Productivity – how to get off the wheel


Most of us are running pretty hard…but the question is are we getting anywhere?  Productivity is a tricky business – no matter how much you upgrade the wheel or add shiny attachments to it – running faster (working harder) won’t move you forward.  If you really want to be productive, you ultimately have to get off the wheel.

I had the opportunity to do a Productivity workshop for a division of a larger company the other day and a few things quickly became apparent as we talked about their frustrations in terms of being able to get things done.

The first thing that became clear is that as a group, they were pretty efficient…they just weren’t very effective.

“Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”

     – Peter Drucker

This is a team of very competent professionals and their job is to support the rest of a very large organization.   Unfortunately for them, they collectively report to and support about 5 other groups within the company…and they have little to no say over their priorities.

In that kind of environment, your best bet is to continue to be as efficient as possible and just recognize that you’re not going to be very effective without a more coordinated leadership effort.  Effectiveness comes from focus and that focus has to be aligned and come from the top down.

Good news – you can be effective (and get off the wheel)!

If you’re an entrepreneur, small business owner or a solo professional you have a great advantage over those larger corporate teams, you have full control over being both efficient and effective.  It all starts with this:

Can you quickly list the 5 most important things your company needs to achieve this year? 

If you can answer that…and if all of your employees can answer that, then you are well on your way to being effective…and getting off the wheel!  When everyone is on the same page in terms of what’s most important in terms of winning, then everyone can prioritize their efforts accordingly and the most important things are going to get done.

If you can’t answer what the 5 most important things are…and if your team can’t answer that question quickly and succinctly, then you have built yourself a lovely hamster wheel and you’re not going to make much progress this year.

In fact as Amber at Brass Tack Thinking points out – you’ll be wasting your time on productivity trying to fine tune your efficiency, look for apps and shortcuts, but all you are really doing is making the wheel prettier or faster.

Try This:

If you don’t feel like you have the focus of your top 5 things, carve out a couple of hours in your schedule to think about what you want to achieve. (Note – this is a great exercise to do with a coach or an advisor)

Step 1 – pick a timeframe.  Typically I’d suggest 12 months, but if it’s easier just start small and look at the time between now and the end of the year.  Or if you want to look farther, maybe it’s now and the end of next year.

Step 2 – pick a big goal…something like ‘Grow revenue by 25% for the year’ or ‘Launch a new product by January’.  This should be something that you’re excited about and that you think is going to have a significant impact on where you want to take things long term.

Step 3 – ask the question “what will it take to achieve that big goal?”.  If you want to grow 25% this year, it’s likely not going to happen if you just repeat what you did last year, so what new things are you implementing that will make that happen?  Pick the top 1 to 3 things that will help you achieve this goal…and those become the starting point for your Top 5 list.

Step 4 – Continue steps 2 and 3 until you have a top 5.  It’s likely that going through this thought process will generate a bigger list than 5 major things.  You will be tempted to make it a much longer list.  Don’t!  That’s the whole point, you have to simplify and focus if you want to get off the wheel.  Once you finish something, then you can add something new, but you’ve got to maintain a narrow focus.

Step 5 – Publish your top 5 onto a single piece of paper, so it’s clear and easy to read.  Share it with everyone who has a stake in making it happen.  Hold yourself and your team accountable to staying focused on your top 5.

Do you feel like you’re running on the hamster wheel?  Are you productive or just busy?  Have you tried narrowing your focus before?  What happened?  How did it go?  We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach