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Making Time work for YOU

Most of us have created well defined professional targets for ourselves. Like we resolve to work harder for a promotion or negotiate better for a pay raise or foster more conducive relationships with team mates.

But how many of us focus on those rather “vague” areas in our professional lives like

– how to feel less fatigued at work

– how to allocate time for self improvement and learning

– how to develop techniques to reduce stress

– how to find deeper meaning in one’s life, both personal and professional

To Sanjith** , a senior executive in an Indian multinational focusing on those aspects which get lost in translation somewhere between meeting organizational and professional goals is extremely critical. One area which has taken precedence for him is productivity. So, why did he choose to focus on this particular aspect?

Image courtesy: Flickr user R.R

Image courtesy: Flickr user R.R

Currently my goal is to increase my capacity to manage multiple tasks, projects and teams. I want to ensure that the tasks that my organization commits to are delivered in an efficient and time-bound manner.

But rather than look at it as an overwhelming area of self improvement Sanjith has neatly dissected it into workable areas of improvement. Says Sanjith:

There can be many dimensions when defining productivity. I break them primarily into three for individuals – the first is task productivity, the second is work productivity and the third is life productivity.

Task productivity is dealing with individual tasks and largely depends on whether a person has the requisite skillset to be productive on the particular task. Repetitively doing that task or training etc can improve task productivity.

Work productivity largely deals  with being productive on the diverse set of tasks which one encounters at work. This is more relevant at senior levels where the work profile gets complicated and the nature of the tasks gets extremely diverse such as ‘ability to set a vision’ and at the same time minutely follow up on the execution of the vision. Then one also has to meet clients, sub-contractors, business partners, besides supervising various individuals. Managing one’s productivity at this level of complexity becomes highly challenging.

And finally, life productivity relates to how the individual is able to manage his/her personal aspirations, family commitments and contribution to the society at large.

Being productive in these different dimensions means achieving the related goals in required time and by spending reasonable effort.

So, with the tangible benefits that productivity can bring, why are more professionals not making it a prioritized goal? Sanjith believes that most professionals have the intent to be productive but are not often aware that the goal they have defined for themselves falls under the ambit of “productivity”

Productivity is usually an unstated goal. For example, one’s goal may be to have more work-life balance. This goal in a way is an unstated productivity goal as work-life balance can also be met by (a) being more productive at work so as to complete one’s task in a shorter time or (b) stopping unproductive activities (such as surfing the internet) at work. Hence, it may not be correct to assume that professionals do not see improving their productivity as an important goal.

Looking at productivity through such a detailed lens does bring about a keener understanding of this whole area. Such as the causes which can disrupt productivity. And the number one productivity destroyer are some of the habits that we ourselves have cultivated. So, unconscious are we about them, says Sanjith, they are almost Pavlovian in nature.

Bad habits such as ‘internet surfing’, ‘watching TV’ etc are the biggest productivity destroyers. One has to know how habits work to understand that most of the time humans are just following their habits. If the habit is to surf internet after every 15 mins of work then a person may be engaging in this productivity destroying habit without even consciously knowing the same. Another example is a student who has every intention of studying regularly on daily basis but ends up studying only just prior to the exam. Due to the time-wasting bad habits of such a student, the student inspite of his best intentions is unable to achieve the required productivity and sadly is also unaware of the mental dynamics which are making him go off-track.

So, if impeding one’s productivity is like a bad habit akin to eating unhealthy then Sanjith says the solution is in having the intelligence to identify the bad habit and take corrective action. In other words self awareness is the key.

BIR62RGGjGxN5nrbnzwu_3Knowing and managing one’s habit is the best way of improving productivity. One has to learn how to catch oneself in the midst of a bad habit and then slowly practice its eradication.

And just like eating healthy is a habit which needs to be developed and practiced so is being productive.

At the same time one can work on positive habits and automate them to achieve more productivity. Such positive habits include – having a list making system (one can check out David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ system), having a reminder system, setting aside some time every day to review work lists.

Sanjith’s research into innovations in productivity management is quite indepth.  And where he sees more work required is the oft overlooked area of the impact of habits on productivity. In fact he sees advances in habit formation as the next innovation in managing productivity.

Stephen Coveys 7 Habits book listed out quite well the various generations of time/productivity management. After his so-called 4th Generation, I believe the new generation is of habit formation tools and tricks. There is now a lot of research on how the brain functions. Some of the books detailing this are ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman  ‘The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and ‘The Willpower Instinct’ by  Kelly Mcgonial.

I believe that where Stephen Covey was failing was that he only listed out the habits needed for effectiveness but failed to delve deeper into the brain science which guides how habits are formed or broken or how difficult it is to get out of the existing habits. New science tells us that practically most humans are for almost 80% of their time controlled by their existing habits. Even if someone has good intentions, its very difficult to translate that into effective results because the old habits will keep on tripping our intentions. With new science, we can understand better how old habits are interfering with our good intentions and what to do about it. For example, if you want to lose weight, the daily habit of just noting your weight in a record will help you to (a) consciously watch what you are eating and (b) consciously bring in the habit of doing regular exercise.

So, is being productive something that Sanjith intrinsically had in him or is it a skill he had to develop? And having said this what does that mean for other professionals? Well, it boils down to intent again, says Sanjith.

Image courtesy: Flickr user Soupfender Shots

Image courtesy: Flickr user Soupfender Shots

As defined earlier – as our productivity dimension changes, our productivity gets impacted if we don’t learn the new skill sets  required for that dimension. And mostly our productivity dimension changes according to our progression in life. Hence, a person who is ambitious and intrinsically wants to grow will automatically start learning the new skill set required as he/she faces productivity challenges which must be overcome so as to progress further.So in a way desire to be productive is linked with an intrinsic quality such as being ambitious.

And it’s never too late to learn to be productive.

Probably habit training is the best way to ensure productivity improvement at the school and college level.

.Also, Sanjith is not averse to using technology and its new age avatar in the form of apps to help in being productive. His recommendations:

I’m currently using Trello to track my work lists and Habitbull to track my new habits.

If you are embarking or have already embarked on a journey of self improvement, here is a synopsis of Sanjith’s tips to get you being more productive.

  • Identify when a goal relates to productivity (it helps to label)
  • Figure out which part of your work needs work (from a productivity perspective)
  • Start looking out for habits which are impeding your productivity
  • Consciously work on removing those habits
  • Knowing more about the subject helps (Sanjith has mentioned a number of great books on the subject)
  • Don’t be afraid to use technology (why use a Smartphone if you cannot leverage on its “Smarts”)

I had an epiphany of sorts when I was putting this piece together and it was a result of Sanjith’s insightful conclusion that we are what we do – in short our habits can either make or break us. As someone once famously said most people don’t have the willingness to break bad habits. But we must – or else that will become our professional legacy. 

** Name and some other details have been changed to protect personal identity

This article has been published by Maslowed.Me – a career portal

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