How to be More Productive - at Work or at Home!

One of the first things I saw one morning recently as I checked my LinkedIn notifications was a post from a friend who has a whole bunch of children, many of whom he and his wife adopted, showing the clean and organized kitchen he came home to the evening before. Now even if you’re single and have pizza delivered on a daily basis, you know maintaining a clean and organized kitchen is no small task! But for a mom to accomplish that on her own with several kids, that’s nearly an act of God!

After I recovered from the initial shock and was able to read his entire post, I realized the point he was making was tied to how important it is, for kids as well as us adults, to have responsibility for specific tasks. My friend and his wife had been intentional about making sure each child was assigned something to do in the process and they understood what was expected of them. As a family, they had developed a system for breaking what can often be a daunting task down into little bites. (Get it, they were cleaning up after dinner… Little bites…)

As I considered his post, I thought about all the different tools and systems I’ve learned over the years that were geared at how I could be more productive, at work or at home. I also thought about how some worked really well and some just ended up being a struggle to apply.

Nearly twenty years ago, I read a book by Stephen Covey called 7 Habits of Highly Effective People where he taught me about the importance of keeping the main thing the main thing. That’s all I’ll say about that here, but you should consider checking it out if you’ve never read it… Around that same time, I read John Maxwell’s book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership for the first time and learned about the “3 R’s” in The Law of Priorities. 

We’ll circle back to those 3 R’s shortly. For now, consider this question from an article I read on called 9 Habits of Productive People; “Why are we all so obsessed with productivity?”

Ilya Pozin, the author of that article, goes on to suggest that this “obsession” could be tied to all the distractions we face in this digital age. To that end, John Maxwell suggested something very similar on the first page of Everyone Communicates, Few Connect when he said that “According to experts, we are bombarded with thirty-five thousand messages a day.” Since that book was printed more than a decade ago, I’d be willing to bet that number has increased significantly!

Regardless of where those messages are coming from, or what we’re engaged in when they’re coming at us, the distractions can certainly take a toll on whether or not we accomplish our task or if we make mistakes in the process. We need to be just as aware of those numbers when we’re attempting to get our message across if we want to have any chance at all of ensuring it makes it through all the other noise…

So back to that question about productivity; why are we so obsessed with it?

For those of us who live and work in private industry, productivity ties directly to revenue and profitability. If we want to do self-absorbed and greedy things like sleep inside and eat food, productivity matters! But even if we’re just considering productivity as it relates to the post my friend shared about coming home to a clean kitchen, wouldn’t we rather knock out tasks like that as quickly and as efficiently as possible than having them looming over us and sucking up time we could be enjoying with our families?

For me, creating systems in various areas of my life has helped me be more productive. Moving forward here, we’ll look at some things we can each consider as we create systems within our routines and how we can make sure those systems serve us long term. Before we do that though, we’ll take a look at how we can begin to prioritize all the things we even need to do.

The Importance of SOP’s

Building on our cultural obsession with productivity, I’ll share an example of something I learned as I was working to implement Lean Manufacturing initiatives in the facility I worked at for nearly twenty years…

We all tend to have our own way of doing certain things, right? While that’s typically true, that can wreak havoc on a manufacturing process! If each person who attempts to complete a task takes a different approach, it can be extremely difficult to produce a consistent product or nail down a reasonable expectation for how much labor is required. When quality and pricing shift with the wind, repeat business isn’t very likely. And that doesn’t even touch on how complicated these different methods for producing the same product make training new team members, especially when that training occurs across multiple shifts… Regardless of what industry we’re considering, some sort of standard operating procedure is nearly always necessary!

As we built various Lean tools into different areas of that manufacturing facility, we started with the existing workstation instructions, reviewed them with several of the most experienced employees who operated the equipment, then worked to create extremely detailed guides called Standardized Worksheets that spelled out every intricate step of the process so anyone attempting the particular job for the first time would have a reasonable chance of producing a high quality product in a timely fashion just from reading the sheet. The goal was to identify the current best way of performing the task efficiently and safely while making the widget to specification. If someone came up with a different way that they believed was better, we’d review it against all three criteria (safety, quality, and efficiency). If at least one of the three was better and the other two didn’t suffer, we’d then have a new best way of performing that task!

When you think back to what I shared about my friend coming home to a clean and organized kitchen, were you in disbelief? That sounds like quite a task doesn’t it? Especially for a mom to corral two or three dozen kids in order for it to happen… Shoot, I’m guessing you’re picturing someone you know right now who lives by themselves and has a week’s worth of dirty dishes filling their sink and scattered across their counter top. I sure can think of a few! And there lies the difference between having a system for getting something done and just planning to take care of it when we can, the best we can...

In chapter seven of The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, The Law of Design, John Maxwell defines systems as :”processes for predictably achieving a goal based on specific, orderly, repeatable principles and practices.” He goes on to share a quote from Michael Gerber stating that “Systems permit ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results predictably.”

The more tasks we’re responsible for, or the busier our lives get, the more important it becomes for each of us to follow (or develop) systems to make sure things get done. Not only will having systems in place help us avoid becoming stressed out, those same systems will help us ensure we keep the main thing the main thing even when we’re under significant pressure. That’s absolutely been the case for me!

But regardless of how great our systems are, we’re going to run into times where there’s just more stuff to be done than we could possibly get to. Now let’s circle back to how we can build those three R’s into our systems to make sure we’re putting our time where it gives us the best results - and the ones we need most!

More than Readin’, Ritin’ & ‘Rithmetic...

It seems like for every year older I get, there’s at least a half dozen new tasks that are added to my daily routine! While that may not actually be the case, I’m guessing you can relate in one way or another… And what if we’ve accepted responsibility for leading others? Those half dozen additional tasks could easily double to a dozen - or more!

That ever-increasing pressure makes it even more important for us to consider everything we can that could help us be more productive - at work and at home, and it drives home the importance of building systems we can use in the process! Even when we do everything we know to do, there are still times where others around us appear to get so much more done than we do; at least that’s sometimes the case for me!

I read a blog article recently called 18 Habits of Highly Productive People: What Efficient People Have in Common that opened by saying, “We’ve all known that person who always seems to be getting things done. Whether a friend or a colleague, this is the person whose work is always done early. The one who somehow manages to finish hour-long tasks in 20 minutes…” That article went on to share some fairly basic concepts each of us could take action on to increase our productivity, but 18 things seemed like a lot for me to keep up with!

Since I’ve always gotten better results when the instructions I’ve tried to follow were simple, let’s keep it that way with how we approach productivity too. Let’s dig into what John Maxwell taught me about the 3 R’s in The Law of Priorities, chapter seventeen in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. As important as readin’, ritin’ & ‘rithmetic are, those aren’t the R’s John refers to! These R’s are focused on what we do and how we do it…

The first R challenges us to determine whether or not something is really Required to be done by us… While there are tons of things that need to be done every day, like washing the dishes or straightening the kitchen, we may only need to make sure they get done rather than physically doing those things ourselves. Think back to my friend’s wife having specific tasks assigned to each child. Not only is that a great example of delegation, I believe it provides each child with an effective lesson in responsibility! The hard part is often being willing to let go of certain things. And it can be equally difficult for some people to hold others accountable… But when we identify the things that can only be done by us, the things we’re really Required to do, our over list is almost always way shorter.

The second R focuses on those things we truly are Required to do and pushes us to analyze which ones give us the best Return for the time we invest into them. Over the last several years, Cindy and I have had to pay close attention to this in our business. There always seems to be opportunities for us to meet people and interact with groups but we’ve learned that some come with significantly greater opportunities for actually getting paid. While we’d love to be everything for everyone who has a need, we’ve had to be intentional about focusing the majority of our effort on the places where we get a tangible return - at least as long as we want to sleep inside and have food on the table… I realize you’re likely in a very different line of work, but I can’t think of a single private sector job that doesn’t require a specific level of performance to make sure the bills are paid and the paychecks can keep going out!

To me, the third R ties more to long term productivity. When we can get fulfillment, or Reward as John calls it, from the things we’re Required to do and give us the best Return, we begin to develop more overall balance in our lives - which usually leads to even more productivity! I’ll share some ideas that I believe will help us create systems for ourselves that tie all three of these R’s together soon. 

For now though, I’ll leave you with a word of caution. I know how easy it can be to get frustrated or even depressed when we see those folks that blog referenced who appear to be getting hour-long tasks done in 20 minutes. I once heard that the most frequent cause of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence is that it’s growing on top of a septic field! All too often, that guy who looks like he’s way more productive than us just isn’t… Even in the few cases where he is, it might be because he’s developed better systems than us and we should pay closer attention to what he’s doing so we can do it too!

Have You Worked Through the 3 R's?

The first lesson in our Emerging Leader Development course, Why Leadership, walks participants through the process of taking action each of those R's in order to make the best use of their time and lead their teams effectively. The final lesson, circles back to that and adds a fourth R every leader should consider when planning for their future. Here's a chance for you to give this exclusive course a trial run over the next seven days for just $1!

Disclaimer: This material is for educational use only. You alone are responsible for implementing the steps necessary to become an effective leader at each new level in your career. While we will share things that we've seen make an amazing impact in numerous organizations, we can't take action for you. By registering for this or any of our courses, you accept complete and total responsibility for taking action to apply what we share in your own role and for making a positive impact on each individual you lead!