Peter Drucker’s piece on “The New Productivity Challenge,” published more than 20 years ago, has remained a driving force in my and many others’ dedication to building efficient, effective organizations. In the article, Peter envisages that “the single greatest challenge facing managers … is to raise the productivity of knowledge and service workers. This challenge … will ultimately determine the competitive performance of companies.”
Producing quality output to fulfill job responsibilities is not an unfamiliar expectation to anyone in a work environment. It’s the part about doing so at a swift, competitive clip that drives the success of an organization, as Peter prescribes. However, without the right time and people management systems, it can also drive extreme employee burnout and productivity failures.
There are many perspectives on what productivity looks like. Because managers and business leaders have a goal of perfecting operational efficiencies and strengths, they need to define productivity in a way that resonates with the unique expectations and needs of their living, breathing teams.
It’s up to leadership to determine what the specific needs are within a team, department, or organization. While I don’t intend to define those needs for you, there are strategies any team can implement to foster improvement in routines and day-to-day tasks where time and resources are lost.
1. Re-allocate bandwidth for team members to deliver on their primary job functions.
One of those most important things you can do for a team is regularly check in on them. Finding out what tasks they’re being asked to work on and what projects they’re directed to participate in.
In 2016, American office workers spent just 39 percent of their time on the primary job duties they were hired for. It’d be no surprise to find out employees are facing challenges meeting actual job (and personal career) goals. Without keeping an ever-present thumb on where your team’s time is going, it’s impossible to ensure the time spent isn’t wasted on activities outside of your department’s wheelhouse.
Furthermore, you’ll waste more time rectifying a long-standing misuse of energy, so it pays to dedicate time each week to bandwidth evaluation.
If a manager can determine what the core set of responsibilities are for each person, identify the source of the value of each role, and decide where changes can be made to bring the focus back, those honest discussions will provide value to the organization and its employees in the long run.
2. Build more time in the day to focus on executing work by changing the way you sync up with your team.
In 2016, 59 percent of American office workers said meetings were their biggest workday timesuck.
Whether it’s a staff meeting, project status update, or brainstorming session, many teams struggle with efficiency in a group-oriented setting. If this is the case for your team, there’s a need to restructure the existing formula in a way that better serves the company and its customers.
If more can be accomplished in a shorter time span, you’re setting the team up for success by respecting the time they need to complete tasks outside of a conference room. Changing the way you run meetings, by maintaining focus on the resolution component of the discussion and avoiding a rehash of tasks and responsibilities, will make a massively positive impact on your team’s focus and time management.
3. Make a list of productivity successes and failures.
Making a list of productivity successes and failures is a simple way to see what works and what doesn’t; visualizing the tasks you do each week can be an effective route in taking the temperature of productivity.
My advice to managers is to take a hard look at how your team structures their day and the amount of work you’re feasibly able to produce within a 40-hour work week. If you see holes in workflow or too many interruptions with extra meetings or reports, put it on the cons. If you’re cranking out creative briefs like it’s nothing, put it on the pros.
After defining where you stand as a living, breathing entity, you’ll be able to appropriately address the tasks on the con list to determine a better format or transition of responsibilities.
4. Bring the lunch hour back from the dead to help employees get off the 50+ hour-per-week Burnout Express.
You won’t be surprised to hear that 57 percent of American office workers take 30 minutes or less for lunch. You’re probably one of them, and that’s ok because you’re just doing what needs to be done to get the right work out the door on time.
The standard in many American office settings is to work hard, stay late, and commit your time and abilities to your career, whatever it takes. It’s a noble quest, but an exhausting and inefficient one.
Studies show it helps productivity levels to take breaks and (this should go without mentioning) eat food. Managers that can avoid setting an expectation that team members should power through lunch every day will see greater engagement and longevity in their employees.
A team that sustains itself on caffeine and mint trays will not deliver the best work possible. So stand up, each lunch away from your desk, and take a much-needed mental break.
5. If additional resources are needed to get things done, take evaluation of new tools seriously.
There are endless aisles of work and project management tools, time tracking apps, messaging platforms, and proofing tools to choose from. We’ve even seen Facebook getting in on the game with its Workplace and Facebook at Work features.
While tools offer value in organization and collaboration, too many in play at one time can encourage a lack of focus on what’s truly needed to conduct your work. An effective way to collaborate and manage projects and teams is unlikely to come from a large set of stand-alone applications. As such, platforms do not lend themselves to an uninterrupted workflow—you’ll see better focus if you don’t get tool-happy, keep processes lean, and work with your team and upper management to identify the best multi-purpose tools that meet productivity needs.
If you’re able to identify the needs of your team and prioritize a collective focus on improving areas of inefficiency, you’ll start to see improvements on an individual and group basis. This all has a positive effect on the bottom line, so I encourage you to start the conversation sooner rather than later.
More on office productivity?
How do you make sure that you’re staying productive? Have you ever tried any of these hacks? Any I should add? Let me know in the comments below!
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