Productivity Secrets

Excerpt from Chapter 15: Implications for Groups and Teams in “Personal Productivity Secrets: Do what you never thought possible with your time and attention... and regain control of your life” by Maura Nevel Thomas (John Wiley & Sons, May 2012).

By Maura Nevel Thomas, Chief Trainer, RegainYourTime.com

Personal productivity is not only important to an individual; its effects are magnified throughout an organization. The ways in which individuals manage their commitments and communications can have staggering implications for a company’s bottom line. For example, when employees don’t manage e-mail properly, the internal communications skyrocket, and staff members spend hours simply managing e-mail from one another. In 2011, the CEO of Atos, a multibillion-dollar technology company implemented a “zero-e-mail” policy within the firm when he realized the negative effect it was having on productivity.

“We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives,” CEO Thierry Breton said in a statement when announcing the policy. “At we are taking action now to reverse this trend, just as organizations took measures to reduce environmental pollution after the industrial revolution.”

Simply trading one communication tool for another, or for several others, doesn’t work without a carefully considered strategy and management’s dedication to training the staff. It’s difficult to effect widespread behavioral change within a workplace, and I think we’ll look back on these initial efforts and find much to learn. This article illustrates the effect that personal productivity has on company culture, staff relationships, and the bottom line, and offers suggestions for improving business communication, regardless of your position within the company.

Productivity and Company Culture

Personal productivity and workload management habits that sabotage individual productivity lead to corporate cultures that sabotage the results of the company as a whole. This results in ineffective staff and an unpleasant work environment. Some factors that contribute to this environment include:

  • The way e-mail is used within a company
  • The other ways staff members communicate with each other
  • The relative effectiveness of company meetings
  • The electronic tools used by the staff

Chained to E-mail

Many successful, fast-paced businesses have become very e-mail-centric, relying almost exclusively on e-mail for internal communications. In addition to the hours of time spent on this, there is another, more insidious consequence: When e-mail is the default mode of operation within a company, employees end up on e-mail all day, responding immediately to messages received. This reinforces the expectation that messages will always be met with an immediate response, so e-mail becomes an acceptable form of communication for even urgent or time-sensitive information.

As a result, employees have no choice but to be vigilant about staying on top of their e-mail messages by checking them constantly. Focusing so much attention on e-mail leaves little opportunity to get anything else done; employees are effectively chained to their e-mail. Therefore, because there are certainly other things that must be done, those other things (less “urgent” but probably more important) end up victims of multitasking. Studies have proven for more than a decade that multitasking requires more time per task and lowers the quality

of what is achieved. Therefore, in a workplace with an excessive focus on e-mail, it’s likely that employees are both taking too long to complete their work and producing lower-quality output.

Productivity and Business Relationships

In addition to the e-mail-centric culture, personal productivity styles also can cause interpersonal issues. Employees with a heavy workload have different ways of handling it. Some produce competent work and meet deadlines, but they may be unhappy, seem constantly stressed, and work long hours to get their work done.

They are prized for their successes, but these employees are the most likely to suffer burnout and leave the company.

Other employees seem to be continuously busy, but it’s difficult to identify exactly what they produce. Indeed, many business cultures mistake activity for productivity. This problem often is caused by unclear objectives and an inability to prioritize effectively.

In some cases, employees serve as company bottlenecks. This is a problem often caused by unrealistic expectations—not only those of management, but also the employees themselves—about what can reasonably be accomplished in a given time frame. Without a comprehensive workflow management process for capturing all commitments, communication, and information, employees manage their responsibilities by relying on their memories. The result is a muddied understanding of the true magnitude of their workloads, a tendency to substitute activity for productivity, and impractical predictions about task and project achievement.

Accountability also plays a role. When a company has employees who don’t produce or who consistently miss deadlines, but there are no consequences, the productivity of the whole organization suffers. In many cases, poorly performing employees aren’t held accountable because of the poor workload-management skills of the individuals delegating the work. These situations have the potential to lead to animosity, individual rivalries, territorialism, and resentment. These complex interpersonal issues within a company reflect the different work habits and abilities of the employees.

Some people are naturally better at managing full and hectic workloads. Others aren’t, but this doesn’t mean they can’t learn. Most people are ill-equipped to handle the demands on their attention caused by the information and technology avalanche of the 21st century. You (or your employees) could be losing hours each day simply because information isn’t being managed well or at all, and usually people don’t manage information well because they have never been taught how to do so.

If you recognize among your staff or co-workers interpersonal challenges, stress issues, excessive work hours, or any combination of these issues, personal productivity skills could be lacking. Improving your own productivity with the techniques in this book will affect your workplace, but sharing the skills throughout the organization can have an exponential impact on the company’s bottom line—as well as on employee satisfaction, teamwork, and effectiveness.

Excerpt from Chapter 15: Implications for Groups and Teams in “Personal Productivity Secrets: Do what you never thought possible with your time and attention... and regain control of your life”by Maura Nevel Thomas(John Wiley & Sons, May 2012). Excerpted with permission from John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Maura Nevel Thomas is chief trainer of Regain Your Time.com and author of “Personal Productivity Secrets: Do what you never thought possible with your time and attention... and regain control of your life.” She helps people and businesses learn the most universally useful process for reaping the most productivity and efficiency from the tools available, resulting in greater control over their time and attention and greater productivity and ease at work and at home.

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