How to escape the productivity rabbit hole

Want your staff to be more productive? Stop expecting them to do more in less time, says professional organiser Joshua Zerkel.

by Joshua Zerkel
Last Updated: 25 Jun 2019

Management theorist Peter Drucker famously said, "Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all." For businesses, the need to boost team productivity is nothing new, however, with the rise of flexible working and the plethora of tools employees are feeling the pressure to simply "do more". 

When businesses start rolling out new processes and tools there can be a tendency to fall down the productivity rabbit hole, focusing solely on employee output without considering whether their actions are driving efficiencies internally or just creating more work.

According to McKinsey, the average worker wastes 61 per cent of their time coordinating their work in meetings, email and chat rather than doing their actual work. This time could be better spent doing meaningful work that actually creates impact and drives the business forward. 

Less waste, more impactful work

Scrutinise your organisation’s meeting culture and you will find that many sessions lack structure or simply do not need to happen. Of course, some meetings are necessary but a full day of them is rarely a productive one.

We’ve rolled out "No Meeting Wednesdays", to give employees back large blocks of time to focus on purposeful work and tick big items off their to-do lists. For all 500 employees in our organisation - including our C-Suite - there are no group meetings, no calls and no one-on-ones. For the ‘doers’ in teams, a full day without meetings provides a blank canvas to plan out hours of interrupted flow time. This enables the deep focus required for large pieces of work and bigger projects.

Driving productivity with purpose

On any given day, each of your employees may have 10 different tasks to complete, but all the while, things come up and priorities need to shift. What’ll set your teams apart will be their focus on work that’s actually going to deliver real business impact. 

For businesses looking to increase productivity - and ultimately overall business performance - it’s important to create a well-defined set of goals that can be communicated from a ladder-up perspective. At Asana, we align everyone on the high-level purpose and goals of the day to day work they are doing, and the concrete results they should produce. 

Once the stage has been set and expectations have been outlined, creating a subset of shorter-term goals will help provide a firm foundation, allowing managers to provide a clear vision for what tasks align with department or company-wide goals. This will, in turn, empower individuals to make informed decisions about what they need to prioritise based on what’s going to impact the big picture.

Eliminating tool overload

We’ve seen an explosion of productivity-focused apps in recent years, aimed at helping businesses and their employees become increasingly connected, regardless of whether they’re in the office or working from the other side of the world. This has sparked a never-ending barrage of notifications, leaving users scrambling to keep pace with the demands of day-to-day working life. 

I’ve worked with a number of clients who have spotted a productivity problem, sprung into action, only to implement tools that have created a disorganised mess, leaving them worse off than before. 

Tools and shortcuts are only as effective as the teams that use them. To actually positively impact productivity, leaders need to detail how staff will use each tool, for which specific scenarios, if it will replace any current tools or programmes and, most importantly, how it will impact team members as individuals.

Failing to do this results in different teams using different tools, and even members of the same team using tools differently - this will deepen silos and generally cause organisational chaos (as well as a headache for your IT department).

It takes time...

Rushing will ultimately kill productivity; sustained efficiency can't be achieved in a day. However, by empowering your employees to take charge of their own work day you’ll enable them to focus on the most impactful work, which is a crucial step in the right direction. 

Joshua Zerkel is a certified professional organiser and head of global community at Asana.

Image credit: Renate Frost / EyeEm/ Gettyimages


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