Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Activity is not productivity

Activity is not productivity, but it is easier to see and measure, so that's what managers keep track of. How many calls, how many lines of code, how many hours, how many reports. The logic goes that if you're being productive, it's because your activity is high. Busy bees make lots of honey.

Don't fall into this trap.

Focus instead on what will make the biggest impact on your group or your company. In many cases, this is not the "busy work." It is the work no one is doing or even thinking of doing. 10 hours of those things are worth 40 hours of your regular job.

How to be More Productive With Lower Activity
  1. Increase activities have gotten you the most recognition. Don't just think about formal recognition - I'm talking kudos and pats on the back from your boss. These are clues to what is really valued. In most cases, these things are not from overtime and high activity levels. They're from good customer service, finding a strategic partner or measurably saving the company money - and they're probably things you do naturally well, anyways.
  2. Reduce activities that don't lead to productivity. Every job has things we have to do that take you the long way around to productivity. In recruiting, it was the cold calls to unqualified people asking for referrals. In HR, it was only focusing on the stack on my desk every day. This doesn't mean you can get out of these things entirely, but do less of them to make time for higher-impact activities. If you are stuck in a routine, you are a commodity.
  3. Define your own high-impact work. Identify a pain point in your organization, and work on it under the radar. Don't self-promote while you're working on it. Just deliver results and let your boss know. It might be cleaning up an inefficient process, building a better report format or volunteering to document action items from a meeting. The key is it should be something that adds value that no one else is doing.
  4. Carve out time for high-impact work. As you carve time out of your week for high-impact work, you need to find a way for the other work to get done. Making friends with people who like that work is one way. Don't think that just because you hate it that others do too. If you can't do that, just put it off. If it's not deadline oriented, set aside time to do it and time to stop to do the high-impact work. If all your work is deadline-driven, and you never have enough time to carve out for other work, you are probably in a dead-end job.
  5. Pick stuff you're naturally good at. As Peter Drucker and Marcus Buckingham taught us, there are things that we're naturally going to be better at than everyone else. This is probably the hardest thing to figure out and execute, but it's also the most powerful. Spend a lot of time understanding and developing your strengths. Playing to your strengths is going to allow you to get things done way faster than others trying to do the same things.
  6. Manage your boss. You should manage your boss like you manage a project. Make a communication plan of when and how you communicate including what you're working on and what you've accomplished. It should include a regular conversation where you can track what you're doing against what is important to your boss. This will give him assurance that you're staying productive, and it will give you the flexibility to work on more high-impact work.

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