Let me ask you a work-related but personal question. Please take a metaphorical honesty tablet before you answer so that your answer is only truth and nothing but the truth. Are you ready?
How much of your working week, in your opinion, are you spending time on things you think you should be doing, and doing them well?
Write down your average percentage across a typical week.
I wonder how your answer compares with the average, which I have been researching through my training programmes over 20 years. The average, I kid you not, is a mere 40%. That means that most people reckon they spend three days per week doing things they shouldn’t be doing or doing things they should be doing, but doing them badly.
How organizations survive on two days’ per week productivity is beyond me. Still, I’m an optimist by nature and believe that this figure can change for the better through some simple changes in behavior and attitude.
This article gives you the top three easiest and most effective ways to convert your work into more fruitful and productive activities and thereby avoid the energy-sapping dysfunctional traps. What I’m about to share are three strategies to increase productivity in the workplace. It is what people tell me makes the greatest difference to them and is most easily applied. These three things will boost your career mojo, as I call it, more than any others.
1. Have Effective Workplace Meetings: Useless ones Kill Time, Motivation and Productivity
First up, your biggest time waster: useless meetings. Poorly run, often irrelevant to you (but you got invited just in case). Meetings are often unfocused and lacking ownership and clarity over who is going to do what. They sap your energy; waste your time, and cause frustration and poor morale. For unknown reasons, we don’t do anything about it. I met someone recently who told me that he wastes 18 hours per week of his life in meetings he shouldn’t be at. Words fail me.
Here are three things you can do to change all that:
- Don’t attend meetings which don’t have an agenda. They will probably be the most badly run and unfocused of all of them. Ask for an agenda, and if you’re told there is no agenda, say you can’t, therefore, assess whether it’s a good use of your time, and decline it. (I know people who save hours per week on this one alone. You’re welcome).
- Suggest to the meeting owner that they put a time limit on each item on the agenda, and then have someone call it when you have 5 minutes left. It’s amazing how this focusses the discussion.
- Start each meeting with a review of the actions from the previous meeting. Once people realize that they are going to be asked to account for themselves it somehow raises their commitment to doing what they say they will.
Bonus item: finish every meeting with a review of how the meeting went, and how it could be improved next time. Funny how that seems to create a cycle of continuous improvement. It also allows people to give each other feedback: might be a chance for the Introverts (usually about half the people in the meeting) to say whether they felt listened to and included or not, for instance.
As you can see, none of the above involves rocket science. Just plain common sense and a healthy dose of assertiveness (another quality which suffers at the workplace – we seem to think the best way to handle conflict at work is to avoid it. Another way to have a better day at the office: speak up and stand up for yourself a bit more.)
2. Practice Trust-Building Activities inside the Workplace and with main Stakeholders
The next Mojo Boosters is to make time to build trust with your key stakeholders. Trust levels in society are at an all-time low. Hence the extraordinary goings-on we are witnessing in politics around the world. In the workplace this means collaboration becomes rarer and we find ourselves putting energy into covering our own back, defending our own territory and having a scarcity mindset as opposed to one of abundance.
The best way to build trust is to spend time with people. This is easier said than done, yet you can plan for it to make it happen. Get to know people informally (away from the office is a good place to do it), and start to share more of the human factor with them. Over time you start to uncover your shared interests, values, and concerns and can work towards helping each other to achieve them.
As Stephen M R Covey says in his book “The Speed of Trust”, as trust goes down, speed goes down and costs go up. Decisions become harder to make, and energy goes into the wrong type of activity (see my first point above – part of the 40% wrong activity metric, I wonder?).
3. Train and use your Negotiation Skills in the Workplace
My final suggestion is to negotiate more for yourself. Far too many people aren’t aware of some of the basic principles of negotiation, and this leaves them vulnerable when others negotiate with them (which is most of the time, as most transactions between two humans involve some element of negotiation). Here are some negotiation principles which lead you to not being on the wrong end of the deal quite so often:
- Be ready to negotiate! When people ask you for something, they don’t always expect you to say yes. They are ready to look at alternatives if you go about it the right way. So don’t think that doing what you’re asked to every time is what is expected.
- Test people’s positions. When they ask for something, they often don’t really mean it. There is normally at least 20% “wiggle room” to be had, so test whether there is. If I ask you to send the report by Friday, I may well be able to wait until the following Monday. So ask me: “how much flexibility do you have on that?” I won’t be offended, and in fact might be surprised if you don’t ask me.
- Nothing for nothing. Don’t give anything away for free. That way people will value it more, and you may find you get something back in return.
- Insert “IF” into your response. “If I do that analysis for Friday, can you do the slide deck?” Suddenly this is a two-way street and we are collaborating. This will improve our relationship, not weaken it.
I’m often amazed at people’s reaction when I suggest they make these changes. It’s as if the clouds have parted and the sun has finally broken through. To my mind, they are nothing more than a statement of the bleeding obvious. Yet, if they are not obvious to you (perhaps because you are so busy you have forgotten the basics), then I am confident they will make a real and sustainable difference to positively increase your workplace experience and job satisfaction in general.