Today’s productivity problems go far deeper than just managing units of time. Our world has a few specific challenges that allow the time to just “go by,” and can leave us feeling unaccomplished and weary at the end of a day.
Productivity Problem #1
We are making more decisions than we ever have before. Think about it. Every email, demand, request, phone call, and/or idea is a decision your brain is required to make. During the Industrial Age, workers on an assembly line put one part on one machine a hundred times a day. They had few choices and fewer decisions to make. Decisions they did have to make were simple and of low value. Their tools had one, straightforward use.
Most of us no longer stand in an assembly line doing repetitive tasks. We have comparatively unlimited decisions coming at us about what to work on, when and how (for example: Do I answer this email? Accept this meeting invitation? Work on this project or that one?).
You do your best handling decisions as they come in, but the decisions you are required to make are complex and have high value. For example, a salesperson’s decisions on how to use her time can mean millions of dollars to the bottom line. One might be constantly busy, but still ask the at the end of the day, “What the heck did I get done?”
One might be constantly busy, but still ask the at the end of the day, “What the heck did I get done?”
Productivity Problem #2
At the same time, our attention is under unprecedented attack. The dings, pings, beeps, and buzzes each represent a demand and seem to come at us from everywhere. Thanks to technology, the information explosion is huge. But it is almost incomprehensible how huge. By the end of the twentieth century, the entire sum of information produced since the dawn of civilization was about twelve exabytes. We now produce this much information in about four days! And that does not include our personal information.
We are all in serious danger of drowning in emails, texts, and tweets! The fact that our brain loves the novelty of those dings and pings doesn’t help, and creates an addiction to technology. Thus the paradox: technology makes our life easier, more effective, and efficient, but it also distracts us and overburdens us because the unstoppable flow of information is out of control.
Productivity Problem #3
Problems one and two are wearing us out. We suffer from a personal energy crisis. We no longer work a standard eight-hour day. Our minds are constantly churning trying to make high value decisions, virtually twenty-four hours day. Our mode of life today—constant stress, poor diet, and lack of exercise and sleep—leads to what scientists call “exhaustion syndrome.” The rest of us call it burnout.
We continually “push through” each day, postponing the renewal time our bodies and brains need. The mantra is “work like crazy and then crash.” And, as we mentioned earlier, we get rewarded for the ordinary mindset; it becomes a badge of honor to brag, “Our team was up till midnight.” Do your employees receive emails and texts from you at 10 pm? Chances are they are stressed, not knowing whether they should be answering those or not. Are they supposed to “work” at that hour? Do they know what you expect?
The mantra is “work like crazy and then crash.”
What About You and Your Team?
Some leaders will shrug these problems off, saying “This is just the world we have to live in. Deal with it.” Other highly effective leaders will realize the costs of this and take action. Take a moment to consider these questions about where you stand.
- Which of these three productivity problems is most plaguing your team?
- What are you doing as a leader to fuel these problems?
- What can you do today to ease the burden on your team?
- What would be the benefit of making these changes?
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a speaker, global leadership consultant, and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Five-Week Leadership Challenge. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.