What does high productivity look like when a person has one or several challenges to overcome in everyday life? And how is it objectively “good enough” in comparison to another, a so-called peak performer? How do we prevent comparison from happening and instead nurture and celebrate all performances from people wanting to be an active part of working life in their own unique way? Finally, how do we quit being hard on ourselves, if it so happens that we are the one not to perform as well as we could under other circumstances, as we were able to before, or perhaps never could if looked at objectively rather than subjectively? Some of these questions are meant to be rhetorical, others to be left hanging in the air for possible answers down the line, and a few we will address in this blog post with the knowledge that your guess is as good as ours.
Peak Performance In Business Versus Sports
At the 2018 Nordic Business Forum in Helsinki, Peak Performance was one of the themes, and focus during any of the presentations was never on chronic illness, disability, being part of the sandwich generation, or the like. Instead, sports analogies were never too far away, and we at Wemla are questioning the soundness of that.
While incredibly interesting to research, the highest levels of productivity are a feature of a select few individuals only. They very likely have the privilege of good health, finacial security, support groups at home to take care of house and offspring, stability in the workplace with few daily and mundane hiccups to disturb progress, and other perks. They are statistical outliers.
The averages, the great masses that many of us belong to, often feel like we could or should do better, but are unable to. Quite a few of us struggle with dissatisfaction, bad conscience, and constantly unhealthy expectations of ourselves. Is it realistic to glorify life spent at work, push everyone to even more instead of fewer hours? Or would it make sense to ask for more quality packed into the minutes available? Few of us are capable of honestly qualitative work for anything past eight hours, as our brain capacity becomes a major restrictive factor.
We are writing 2019 and streamlining knowledge work in particular is underdeveloped still. Every company or healthcare provider seems to use its own set of technological tools, and each employee still likes their own naming convention of files the best. How does one do knowledge work for that matter?
There are all sorts of standardised processes in place for automated work and such, but what about situations in which the overall project can follow good practices of project management, yet the details can vary greatly at times? Amidst all this, the peak performers stand out like lighthouses in the night, igniting the belief that all hope isn’t lost yet and very much becoming some sort of everyday heroes that we still seem to need.
What about the average person though? How does an average career measure up, matter at all? When will we create a scale of subjective success that becomes comparable to those of others, whether the amount and size of absolute results might be more, more, more on that one? How do we even begin to measure something as abstract as productivity amidst biohacking and time control galore? Why does it need to become a competition at all?
1. Shift Your Perspective
We have yet to read The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss and The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less by Richard Koch, building on the Pareto principle, but each presents quite a fetching value proposition in the title. Being open to new ideas concerning productivity is key in squeezing out more smart work, instead of increasing the hours especially when energy is limited.
Getting lost in time-consuming testing of new methods and tools isn’t our intention to suggest, but maybe a colleague or friend has some initial fresh takes on how to do things differently. It could be something as simple as not reading emails first thing, but rather blocking an hour of work in peace and quiet to start the day on a good note.
2. Take Breaks
Breaks are not for the lazy (only,) but to create moments of so-called diffused thinking—as opposed to focussed thinking—where the brain enters a more meandering mode. It is akin to standing up to stretch and walk around a bit, loosen things up. The distance, both literal and figurative, to a conundrum can help you notice aspects you missed before or feel secure in knowing you have everything you need to proceed. Or maybe you simply need to stack a few stones on your desk for a while?
3. Gentle Support
Techniques such as Pomodoro can provide you with a helpful structure to your working day. If you have a hard time taking breaks otherwise, Pomodoro gives you permission to do so in a regulated way. In fact, it is such a game changer for many that we will write a separate post here on the blog in the future!
Time blocking is another way to focus on getting tasks done. You estimate a time slot needed to finish parts of a project or a single task, then focus on the clock instead of a to-do list, which can freeze many into lack of action due to overwhelm.
4. Decrease Number Of Options
Clarity about what matters the most sounds like such an obvious thing to consider, but what happens when you get stuck? We find that it is due to lack of verbalising clearly our next few steps of action that we drift into the blah, that state of mind where you have no idea of what to choose next.
What is relevant to do? What is of highest priority? What is a Must-Do as opposed to a Nice-To-Have?
You could also apply the acronym SMART or specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely (or variations of slightly different meaning). This is usually helpful on project management scale, which can last around a year or so, but we recommend giving it a shot also in day-to-day activities to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Breaking down larger projects into smaller, well-defined chunks will also give you a sense of completion regularly as well as help avoid procrastination.
5. Clean Up
Cleaning may be the most underrated activity to think of when considering productivity. However, the mess created daily, when not setting aside a bit of time regulary to undo chaos, comes with its own price. It’s boring, sure, but imagine when someone asks for a particular document and you pull it out in a few seconds… Kind of a boost!
In The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work And What To Do About It, Michael E. Gerber talks about the difference between working on the business as opposed to in the business. This is a perfect exmple of why “on” is as important as “in.” When you are pressed for time or low on energy, bringing order to paper and digital files becomes vital, or your productivity will suffer unnecessarily.
What Motivated This Post
Nina had a severe accident in February earlier this year and is facing a year or two of physiotherapy up to five times daily. She will be typing with one hand for an unknown length of time, which will be reflected in the ratio of text and images in particular, but blog posts will also be much shorter than initially intended. If you want to read more about her daily struggles, she wrote a post on her personal blog a while ago. The purpose is to raise awareness as well as show honestly how life can change dramatically in an instant, so perhaps her thoughts will help also our readers to be more understanding of colleagues’ various challenges.
Please share your thoughts and experiences with subjectively decreased productivity, by which we are thinking of excellent productivity on your own scale but low compared to the highest performers. Is it an issue in your life? Are you met with (unfair) criticism? Do you have tips for us how to handle setbacks due to too high expectations perhaps? We love hearing from you!
Photo credit, featured image: Elliot Banks.