long run.
So, if you want to be more productive and get results faster, remember Little’s Law and focus on increasing your throughput or reducing your work in progress.
3. Individual Productivity < Team Productivity
In the business world, it is essential to prioritize team productivity over individual productivity. While being efficient in your own work is important, it can cause waste within your team if it is not aligned with the team’s goals.
In the book, Team Work, Russ Surratt states, “when all the players serve each other and the common purpose of the team, everyone wins.” As a team player, you must prioritize the overall goals of the team, even if it means temporarily putting your individual goals aside.
To increase efficiency, it is essential to look at the team’s processes and procedures, and not just from your individual perspective. It helps to examine how the team communicates, plans, and stores resources to identify areas that need continual improvement.
Meetings are one of the largest culprits of waste in most organizations. Before scheduling a meeting, it is critical to ask yourself these questions:
- Does this really need to be a live meeting, or can it be done asynchronously?
- Is the meeting length appropriate and necessary?
- Do all the meeting attendees need to be present?
- Can work be done beforehand and distributed in advance to ensure that the meeting is productive and valuable for everyone?
By implementing these strategies, you can significantly reduce waste and increase team productivity, leading to better outcomes for the entire organization.
4. Create a “Pull System” for Sharing Information
It is crucial to acknowledge that a great deal of employees’ time is spent on “work about work.” According to Asana’s 2022 Anatomy of Work Index, most people believe that they spend 35% of their working time on activities such as communicating about work, searching for information, and chasing status updates. The same survey found that, in reality, these tasks actually take up 58% of employees’ time. This discrepancy is one of the primary reasons people feel overwhelmed at work, and it’s essential to address it.
One of the most significant culprits of time wasted at work is hunting for information. This is a common problem faced by many modern businesses. However, this problem can be easily addressed by creating a “pull system” for sharing information.
People usually save or send information in the easiest and quickest way for themselves, without considering how it impacts others. This can cause significant delays and inefficiencies when someone else needs to find that information.
To solve this issue, it’s essential to store information in the right place, even if it takes longer at the moment. Organizing data in a structured manner will save you and your team time and effort in the long run. The faster you can retrieve the information you need, the more productive you and your team can be.
It’s crucial to align as a team to optimize the speed of retrieval. When everyone is clear on where to store information, it becomes effortless to retrieve said information. This way, you can reduce the time spent on hunting for information and spend more time on meaningful work.
5. Leverage Your Biological Prime Time
We all have times of the day when we’re more productive than others. Structuring your work around your natural rhythms can help you achieve more in less time. By identifying your biological prime time, you can schedule your most important tasks during these periods to maximize productivity and efficiency.
By optimizing your peak times, limiting distractions, and getting into a flow state, you can accomplish more in a few hours than you would in a regular day full of forced focus and hunting for information.
Focus on your highest priority or most complex work during your biological prime time. When your energy or focus is low, concentrate on maintenance tasks such as scheduling meetings or archiving emails. Working in harmony with your natural rhythms creates optimal productivity and efficiency, leading to greater success and accomplishment in your work.
After identifying and prioritizing your biological prime time, the next step is to discuss your teammates’ prime times. By identifying everyone’s peak working time, you can be intentional in supporting the team by blocking high-output time boxes from being capitalized by meetings or low-value tasks.
The pursuit of productivity is not about working harder or longer, but about working smarter. By implementing these five cornerstones, individuals and organizations can achieve their goals, improve their bottom line, and create a culture of productivity that will benefit everyone. It’s time to take control of our productivity and become more efficient, effective, and successful.