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profit from the positive
Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business
By MARGARET GREENBERG, SENIA MAYMIN
McGraw-Hill EducationCopyright © 2013 Profit from the Positive, LLC
All rights reserved.
The Productive Leader: It's More Than Time Management
Seventy percent of Americans report that work is a significant source of stress, according to the American Psychological Association. Additionally, Americans on average work eight hours more per week than their German counterparts, yet they are no more productive. For the last 50-plus years, sociologists have been asking people to keep time diaries of their activities. Surprisingly, people report only one more hour of free time today compared with 1965. We're busier than ever, yet we seem to be accomplishing less and less.
We already know about setting priorities, making to-do lists, and accomplishing big goals by breaking them into smaller chunks. However, many of us undervalue setting aside time to plan our work. We know what we should be doing, but sometimes we can't seem to get out of our own way. In coaching hundreds of business owners and executives, we've found three common drains on our productivity: we're overworked, we multitask, and we procrastinate.
We're overworked. One of our clients, Paul, heads a data services department that provides support for offices around the world. He's not only overworked, he's exhausted. "We have seventeen offices located on three continents and operating in eight time zones, which makes it really hard to unplug," he laments. Paul is not alone.
Nine to five has been replaced by 24/7. In an informal survey of a dozen Millennials, Margaret asked, "What does nine to five mean to you?" The most common answer? The score of the previous night's ball game.
For most of us, 40-hour workweeks are a thing of the past because of two colliding forces: a global economy and access to technologies that allow us to be available around the clock. We used to think that having operations on both coasts was a challenge. For businesses that operate globally, even scheduling a conference call can be a challenge. No matter how you juggle calendars, someone has to get up in the middle of the night to participate.
Paul describes a typical day: "I try to force myself to leave the office by 7 p.m. at the latest and limit the amount of work I do from home. This is a big shift from my prior roles, where I would work from 7 a.m. until 8 or 9 p.m., go back to work at midnight, and stay until 5 a.m. That said, I think I fail on a pretty grand scale in terms of maintaining a balance between work and the rest of my life."
Even if your business operates domestically, chances are that you're still overworked because of constant access to technology. Our clients often complain about the time it takes to keep up with the barrage of emails that assault their in-boxes. An 11-hour workday is the norm for our client Ellie, who leads an integration team for a newly acquired financial services company, and those 11 hours are merely the time she spends in the office: "I typically leave work around 6 p.m. so I can be home in time to have dinner with my husband and kids. Then, once the dinner dishes are cleaned up, the homework finished, and the kids are tucked in, I log back onto email for a few hours before going to bed. The next day, it starts all over again."
Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer stated previously, "I do marathon email catch-up sessions, sometimes on a Saturday or Sunday. I'll just sit down and do email for 10 to 14 hours straight." Mayer describes regularly working 90-hour weeks and taking a one-week vacation about every six months.
We multitask. While our client Eddie waits in line to pay for his turkey sandwich, he scrolls through his in-box on his phone and listens to a voice mail. "You forgot your change," the cashier yells as Eddie makes a mad dash for his office, arriving barely in time to log on to a 12:30 conference call with his boss and the rest of the team. After announcing himself, he hits the mute button and replies to a couple of the emails. In the middle of the third email his cell phone beeps, announcing that he has a text message from his golf buddy. As he's typing his reply, he hears his boss: "Eddie, are you there? Eddie?" He unmutes himself. "Ah, yes, I'm here." "What ideas do you have to solve this problem?" his boss asks. Ideas? Eddie has no idea what the team has been discussing.
Many clients tell us they are so busy that multitasking is the only way they can accomplish everything. They participate in conference calls while driving, do Internet searches during meetings, and respond to emails while talking on the phone. Multitasking has become associated with being more productive, but this couldn't be further from the truth. The biggest hit to your productivity from multitasking is what we call flip-flop costs. It takes effort to flip-flop or switch from one focus to another. In fact, we lose up to 40 percent of our productivity from flip-flopping between tasks. In a typical eight-hour day, which we know is no longer typical, that translates into three lost hours.
A study conducted in 2007 calculated the loss of productivity and innovation resulting from social media interruptions at 650 billion annually. Answering emails as they come in has been estimated to cost U.S. businesses 70 billion a year.
Imagine that an email pops up while you're drafting a presentation. You answer it and then go back to the presentation. Next, a text comes in, and you reply. When you return to your presentation, research shows that it will take you longer to regain your focus and finish your work than it would have had you stayed with that one task. That's a flip-flop cost.
When we don't flip-flop between tasks, we often get our best ideas. For example, Jeff Taylor, founder and formerly Chief Monster of Monster.com, got the idea for his online job board company while he was sleeping. In fact, he claims that he's had some of his best strategic ideas when doing nothing at all, not while multitasking. Executives we coach often tell us that they found the solution to a particularly nagging problem after a jog or a swim.
Flip-flopping can also have a hidden cost: damage to your reputation. Remember Eddie? He later told us how embarrassed he was at not being able to contribute to the conversation: "I looked like a jerk to my boss and the rest of the team, and lost some of their trust and respect, which will take time to earn back."
We procrastinate. Being productive is more than simply practicing good time management techniques. Sometimes we procrastinate the way Tracey does. Tracey is a busy director for a financial services company. She travels the country helping satellite offices implement a new product portfolio. At the start of the new year, Tracey's boss gives her a special project: develop a phase II rollout strategy with estimated resources. It is now almost the end of the first quarter, and still nothing. Tracey knows that her boss is waiting to see her plan, but she wants to use what she's learning in phase I to get it just right. Tracey is a perfectionist.
Perfectionism is the enemy of productivity. If you procrastinate, you are probably a perfectionist. If you tend to put off some tasks or projects, there is a high chance the reason is that you want to "do it right." Researchers have found that perfectionism results from one of three types of thinking: expecting perfect results from yourself, expecting perfect results from others, or thinking that others expect perfect results from you.
Being a productive leader is about creating a mindset that allows you to efficiently accomplish your work. It's about getting your work out the door so that you can get out of the office at a reasonable hour. In this chapter, we show you four evidence-based tools to make you even more productive: replace "just do it" with "just plan it"; trick yourself into getting started; set habits, not just goals; and work less to accomplish more.
1. REPLACE "JUST DO IT" WITH "JUST PLAN IT"
We all know the Nike mantra, "Just do it," and have come to believe that this is also the path to greater productivity. Wrong. Although "just do it" works in some situations, research shows that it should be replaced with "just plan it." Creating a brief plan before diving into your work actually improves productivity.
Two Days After Christmas
Psychologist Peter Gollwitzer of Columbia University wanted to learn what moves people to action. He recruited university students to participate in an experiment. Half the students were simply told to write a report about how they spent their Christmas Eve and send it in to the researchers by December 27. The other half were given the same assignment, but in addition, Gollwitzer asked them to identify exactly when and where they would write the report. Students picked a specific time (such as after breakfast) and a certain place (such as the quiet corner of the living room). In effect, these students had set what we call a triggering event. What happened? Seventy-one percent of the students who identified up front when and where they would write the report mailed it in by the due date. A meager 32 percent of the other group turned the report in on time. Gollwitzer's study has been replicated about 100 times in dozens of settings. The bottom line? You may be twice as likely to accomplish your work if you decide up front when and where you will do it.
Increase Your Odds
Often we are in roles in which we need something from one of our employees, peers, or business partners to get our own work done. Using the when-and-where research, a useful corollary is that it is easier to get people to do a task when you have set a triggering event in their heads or, better yet, when you have agreed with them on a particular when and where. For example, making a request such as, "Joe, could you bring me that report to the conference room after the 10 a.m. meeting?" is more likely to get you that report than is a general request such as "Joe, could you bring me that report tomorrow?"
What We Can Learn from Smokers
After studying 30,000 smokers who successfully kicked the habit, the psychologist James Prochaska developed a model for the ways people create change in their lives. One of his most significant findings is that people often rush into action ("I will stop smoking tomorrow") before they've set up the necessary groundwork for implementing that change (such as throwing away all their cigarettes). Intentions may be sincere, but without the proper planning, there is little chance of success. Therefore, before you rush to action, take time out and plan the day, week, or month ahead. Also, in planning your actions, set triggers for yourself.
2. TRICK YOURSELF INTO GETTING STARTED
In the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report, the PreCrime unit knows about a crime before it is committed. What if you could know what you're going to accomplish each day before you actually accomplish it?
Margaret did exactly that in writing this book. Nearly every Friday, she worked on a section of the book, and at the end of the workday, she sent Senia an email describing her progress and attached the latest version. But when did Margaret write the email to Senia? When she sat down at her computer, first thing in the morning. Even before working on the sections, she drafted the email—in the past tense—describing what she had completed that day. In a sense, Margaret was tricking herself into getting started. Here are two more techniques to trick yourself into getting started: use the Zeigarnik (pronounced Zay-gar-nick) effect and use Tina's ta-da! list.
The Zeigarnik Effect
Research that's almost 100 years old has been a bit of a productivity secret. The psychology researcher Bluma Zeigarnik discovered that not finishing a task in one sitting can be a good thing. Imagine that you agree to participate in a study in which a researcher gives you about 20 tasks to complete one by one (the tasks include making a clay figure, doing arithmetic, making a cardboard box, and completing puzzles). But while you are working on those tasks, he interrupts you on half of them before you have a chance to finish them (the order of interruptions was made to appear to be random). At the end of the study, the researcher asks you to tell him which tasks you worked on. Will you be more likely to remember the tasks you were working on when you were interrupted or the ones you had a chance to complete? Intriguingly, interrupted tasks are better remembered.
How can you apply this to your work? Leave a project only partly finished on your desk so that when you approach it the following morning, there's something to work on immediately. This is the Zeigarnik effect. Leave yourself loose ends: outlines before full paragraphs or draft presentations before the finished product.
One of our clients, Sanjay, was not a morning person. He often had a hard time getting started in the morning. He also hated wasting time. The Zeigarnik effect was just what he needed. Sanjay had decided to restructure his information technology department to better align it with the various lines of business his organization supported. "I've talked to all the key stakeholders," he told us, "but I need to send out an email announcing the changes before I hold my town hall meeting tomorrow afternoon." We asked, "What if you drafted the announcement this afternoon but waited to reread it one last time before hitting the send button in the morning? That way you would have something to do first thing when you arrive." Not only did Sanjay try this technique, but we later learned that he left something unfinished nearly every day so that he had something to jump-start his morning.
What's necessary for the Zeigarnik effect to work is to start something. For example, say you want to approach a potential client but are not sure how. The Zeigarnik effect does not work if you merely think, "I should approach this client." You need to start an action in order to leave some loose ends. Write out some bullet points for the way you will approach the client or do an Internet search to gather some information about the company. Then stop. Come back to it later and you'll be even more productive.
Will You Be More Likely to Wash Your Car for the First Time or the Third Time?
Another way to trick yourself into making progress is to pretend that you have already started. Two researchers ran a study at a professional car wash. After their first car wash, 300 customers received a free loyalty card. Half of those customers got a loyalty card with spaces for eight stamps. The deal was this: purchase eight car washes and get the next one free. The other half got a loyalty card with spaces for 10 stamps, but the first 2 stamps were already affixed (such that one-fifth of the card was already complete). Over the next nine months, the car wash tracked how many free washes were redeemed. In the eight-stamp group, 19 percent of the customers completed all eight stamps and received a free car wash. In the 10-stamp group with 2 stamps already affixed, 32 percent of the customers completed the remaining 8 stamps and received a free car wash. People persisted more when the task had already been started for them.
How can you focus on being in progress on a project or task as opposed to being at the beginning of it? Try what we call Tina's ta-da! list trick. One of our clients, Tina, writes a couple of items on her to-do list that she has already accomplished and then immediately crosses them out. Ta-da! "Nothing feels better than seeing a couple of strikethroughs on my to-do list," she confesses. Sounds crazy? Maybe, but it works.
One Minute in Front of the TV
Julie is the pseudonym of a patient of Robert Maurer, a psychologist at UCLA. Julie was an overweight, overworked single mom with diabetes. Maurer knew that his typical advice (get 30 minutes of exercise per day) would probably not work for Julie. Instead he asked, "Do you watch TV?"
Julie looked at him quizzically and answered, "Yes."
Excerpted from profit from the positive by MARGARET GREENBERG, SENIA MAYMIN. Copyright © 2013 Profit from the Positive, LLC. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill Education.
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