Hidden Dangers: Productivity Killers That Sap Energy and Time
Staying productive is top of mind for just about everybody these days.
Beyond the usual distractions of notification pings, email avalanches and never-ending Zoom calls, we have the continued pandemic, economic and political upheavals. Throw in the upcoming holiday season and we might as well call it a win for un-productivity.
But let’s not. Regardless of what is circling around you and your leadership team, you can stay focused and productive with these six success steps for achieving high performance.
Productivity advice usually starts with all the things that you can do. Things like timing, scheduling, turning off those pesky notifications, etc. We’ll get to all that, but before we do — the number one productivity step in my book is attitude.
Your attitude toward your job, project, company, team – even where you are in life, personal and professionally, impacts or infects everything you do to be productive. A person with a positive, optimistic attitude who looks forward to the day ahead will be more productive than someone who sees or seeks the negative. Simply put, that positive attitude translates to energy to get stuff done. Attitude also impacts your ability to concentrate and block out the hundreds of distractions that fill the day. So, the first hidden danger to productivity is attitude.
Check your attitude. If it’s not where you’d like it to be, you might be able to influence it with productivity step two: habits.
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After attitude, your habits, the behaviors you rely on, the things you routinely do, can make or break your productivity. Habits that increase productivity are built on a foundation of structure, routine and consistency. These include: a regular daily routine, good nutrition, regular sleep and exercise. Find a rhythm that works best for you. Not a morning person? Then ignore the oft-cited advice to do your critical tasks in the morning because you’re fresh. If you’re a night owl, you are not “fresh” in the morning, so save those key tasks for midnight when you come alive.
A hidden danger with productive habits though is rigidity. Productive habits also need to include flexibility and capability for change. Or, as my Dad use to say, “roll with the punches.”
You can check how productive your habits are with these four questions: Do I have a routine that works for me? Am I consistent or causal about my schedule? Are my habits flexible enough to adjust to change and handle the unexpected without throwing me off completely? When change happens, how quickly can I get back into my zone — my productive space?
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The people you surround yourself with can boost or drain your productivity even faster than your own attitude and habits because of the influence key people in your life and work have over you. Energy and enthusiasm are infectious. Laziness, negativity, worry are debilitating. We can’t always choose our teammates, but we can choose whom we look to for motivation and inspiration. If you want to avoid the hidden danger of unproductive relationships, seek friendships with, and spend time around, people with high energy, positive attitudes and habits.
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The central tenet of high performing people has always been time management. You know the old adage, “We all get the same 24 hours in a day. It depends on how you use it”? Still true. Thousands of books have been written on time management and there are hundreds of time management tips in every one of them. It can be overwhelming to even think about it! So much so that the hidden danger is we stick to what we are doing now instead of trying to change because it's easier. I’m just going to offer the three golden time management rules that work for me:
- Time tracking. When you track your time, even for a day, a week or a month, you can easily see exactly how you are spending your time. It’s easy to identify your personal time wasters. It also highlights when in the day you are more productive and how long it takes you to accomplish everything you do —from routine tasks to major projects. That picture not only allows you to cut down on your time wasters, it lets you know how to budget your time for future projects. As a leader, it allows you to see how to maximize team members for overall team productivity. You can use a computer-based tracker like TimeCamp or simply check your Apple watch.
- Scheduling. When it comes to high productivity, your calendar is your greatest asset. Scheduling your highest priority tasks and projects and staying on that project for the assigned time, whether it is 15 minutes or two hours, avoids the biggest time sink of all — constant interruptions. Schedule time to check email, social media, and calls with colleagues and friends instead of letting the constant stream of notifications take you off task. Turn off all notifications and set emergency tones for key people and family members during your scheduled project times so you can be available but uninterrupted. Don’t forget to schedule in regular breaks for a refresher like a snack, walk or fun conversation. Need help with scheduling? You can start with the Pomodoro Technique, the simple scheduling system invented by Francesco Cirillo. It consists of breaking a large project into time chunks (Pomodoros) of 25 minutes followed by a five-minute break.
- Simplify. We all know the 80/20 rule. Only about 20% of what you do produces 80% of your best results. If you have tracked your time, use that information to cut unneeded steps or tasks from a product or to streamline your team’s approach to a big project by cutting it into more manageable segments. This increases productivity by ensuring you are always focused on the things that actually make a difference not the rabbit holes.
As with time tracking, there are hundreds of productivity tools, systems, and platforms to choose from. In my book, Make Remote Work, I boil these down into four categories: time trackers, collaboration/productivity systems, storage solutions and communication platforms. Another key asset to productivity is website blocking software. Website blocking software (e.g., Freedom, Cold Turkey, FocusMe) is a frequently overlooked tool that can help you change your web surfing habits and give you back hours in your day.
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Reward yourself and your team when you finish a task, achieve a milestone or change a habit to become more productive. Rewards are motivating. Make them frequent, fun and creative. Get everyone involved in choose their reward. Take advantage of the fact that people have different motivators. Name the reward up front so you and your team know what you are working toward. The more you reward productivity, the more productive you and your team will become.
Finally, take baby steps. The biggest hidden danger and a major productivity killer is trying to change everything at once. Going from 0 to 60 in 2.2 seconds is exciting in a Porsche, not so much for the psyche of someone trying to change old attitudes and habits. Take it slow. Pick one thing. Try it. See if it works. Get comfortable with it. Not overnight, but definitely over time, you will defeat the productivity killers in yourself and your team and achieve maximum performance.
About the Author
Clare Price is CEO of Octain, a global strategic planning consultancy that helps small and mid-market companies grow to dominate their markets by fueling the speed of business. She is the author of the eBook, Make Remote Work, a practical guide for helping companies navigate the new remote work world.