Tag Archive for: productivity

Building a Case For Working Less and Producing More

Cal Newport’s recent book, Slow Productivity, builds a great case for showing how working less can lead to greater productivity and accomplishment. However, it isn’t about just working less and or discarding your work ethic. It’s about working with greater focus and deliberate action. In short:

  1. Focus on fewer things at once. By reducing the number of current tasks and commitments, you can actually complete more meaningful work over time. This allows you to give full attention to important projects rather than constantly context-switching.
  2. Emphasize quality over quantity. Newport advocates for “obsessing over quality” rather than just getting things done. By slowing down and focusing on craft, you can produce higher quality work with more impact.
  3. Work at a more natural, sustainable pace. Newport critiques the “unsustainable pace of modern work expectations” and suggests varying your work intensity over time rather than constantly pushing yourself. This helps avoid burnout in the long run.
  4. Measure productivity over longer timescales. Instead of trying to be productive every day, Newport recommends looking at accomplishments over months or years. This allows for periods of deep focus as well as necessary downtime.
  5. Reduce “pseudo-productivity” activities. Much of what fills our workdays – constant emails, meetings, and digital distractions – isn’t meaningful or impactful work. Saying no or having clear boundaries allows you to work less and accomplish more.
  6. Create space for deep thinking and creativity. Historical figures like Isaac Newton and Marie Curie made groundbreaking discoveries during periods of reduced activity. Periods of rest can lead to major breakthroughs.
  7. Build a “craftsman” mindset. By caring about the quality and impact of your work, rather than just visible busyness, you can produce more meaningful results with less frantic activity.

Newport’s “slow productivity” philosophy suggests that strategically working less – by focusing on fewer, higher-quality tasks and allowing for a more natural work rhythm – can lead to greater long-term accomplishment, reduced burnout, and greater meaning and fulfillment. The key is to be intentional about where you direct your energy and to prioritize depth over shallow busyness.

Achieving Engagement From Productivity

I’m concerned about the focus these days on employee engagement as if it were some kind of “special thing” to be pursued outside the usual day-to-day operations of a workplace. Engagement isn’t a goal to be sought. Rather, it’s an outcome of good leadership. The goal should be a well-run organization. The best run organizations have engaged employees, not because they are necessarily pursuing “an engaged workforce,” but because they are committed to a well-run organization. If you keep your eyes on the right priorities – on the right prize – engagement will naturally follow.

An adaptation of Gallup’s Q12 Index (https://q12.gallup.com/) provides a suggested checklist for leaders. If you sincerely pursue these endeavors toward a well-run organization, employee engagement will follow. In other words, these behaviors can assist the leader to do a much better job.

Don’t try to accomplish this massive list all at once. Start with getting a read on how your employees might perceive your leadership and begin to take action in any of these areas. Action on any one item on the checklist below will result in a better, well-run, engaged organization.

  • Are you doing everything you can to clarify the kind of employee you need on your team? Are you clearly assessing the kind of skills and attitude required of an employee before you hire them, so that in the hiring process you get the right kind of people on the bus? While you may refine behaviors, don’t count on changing people’s fundamental values.
  • Are you explaining to your people exactly what you expect from them, both in terms of operational results and the kind of behaviors you need to see demonstrated to support your values?
  • Are you doing everything you can to give them the skills, tools, resources, and capabilities to succeed at their job?
  • Have you linked your expectations with the purpose of your organization so they feel their contribution is valued?
  • Have you assessed their strengths so they are doing what they do best every day?
  • Are you getting out of your office at least every week and catching them doing their job well? Are you recognizing and celebrating success?
  • Do you genuinely care about them as people? Have you listened to what matters to them, what they value, and how you can best support them to use their job to achieve their personal goals?
  • Are you encouraging your employees to grow, learn, and develop themselves? When was the last time you recommended a good book for them to read?
  • Do you allow genuine input and collaboration from your team so their opinions actually matter? While you can’t possibly make every decision by consensus, do you explain – and demonstrate – that their input on as many decisions as possible will be taken seriously?
  • Do you set high standards and hold people to account to those standards? “Everyone knows who is and who is not performing, and they are looking to you, as the boss, to see what you are going to do about it.” (Collin Powell)
  • Are you encouraging the development of good friendships at work?
  • Are you openly talking with people about their progress toward the achievement of both personal and organizational goals – so there are no surprises if/when you do an annual review?
  • Are you bringing humility to your leadership by being honest, vulnerable, and teachable?
  • Are you making it safe for people to risk making mistakes, while ensuring that they learn from these mistakes?
  • Are you creating a culture of ownership, so that employees are encouraged, and held accountable to create conditions for success on their own rather than depending solely on you, the boss, to deliver this?

Moving into a position of leadership does not give you more power. What it gives you is more accountability. Leading a well-run organization takes time, patience, and a clear intention. Set a goal for a productive workplace and employee engagement will follow.

Employee Engagement: It’s Not Rocket Science, But It Is Science

The Gallup Q12 is a survey designed to measure employee engagement. The instrument was the result of hundreds of focus groups and interviews. Researchers found that there were 12 key expectations, that when satisfied, form the foundation of strong feelings of engagement. So far 87,000 work units and 1.5 million employees have participated in the Q12 instrument. Comparisons of engagement scores reveal that organizations with high Q12 scores exhibit lower turnover, higher sales growth, better productivity, better customer loyalty and other manifestations of superior performance.

The Gallup organization also uses the Q12 as a semi-annual employee engagement Index – a random sampling of employee across the country.

The engagement index slots people into one of three categories:

  1. Engaged employees – Work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward
  2. Not-Engaged employees – Are essentially “checked out.” They are sleepwalking through their workday. They are putting in time, but not enough energy or passion into their work.
  3. Actively Disengaged – Employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.

The results of the latest engagement index: Engaged employees – 28 % Not-engaged employees – 54% Actively Disengaged – 17%

In other words, 71% of the workforce is either under-performing or actively undermining their work.

The Q12 Index: Here are the questions:

  1. Do you know what is expected of you at work?
  2. Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
  3. At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
  7. At work, do your opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
  9. Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do you have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  12. In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?