An Experiment with Surprising Results
A recent article on Fast Company highlighted a new approach to increasing productivity in the workplace. This experiment was conducted in New Zealand by a trust and estate planning firm for two months and the results were eye opening. The following numbers cannot be ignored
- Work-life balance went up from 54% to 78%
- Job stress declined from 45% to 38%
- Employee commitment rose from 68% to 88%
Beyond the Numbers
There were also intangibles which were not quantifiable but of equal importance. Employee engagement went up, noise and distractions in the office went down significantly, and job satisfaction rose up as well. This do more with less approach became a trigger to make employees become more creative. The extra day off was a prize to shoot for and it motivated them to maintain productivity. What would you do if you had an extra day off and still got paid the same? The dissonance between less and more is obvious because we have been taught that to do more we need more to begin with. But the new challenge we all face whether in career or business, at home or school is doing more with few resources at hand. More is always welcomed, but it is never to be a barometer for how productive one can become.
The Activity Trap
Activity is a drug that often gives a false sense of accomplishment. It can become addictive. It can lull us into a deceptive lifestyle that because we are doing more we must be accomplishing more as well. This is not necessarily true. More hours on a task does not equate to more progress under your belt. Being busy seems to be a symbol of productivity in our culture. There is a “who-is-more-busier” competition that goes on in our conversations. But underneath the veneer of activity this question should always exist, “Am I doing the right things?” It is quite easy to end the day wondering whether the tiredness you feel has anything worthwhile to show for it or was it just another spinning-your-wheels-in-the-dirt kind of day. How do we avoid this snare and do more with less?
1. The Need to Evaluate
Do you constantly evaluate what you are doing and why you are doing it? This discipline connects action to meaning. This connection is crucial to sustained passion. If you do too much of the unimportant, eventually the important will fall to the background and disappear leaving you empty.
Think about a farmer who continually plants seeds in his garden but only a quarter of his field produces fruit. Now, he has an acre worth of seed in the ground but a quarter of harvest in the barn. He can choose to ignore and continue or he can take an evaluation and ask why three quarters of the land is not producing. Evaluation from experiences invites insight that leads to adjustments. It is these adjustments that bring change where needed. After evaluation, the farmer may conclude that the crop he is planting in the three quarters is not suitable there and by changing the choice of crop, he may get the productivity he needs. Or, he may discover that the three quarters of the acre are not as fertile and adding more fertilizer will in turn aid in productivity in that section of the farm. Evaluation serves as a primer to introduce the change that leads to productivity. Are you evaluating your activities?
2. The Priority of Effectiveness
What are three things you do that bring you the highest return for your resources of time, energy, and money? Your to-do-list should reflect the prioritization of these things. In addition you should also have a when for your to-do tasks. Do you know when you are at your best? Is it in the morning, afternoon, or evening? Match your highest return tasks with the times when you are functioning at your best. There is a connection between your rhythms and returns. As a morning person, I choose to wake up early and maximize three hours before work to do my best writing as well as reading. I use the abbreviated peak hour of 9pm and 10pm to read a little and plan for the next day. I must be honest here and say that I have a habit of procrastinating on weekends but I am finding out that weekends can be my most productive especially in the early morning, if I follow my cycle.
Do you know your cycles? By understanding your cycle and when you are at your best, you can increase effectiveness even with little time on hand. It is the return you see not just the time you put in that determines effectiveness.
3. Looking Beyond the Surface
On November 27th, 2013, CBS aired a special that was also captured in an article called, “The Recyclers.” It was the story of how an environmental technician called Favio Chavez came to a town in Paraguay called Cateura. This town has trash everywhere. Upon arrival, Favio was exposed to the impoverished environment but he looked past the surface and found treasure behind the trash. From the stench and rubble of trash, Favio engaged the help of a local trashworker and carpenter to make instruments using material from, you guessed it, the garbage dump. From that trash, violins were made out of oven trays, trumpets from old drain pipes, and cellos from oil barrels. Favio’s desire was to help the children in this town to see past their surroundings by using music as a medium for them to dream. If you watch the YouTube video, “LandFill Harmonic” which is a trailer for a movie with the same title, you will see how these children have been able to do more with less. Innovation and ingenuity must travel through the imagination where you can see the possibilities even in the middle of mediocrities. Look beyond what you see with your naked eye and you will find treasure in the ruble, worth in the waste, and the extraordinary in the mundane. Innovation is simply the solution to a problem using limited resources. The flame of creativity is often stoked where there is a scarcity of resources as was in the case of “The Recyclers.” We actually tend to become improvident when we know there are excess resources available. In a time where life moves fast and we move fast with it, we glance over so much without taking the time to look again and wonder what could be beneath the surface. Increase your curiosity, ask more questions, let your sense of wonder return and you will see beneath the surface. These are keys to help us create value out of what we otherwise view as waste.
Challenge Corner: Let’s do an exercise. Calculate how many hours you have lived on this earth. I have done some of the work for you. There are 8,760 hours in a year. Multiply that by your current age. Please share in the comments section. My number was 332,880 hours! When I thought of my life in terms of that many hours, I begun asking, “How effective have I been and what adjustments can I make to increase my effective with the time I have left?” That’s the beginning point of doing more with less; investigative thinking.
Keep on Keeping on!
Library of Thought