As shared in “Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power“, the only thing we can truly control is our use of time, talent, and energy. That’s it. This principle applies to everyone and everything, whether you’re talking about a multi-million dollar company or a busy Mom trying to raise a family. Of those three resources, time is the most valuable. Without time, you cannot manage anything else.
Yet for some reason, we just can’t get it together. We arrive late to appointments. Businesses fail at completing simple tasks (like delivering a product on time to a customer).
Why do we do this?
I believe it’s because we take time for granted. Although we pay lip service to good time management habits, our behavior demonstrates the opposite.
Yet, time is a resource that we easily take for granted. Because it’s always around us we tend to assume that we have more time than actually have.
Don’t believe me?
Let me ask you this question: When a person works a standard workday, how much effort do managers and supervisors assume their workers are providing? Eight hours, right?
Let’s try time personal time.
That picture isn’t so rosy, either.
Are you getting the picture? We’re more distracted than ever even though we have more tools than ever to be productive.
Introducing Our Guest Expert: Amir Kendic, Scheduling & Productivity Guru
Productivity is a big concern to businesses, especially owners. Businesses lose money when they pay for productivity but only get distracted workers.
This topic was recently covered in a Bizapalooza Twitter chat with our guest expert of the week, Amir Kendic. Amir is the CEO and co-founder of the COOSHA Calendar app, a calendaring app that combines all of your lives (work, personal, and social) into one. Amir’s work with the COOSHA Calendar app can provide some insight into how people combine their different roles (i.e. parent, worker, Little League coach, etc.) into a multi-dimensional life.
Want to be more Productive? Start With the Right Questions
Based on the responses from the chat, the primary problem with productivity and efficiency wasn’t finding the right solution. It was asking the right questions.
Instead of jumping from solution to solution, masters of productivity ask the right questions. They know that asking the right questions starts the search for the right answers.
Most of us, however, find ways not to do this.
We complete projects on auto-pilot. We check off items off our to-do list without focusing on why we added them in the first place. As a result, we keep repeating the same cycles over and over again. We focus our attention on the problem, not in how to fix that problem with productivity.
Here’s how you fix it.
- Start asking yourself better questions.
- Start looking for better solutions.
- Start working with better strategies.
The 3 Questions You Need to Ask to Become More Productive
You may be wondering about the kinds of questions you should ask to become more productive. Based on the recent Twitter chat we had, these three questions might be your best place to start:
- What does productivity look like right now?
- What is the best tool for the job?
- What obstacles could get in the way and how will I deal with them?
Let’s look at these simple, but powerful, questions in a little more detail.
1. What does productivity look like right now?
Why this question is important: Productivity can mean different things for different people. For one person, productivity could mean completing a project with the best quality. For another person, productivity could mean completing a project in a faster time versus quality. It’s important whether you are working by yourself or with others that you define what “productivity” means. Does it mean speed? Does it mean quality? Does it mean getting done by the deadline or before the deadline?
Answering this question will address your approach to the task or project at hand.
Here’s what our Twitter chat participants said:
Amir’s answer focused on priorities:
A1 – Am I getting through my important items daily #BizapaloozaChat— Amir Kendic (@cooshacalendar) March 27, 2017
Michael Roach’s answer focused on time
Action Step: Define what productivity means for your the next important project or task. Write all of the “essential” items that items for your project to be a success. Include a “stretch” goal or two.
2. What is the best tool for the job?
Why This Question is Important: The tool you use to accomplish your task (and keep track of your answer from the first question mentioned above) will affect your productivity. Let’s say that you use Outlook for email and plan on spending the next 15 minutes clearing your inbox out. This task will be much easier if you know how to use Outlook.
If you don’t know how to use Outlook, your productivity will suffer because of it.
Take some time to understand the tool you’ll be using for the task or project. Do you know how to use it? Is that tool properly maintained? Thinking through this now will prevent many headaches later.
Here’s what our Twitter chat participants said:
Andrew Allen’s answer focused on “old-school” options, such as a simple to-do list.
David Kutcher’s answer focused on “new school” technologies, such as Basecamp software to help.
You might combine these two approaches, a combination of “old school” and “new school” productivity tools, as suggested in Michael Roach’s answer
Action Step: Take some time to actually think about the tools you plan to use when you’re ready to get to work. Are these the best tools for the job?
3. What obstacles could get in the way?
Why This Question is Important: The best plans will encounter some resistance. You might have completed your report earlier but what happens if your computer crashes? What if the projector which you plan to use for a Slideshare presentation malfunctions?
Many people don’t take the time to ask these questions. They assume that their technology will work. When it doesn’t, their productivity suffers a big meltdown because they didn’t prepare an alternative
Create a backup and a fail-safe plan!
Some ideas based on what our chat participants said:
- Back up your work in multiple places
- Perform regular maintenance on your hardware, tools, and equipment.
- Stay updated on new strategies to use online software, tools, and equipment. Experiment
The Questions We Should Not Ask Ourselves About Productivity(But We Do Anyway)
What questions do we usually ask ourselves when we feel unproductive?
- Why can’t I finish projects like my coworker or colleagues?
- Why am I always late?
- What will other people think about me?
- Why am I even doing this assignment?
- Why is this project taking so long?
Asking ourselves the above questions does nothing to change the problem. It only keeps us focused on NOT solving the problem. It’s putting us in a reactive mode, not a problem-solving mode. When our brains are in a reactive state, we lose our ability to think creatively. That is a shame because thinking creatively is one of the fastest ways to get something done.
Action Step: Expect for the best, plan for the rest with your next important assignment or task. Create backup plans in case your project or task encounters an obstacle.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. This book explores HOW we become productive by focusing on habits. It explores the psychology behind how habits form and how they can be changed.
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. This classic centers around creating a system to decrease stress and improve performance.
“The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” by Atul Gawande. Most people don’t know how to create a good checklist. This book shows you how.
“Manage. Lead. Transform: A Project Manager’s Guide to Reducing Project Timelines by 50% or More” by Shakeel Akhtar and Ayesha Hakim. This book is probably not on your radar, but it should be. The book is geared toward project managers but it provides some highly insightful information for everyone because it details why we just can’t get projects done on time.
Recommended Links & Apps
- Todoist (Personal Favorite) App & Web version
- Tomato Timer (for Pomodoro technique)
- Process Street (manage recurring checklists)
Project Management Tools
Have a tip or insight about productivity? Leave a comment here or contribute directly to our Twitter chat using #bizapaloozachat.