Productivity and efficiency are important to our work life. We want to be able to produce things well in as little time as possible. We also want to reduce things that detract us from reaching a task’s completion. We need to try to avoid making mistakes, reduce our stress sources and, in general, manage our contentment in order to maintain our ability to get stuff done well and on time.
This article discusses a handful of interesting ideas for improving productivity and efficiency.
Remove the Negatives
One assumption many people make is that eliminating negative aspects in our work environment is the direct opposite of fostering and incubating the positives. In other words, by focusing on the positive, we are able to directly compensate for any negative aspects. This is not true.
In reality, you need to perform a whole range of activities for eliminating the negatives that would be completely different if you focused on the positives.
For example, to eliminate negative aspects within a team, you may have to start dealing with troublesome and poor-attitude workers, and focus more on getting rid of any obstacles that hinders you from completing your work.
Focusing on the positive aspects in a team may involve helping people discover their talents, working on what they’re good at, or praising them if they’ve done a good job.
Now, the question is, what should you do? Should you focus on removing negative aspects in the team or should you, instead, try to compensate for them by focusing and improving on the positive things?
There is research that shows that eliminating negative things is more fruitful than focusing on fostering the positive things. (Also, see this article on Fast Company.)
In the study, negative events influenced employees 5 times more than positive events. Going by simple logic, if 1 negative event happens, 5 positive events will be needed to offset the impact of that 1 negative event.
Happy people are more productive people. The less stress and negativity there is, the more productive and efficient we become. This can be true in teams or in individual workers.
One good way to reduce negative situations, at least in teams, is to apply the no asshole rule. This rule, written by Professor Robert Sutton at Stanford University, is all about telling new hires before they start working that if they plan to be an asshole, they’ll be fired straight away. Very simple, yet very effective.
Kill Good Ideas, Not Just Bad Ones
If an idea is good, it must be done straight away, right? No.
Why not? Because if you have many good ideas, it also means you won’t complete most of them and your attention will be spread thin. Having a lot of good ideas means that you won’t have enough time and resources to commit to any one idea to succeed.
This wisdom originally came from Steve Jobs, who was said to have advised a company’s senior team that killing a bad idea is easy, but killing good ones is tough and a "hallmark of great companies."
In order to be productive, narrow down your objectives. It’s better to focus on one idea at a time so that you can produce and execute something great rather than a bunch of things that are poorly executed.
When we reduce the amount of good ideas we need to work on, we shift the benchmark of our productivity and efficiency towards quality as opposed to quantity.
Be Aware of Cognitive Biases
This idea comes from psychologist Daniel Kahneman who won the 2002 Nobel Prize in economic sciences for demonstrating the irrationality of people when it comes to making crucial decisions. Recent neuroscience studies are also telling us that we can’t make optimal decisions in very complex environments.
We’re victims of cognitive biases, which is "the human tendency to make systematic errors in certain circumstances based on cognitive factors rather than evidence." In essence, we’ve developed these judgmental biases based on personal memory, events, and behaviors that our mind subconsciously uses to make quick shortcuts to decision-making.
What does this have to do with productivity? Flaws in decision-making can affect our productivity in terms of having to do things over, being more stressed, choosing the wrong option that leads to increased costs in time and resources, and so on.
Kahneman wrote an article that describes optimism bias and the things we can do to avoid it.
Let’s say, for example, that you have a project and you need to determine a deadline for it. According to the optimism bias, you will tend to be over-optimistic about the deadline and think you’ll get that project done a lot sooner than you actually will in reality.
A good way to avoid this bias is to consider the outside perspective; that is, seeing how much time it took others to get a similar project done. Or if you’ve done that kind of project in the past, use your previous experience as a reference point. For example, if your previous project took 4 weeks to get done, setting up the deadline for 2 weeks might be unrealistic and challenging.
Making sound decisions and being realistic with our capabilities lead to better productivity by ensuring that we avoid costly mistakes and stress due to impractical objectives.
Forget Luck and Weaknesses and Focus on Developing Your Talents
Another idea to keep in mind when trying to enhance your productivity and efficiency is differentiating skill from luck. Humans are not very good at determining how much of something they do is skill and how much is luck. Nobody can blame us; we live in a complex environment and we don’t know all the variables that determine a particular outcome.
To determine if an activity is based on luck or skill, ask yourself: Can I lose on purpose?
In roulette, you can’t lose on purpose. Roulette is 100% luck. In poker, you can sometimes lose on purpose; poker is a combination of skill and luck. In chess, it’s mostly about skill so you can lose on purpose whenever you want.
Sorting skill from luck is important in productivity. Focus on skill and talent enhancement and on things that are within your control instead of spreading yourself thin by trying to reduce the effects of luck, weaknesses, and uncontrollable factors. This is called Strengths-Based Development for improving performance. When we focus on our talents, we are 6 more times engaged with our job, which in turn leads to productivity, retention, and more positive and creative moments.
- Strengths-Based Development: Using Strengths to Accelerate Performance. gallup.com.