Early on in my career, I never worried too much about productivity. When you’re in your twenties, you seem to have an abundance of time, and working longer to get things done doesn’t really matter.
Then, you move on in your career and things start to change. You gather more commitments, with family, friends, partners, pets and home loan repayments.
Your career advances too, and you move into more senior positions.
Productivity becomes more important because time is more precious than ever before. But in your leadership role, there are greater expectations on you.
Why Bother to Improve Productivity?
So what’s the solution?
Some people choose to work longer hours and compromise other aspects of life. Often, that comes at a cost, with a greater risk of burnout and an impact on wellbeing and your mental health.
Personally, I want it all. I want to work reasonable hours and I want to have time to spend outside of work. I want to be able to do a great job, without needing to burn myself out at the same time.
Is it possible? I think so.
Obviously, every job and industry is different. If you work in the Emergency Department at a hospital and there is a huge accident in the area, you’re going to be busy. Being an Executive comes with a price as the demands on you increase even further.
Sometimes, you’ll need to work more as the work ebbs and flows. But in my opinion, we shouldn’t need to be working ourselves to death to do well in leadership roles.
Related post: Why Good Mental Health is a Leader’s Best Friend.
To Improve Productivity, Work On Your Mindset
For me, productivity is all about mindset. When your mindset towards time management changes, you’ll start to see the world differently.
You’ll start to notice the tasks that are adding no value.
You’ll start to see the meetings that are unproductive.
When you are wasting time on pointless work, you’ll start to notice. And it will hurt.
But it’s the hurt that will help you to change how you work and get things done more efficiently, and you’ll eventually become more effective.
Here are some mindset shifts that I’ve gone through, that have changed the way I spend my time for the better.
1. Improve Productivity By Considering the Opportunity Cost
The opportunity cost is often used in a financial context. It basically means that choosing to invest your money in one place, means that you can’t also spend it somewhere else.
So if I choose to buy a $100 pair of shoes, then the opportunity cost is the opportunity I have lost because now I can’t use that $100 for anything else.
I have gained a pair of shoes, but I may have lost more in the long run, by not investing that $100 in the stock exchange.
Opportunity cost is also an important concept when it comes to productivity. If I choose to spend my time on one task, it means I can’t spend it doing something else.
Keeping the opportunity cost in mind means you start to focus on what is most important. I *could* go to the meeting that has no structure or agenda. But if I do, it means I can’t spend that hour working on the important presentation that I really need to get finished.
Another way of thinking about this is when you say “Yes” to do something, you are saying “No” to something else, because you can’t spend time in two places at once.
And for those that argue that multitasking is the solution to this problem, there has been significant research to suggest that multitasking has a negative impact on productivity.
2. Busy Does Not Equal Productive or Effective
Another important way to improve productivity is to realise that being busy does not mean you are productive or effective. It just means you are doing things.
Now, I’m not saying that being busy is bad. Being busy may mean your skills are in demand and that you are a valuable person in your particular workplace.
However, busy is only good if you are busy doing the right things… not just doing work that keeps you busy.
People like being busy, because it means they don’t need to think about what to do next. They can go from meeting to meeting all day, without time to do anything else. Being busy has positive feelings associated with it too, making people feel important, valued and like they make a difference.
The Problem With Needing to Be Busy
The issue with just being busy is that there is no room for “head space” to think strategically, to be available to support your team or to plan for upcoming activities. This in turn leads to rushed work, poor quality decisions and knee-jerk reactions to problems.
When you change your mindset to stop needing to be busy, you’ll have time to think more deeply, plan and spend time on other valuable activities.
Related article: The Research is Clear: Long Hours Backfire for People and for Companies.
Related article: Are You Too Busy to Lead Effectively?
3. Everything Is Negotiable: Killing the Victim Mindset
If you find yourself saying “I have too many meetings” or “I don’t have time to think”, you may have slipped into a victim mindset regarding how you use your time.
The victim mindset is where you feel as if things are being done to you, and you have no power to change the situation. You feel hopeless, like you are simply a victim of circumstance.
A friend shared a story with me recently, about several colleagues who spoke about “Being so busy” and “Not having time to get everything done”. They attended a meeting which went for an hour. After the meeting finished, they stayed in the room and continued to talk about non-work topics for 20 minutes.
Now, I’m not saying that talking with your colleagues isn’t important. Nor am I saying you need to be laser-focused on work for every minute of the day.
But if you say that you can’t get everything done, and then spend 20 minutes talking with colleagues instead of doing the work, you’ve only got yourself to blame.
And then I start to question: If that work is so valuable… why aren’t you doing it now? (Hint: the work probably doesn’t really matter that much, or you’d focus on it).
Negotiate to Free Your Time and Improve Productivity
Over my career, I’ve come to believe that almost everything is negotiable. If my manager asks me to do something, but I think there is a better (more efficient way), I will ask “Can we do it this way instead?”
If you can think of more productive ways to work, speak up and propose them. It’s the only way you will start to shift from a victim mindset, to one where you control how you spend your time.
Of course, to do this you need good relationships with your manager and the people around you. This gives you relationship capital or “rapport in the bank”, which you can use to negotiate your workload and how work is done.
Resource: If you need to be better at negotiating and pushing back, Thoughtful Leader can help. Check out the Managing Upwards eBook, for tools and techniques to build confidence and help you say “No”. You and your team deserve better… get the eBook today.
Related article: How Leaders Can Build Strong Working Relationships.
Improve Productivity But Don’t Forget the People
One cautionary note that I will end with is to say that we need to be careful not to fall into an “extreme productivity” mindset. When you focus only on being productive, you may start to lose focus on other aspects such as networking, building relationships, coaching and supporting your team.
These are important, because leading is all about people. So be careful not to focus on the task so much, that you lose sight of the humans around you.
Need Help With the Mindset Shift?
Do you struggle to manage your productivity? What are your suggestions to improve productivity for you and your team? Leave a comment below!
Alternatively, if you would like to ask a question or need some help, you can send me a private message through my contact page.