On Being Productive

[this is  a summer re-post series re-post]

Being productive means different things for different people. For example who’s to say that spending time with your children isn’t an effective use of your time? What it comes down to is being in control of how you spend your time, which means learning to simplify, or even say “no”, to anything else that draws your attention and effort away from what makes you productive, whatever that means to you.

My favourite tip from this productivity info-graphic is: “Start before you feel ready – avoid chicken and egging.”



Coming in Early is Not a Measure of Worth

Tired ChildSome of my clients praise the staff that come to work early and stay late. I think they’re focused on the wrong thing. I’d rather work with somebody that comes in late, leaves early, and still gets all their work done. That’s the key – are they delivering on their work? What is the quantity, quality, and timeliness of their work?

That’s where you get your value. If you don’t know if you’re getting value from an employee or direct report, maybe you haven’t defined your expectations very well. That’s your problem.

But they’re loyal! Maybe. Or they’re scared, or incompetent, or both. Get clear on what you’re expecting, then re-evaluate. You might have to communicate those expectations clearly. You might have some work to do here yourself.

Maybe they’re escaping from something in the outside world. Not very emotionally healthy, but okay. Someone who spends too much time in the office (for whatever value of “too much” you want to define) probably isn’t’ as productive as you think, at least not sustainable. Getting away, unplugging, refreshing, and having a healthy life (again, for whatever value of “healthy” that means for them or you) lets people come to work focused, alert, creative, and at their best.

And what happens if you hit a spike (or dip) in your business? Will you and your staff have enough gas left in the tank, enough capacity, to handle the extra demand?

Even entrepreneurs who are building a business need a break. Should have a break. Will do better and be able to think more strategically when they’re *not* spending every minute of their time on the business.


Smarter Better Faster

Never been a big fan of “SMART” lists, having watched people wrap themselves around the axle trying to fit whatever goal or task they’re trying to fit into the SMART paradigm. Which is why I was delighted to find this, the best explanation of how to use SMART goals properly that I’ve found so far.


Bums in Seats – the Bad Proxy for Productivity

.”The person that’s leaving early on Friday probably isn’t disloyal.”

That’s quote from an real business owner. One who had never considered that the first person to arrive and the last to leave wasn’t there because he has working hard, but because it was what they needed to do to stay caught up.

I’m not saying the I want people working for me to be slacking off. Sometimes, especially as an entrepreneur, you have to work weekends or evenings or even pull a few all-nighters.

I want their passion. I want them to believe what I believe, and I want to know that they’re working with me because the work is as meaningful to them as it is to me. Not the least because no salary nor benefits will ever be able to compete with that.


I’d rather have somebody working for me that turns in a high-quality, high-volume of work early and goes home for the weekend well rested and ready to tackle the week next Monday. I’d rather that than somebody who has to come in early, leave late, and come in on the weekends just to keep up. Because how useful are they when it really is an “all hands on deck” situation?

If your measure of a worker’s productivity is that they’re the first to arrive and that last to leave, then I would suggest that you really don’t know what they’re doing, or how well they’re doing it. And that’s a problem.

Brain Based Way to Be More Productive

This is something I work on every day. If somebody asks me to do something, sometimes their lucky if I remember what it was half an hour later. I get distracted easily. But the research consistently shows that we’re at our best when we’re focused on one thing at a time.

Sometimes you have to multitask. Sometimes your job is interruptions or multiple balls-in-the-air juggling. But as much as you can. Do one thing at a time.

Multitasking is evil.

A Brain Based Method for Being More Productive by Inc.

Learn From the Best

Surrounding yourself with the best people you can find, people who will challenge you and make you better, has always been a fast way to get to where you want. It will make you happier, more productive, and more successful in the long run. Doing the same with other entrepreneurs also works.

Learn From the Best from Inc.

Curb Your Email Addiction

I call it an addiction, because it gives us the hit of feeling like we’re accomplishing something when we’re actually being distracted from the most important things we do that bring value to the company. Not sure I agree with Jim Schleckser on the “Do Nothing” suggestion, but you should certainly set up rules for your in-box. My favourite one is “If I’m not on the To: list, file it. ” Saves a lot of time not reading CYA (Cover Your Ass) emails.

One tactic I’d add would be to turn off your notifications and chimes that tell you when a new email has arrived. That really is an interruption that will destroy your productivity faster than just about anything else.

6 Ways to Curb Your Email Habit – Jim Schleckser

Interruptions – Guest Blog

My friend Karl proof-reads for me, and after a recent proof-reading mentioned he’d written an article on interruptions for his company newsletter. I’d like to share it with you.

White Noise – Work Interruptions



Stop Interrupting Yourself

I love working with new clients. There are simple things that outstanding managers and leaders do well, and introducing a new client to those simple (but not always easy) things pays off so quickly. I don’t even want to charge them for it. But of course I still do.

Last week I introduced some time-management concepts to a group of front-line managers at a construction company. Of course their biggest personal challenge is having enough hours in the day to react to everything be instantly available to everybody all the time.

Now when I say it that way it doesn’t sound very appealing. Re-framing our work day in these terms gives us a different perspective, and maybe even an “Aha! No wonder my head feels like it’s exploding with this feeling of being constantly overwhelmed!” Now we can shift our perspective.

The Power of Interruptions

In “The Mythical Man Month”, published in 1975, Frederick Brooks talks about how programmers are more efficient, correct, and productive when they can close their doors, transfer their phones, and focus on their work. Even a 30-second interruption from a single phone call would mean they would have to spend the next 15 minutes getting their state of mind back to where they were before they were interrupted.

Those four phone calls you answered in the last hour? That’s why you didn’t get that report / estimate / article done.

The Power of Being Focused

For one particular manager, that shift was simply reducing office noise. By asking his office peers to close their door when they were having meetings (or closing his own door), turning off his email notifications, and not answering his phone for an hour (he still kept an eye on who was calling, just in case it was a client), he was able to get done in that hour what usually took him two.

We use “courtesy flags” in our office when the noise gets out of control. We like to have fun, but that’s not always appropriate when somebody is on the phone with a client and they can’t carry on a normal conversation. It’s a simple pendant on a straw that gets waved when somebody needs things to calm down. It works well.

A Minute a Day

Here’s the interesting bit. One hour saved in a day doesn’t seem like that much. But if our construction manager does that every day he’ll have 200 extra hours in a year. That’s five weeks. Maybe he won’t have to come in on the weekends any more. That’s not a small shift any more. That’s a huge shift. For him personally, for his family, and for the company. He’s better rested, better energized, and working harder when he is there.

Even small changes, continually applied, add up. It’s like the power of compounded interested. Finding even a minute a week, over 52 weeks, isn’t just 52 minutes. It’s 23 hours: 1 minute the first week, 2 the second week, and so on.

That’s the part I love, making my clients eyes go wide when they realize how small changes sometimes have huge impacts. In this case not continually allowing ourselves to be interrupted. It’s doing the basics right. Being focused. It’s sharpening the axe before cutting down the tree. Being productive and working on what we want to work on.

Your Actions:

If you’re a fireman, you’re exempt from this question:

Is there something you can do to stop being interrupted at work when you need to focus? What’s the worst thing that will happen if you don’t answer your phone or every text right away every time? What can you do to build at least some uninterrupted time into your daily routine?

Fire the Creeps and Bums

Fire the Creeps and Bums

Firing a non-productive or anti-social (in the destructive sense) member of a team actually increases the team’s productivity by 30 to 40%. That means that on a team size of 4, productivity will stay the same or get better even if you don’t replace them,  Yet your payroll drops by a quarter.

On a larger team then you’re making money by getting rid of the bully / degenerate  because of the bump to productivity. If they’re at the managerial or executive level your return on investment is even higher. The higher up in an organization the greater their impact, positive or negative.

Cost of a Bad Hire

If that doesn’t convince you then consider the cost of make a bad hire, or keeping them around. It starts at five times their annual salary and goes up from there, depending on their impact within the organization. Up to 27 times.

Too many leaders are afraid to replace, move, or let go somebody they know needs it. Perhaps they’re in a key position. Perhaps they’re a family member (tough one for sure). Perhaps they’re a loyal, long-term employee whose performance has dropped in recent years.

So decide now what’s best for the business and all the people in it. If you can’t do what’s right, maybe the problem is you.

Let the Facts Judge Them

I like John Spence’s approach as outlined in his book “Awesomely Simple“. You’ll need four sheets of paper: On the first one have thee employee write  what they believe is expected of them. It’s important that expectations are clear and agreed, and that they have agreed deadlines.

On the second they write what they need (training, staff, support, equipment) to accomplish what they’ve committed to. On the third what their reward should be if they accomplish their goals. On the fourth, what they believe the consequences of failure should be.

The key to this approach is regular (weekly) face-to-face review. Regular review is where accountability happens. We don’t need to judge our employees. Presenting the facts will do that for us.

What Took You So Long?

A common reaction when they finally do get asked to leave? “What took you so long?” Everybody else knows what needs to be done. Why don’t you?

What’s the hardest fire you’ve had to make? Do you have somebody you need to let go but just keep putting it off? Let us know in the comments.