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Personal productivity revisited.

Beuatifull woman at the office celebrating her success
Productivity isn’t all about efficiency.

Ever since I broadened my field of interest to include holistic time management, I have been amazed at how many factors influence our productivity besides the usual efficiency – organizing – planning triad of strategies. I have written about them in previous blogs – everything from music to physical movement, office greenery to window scenery and from colors to coffee shops. I am in the process of tying them all together in a new book on the impact of working environment on personal productivity – to be published by the process of doing all this, I’ve been forced to modify my narrow definition of personal productivity. In the past I have defined personal productivity solely in business terms, such as output per unit of input, whether that is the number of invoices processed per hour or the number of customers served in a day or the number of tasks completed during the week.

Other business writers all seem to do the same thing – define personal productivity in terms of the volume of work-related output, which presumably will assist corporate productivity as long as the individual is productive in a direction that aligns with corporate goals.

The problem with this approach is that it does not allow for a truly “personal” output, which may or may not have anything to do with corporate efficiency or productivity. For example, it has been shown that nature walks, friendships, and volunteering can all help, either directly or indirectly, to increase work-related productivity. But they can also have other beneficial outputs such as happiness, hope and well-being, which may or may not influence work-related productivity one iota. And yet who can deny the possible personal benefits of such things, including mental health, mindfulness, and empathy and so on.

What I choose to do, therefore, is have two distinct definitions; one for personal productivity and another for corporate or work-related productivity.

Corporate productivity is a term I will use for the volume of output per unit of input, such as the number of widgets for hour. It is solely a measure of the efficiency of production, whether by an individual or team. Corporate productivity can be increased by increasing the output without increasing the input or increasing output drastically with only a slight increase in input. This might be accomplished through the use of technology or by workers simply working smarter and more efficiently.

Personal productivity can then be defined as the value of your personal life in terms of quality, quantity and contribution. Personal productivity might be increased through varying inputs, such as social relationships, an active lifestyle, love, forgiveness, and a continuing relationship with nature. The personal productivity of an individual in most cases will have a positive influence on corporate productivity if the person is involved in a business or career; but that is not necessarily the case. The challenge is to balance the two.

The tendency in the workplace is to increase input rather than change input. For example, the impulse is to work harder, even though it has been shown that the top performers tend to work no more than 4.5 hours a day. And how many people would actually think to get more sleep in order to get more done?

But with an equal focus on personal productivity, which relies heavily on health and lifestyle issues, it’s easier to buffer the traditional methods of increasing corporate productivity, which are driven solely by efficiency and achievement. This will insure that not only the company will gain in terms of increased productivity, but the individual will gain as well in terms of personal growth, fulfillment, and physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

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Life in the slow lane


A preliminary report on country living.

We have a definite link with nature, and the human brain is influenced by our environment – what we see, smell, hear and feel. The book, How the body knows its mind, by Sion Beilock reported that city dwellers are at a 20% increase risk for developing anxiety disorders and a 40% increased risk for mood disorders compared with people who live in less populated areas.

If you have been following my blogs, you may recall during the series on the impact of greenery, relationships, and environment on productivity, I announced my move from city life to a small town called Sussex in south eastern New Brunswick. That was about three months ago, and I am giving the preliminary report that I promised.

I had to get used to breathing air I couldn’t see, experiencing five minute average commutes compared to Toronto’s 80-minute adventure, having stand-offs with other motorists who wanted you to go first, having people greet you by name when you walked into the bank, and having strangers say hello to you when you passed them on the street. But after three months, I believe I am finally adjusting to country life.

There are disadvantages of course. There are no movie theatres (except for a drive-in theatre), no Starbucks (although there are two Tim Horton’s) no top of the line clothing or department stores – although they do have Sobeys, Superstore, Home Hardware, Shoppers Drug Mart, Canadian Tire, Walmart and Marks Work Warehouse – and of course McDonald’s. But in less time than it takes to commute to work in Toronto you can drive to the large cities Saint John, Moncton or Fredericton. (Sussex lies in the centre of a triangle connecting those three cities.)

Although it’s a town of only about 4000 people, this number swells to about 20,000 when the annual balloon festival takes place – or the 900-booth gigantic annual flea market is open for business. And of course there are plenty of visitors during the summer months – probably attracted by the dozens of larger-than-life murals painted on buildings by internationally renowned artists or the antique car shows or covered bridges – or maybe it’s the fishing, hiking or the fact that Sussex is the gateway to the Bay of Fundy and other attractions like Magnetic Hill, Hopewell Rocks or the Reversing Falls.

Winters can be nasty. There hasn’t been much snow so far; but two years ago I visited during a snowstorm that seemed to last a week. Of course it’s only 15 minutes to Poley Mountain if you’re a skier; less than that for snowmobiling, cross country skiing or whatever. Personally I plan to hibernate with my books for a few months – or visit my son and his family in Mexico.

I can’t begin to explain how invigorating I find my morning walks, the view of trees and rolling hills, grazing cattle and trout streams where you can easily catch your limit in an hour. I now even enjoy walking in the snow, warmly dressed of course, and marvel at the beauty of nature in the winter.

But as yet I have no acceptable proof of increased productivity produced by the greenery, scenic views, pollution free air, social relationships or increased exercise. I do know my blood pressure has dropped an average of ten points, and I feel good and more energetic than before the move.

I also think I get the same amount of work done in less time; but instead of using it for more work, I use the time to attend music jamborees, church suppers, and attending meetings of the local friendship club. And I admit I enjoy catching speckled trout in the local streams, picking wild blueberries and feeding birds and chipmunks.

There were no lineups when I renewed my driver’s license, no mandatory driver’s test every two years for people over 80, and one thing I can’t help but notice: people in the service industry actually seem to take pleasure in serving you. I find life less frustrating.

So even if I don’t succeed in getting more work done in my life, I seem to be on track to get more life. I’ll report again after the winter, and in the meantime I will try to pay more attention to my productivity level.

Oh, one other thing – I seem to have had an epiphany of sorts. I realized my definition of personal productivity that I have been using during my training career is somewhat inaccurate. I may discuss this in my next blog. Meanwhile, have a very Merry Christmas


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How to survive in the digital age of speed.


As the pace of life increases, along with our use of technology and 24/7 connectivity, a blurring of the separation of work and personal time takes place, stress increases, and we feel pressured to steal time from health-giving activities such as sleep, exercise and social relationships.

Here are a few things you might do to alleviate any negative consequences of the digital age of speed in which we now must function.

Place boundaries on your working hours.

Make sure your working hours are not the same hours as our family time or personal time. In a recent issue of Scientific American Mind, it was suggested that the single biggest stressor is a failure to unplug from the always-connected workplace.

Build structure into your day.

Most of us are now connected 24/7 and vulnerable to incessant interruptions. Checking and responding to email or messaging a maximum of four or five times a day instead of 40 or 50 times a day. And batch similar tasks together when you perform them. For example make phone calls, write email messages and text in batches to consume less energy and mental fatigue.

Find your “high performance” work area.

Try getting away from your regular work environment for an hour or more each day. I have written in the past about the advantages of working in a coffee shop. The moderate noise level has been found to increase creativity. It also gets you away from an environment that may be triggering bad habits, such as checking email or text messages every few minutes. Many people have what is referred to as a high performance area, which may not necessarily be a coffee shop. So experiment a little.

Exercise at every opportunity.

Exercise, whether morning, noon or night, improves your health as well as your energy level. Simply taking the stairs can increase your energy by 200% for example. Another way of increasing performance might be to use a standing desk for a few hours each day. One pharmaceutical company found that after one month of getting standing desk’s employees were 23% more productive. A sedentary lifestyle, including sitting all day, is a killer.

Make the majority of your goals short range. 

For example, set more 90-day goals and fewer annual goals. This allows for an ever-changing environment, the rapid advances in technology, and the instantaneous influence of social media and so on. Priorities also seem to change more quickly in this digital age of speed.

90 days – three months – provides enough time to accomplish something significant, yet not so short as to be seen as a glorified “to do list. Your 90-day goal could very well lead to an annual goal, while having measurable results in itself. But while working on annual goals, we could deceive ourselves into thinking that a last-minute rush will enable us to achieve the goal.

With shorter goals we are able to adjust or even discover that the goal is impossible or impractical and we would still have most of the year available to re-evaluate and reset our goals.

Many goals don’t take 12 months in the first place, and Parkinson’s Law could take place at the time it takes to achieve the goal could expand to fill the time we have available. Many important goals such as product launches or a sales promotion are time sensitive. If you don’t act now you lose much of their benefit. If you can’t make significant progress in 90 days, you probably won’t do much better in 365 days.

Don’t work exclusively from “To Do” lists.

“To do” lists by themselves, are no longer sufficient since we have now more things to do than we can possibly get done in one lifetime. It’s more important than ever to identify the 20% that represent 80% of the value or significant results, and schedule them in our planner – Blocks of time representing appointments with ourselves to get the most important things done – just like we schedule appointments with other people. Also research shows that deciding in advance when you will do something increases your commitment to do it. There is no real commitment to do tasks on a “To Do” list – especially at any particular time – and your brain picks up on that.

Practice holistic time management.

 Don’t limit yourself to the traditional “get organized, plan, write things down” suggestions of the past. Our body, mind and relationship with nature and our environment all influence our personal productivity as well as our health and well-being.









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How to run effective meetings


To run effective meetings, you must control both the length of the meeting and the meeting itself. Regardless of whether you spend an average of one hour or six hours each day in meetings, there is considerable time savings to be realized by running them efficiently. Here is a summary of the most important things to keep in mind when calling a meeting.

Invite only those who are essential to the success of the meeting.

If people are unlikely to contribute to or benefit from the meeting, don’t include them. Try to keep the total number of attendees fewer than 8 people. According to the book, Decide and Deliver: 5 Steps to Breakthrough and Performance in your Organization, once you have seven people in a decision-making group, every additional person reduces effectiveness by 10 percent.

Plan the meeting in advance.

Avoid last-minute agendas. Anticipate which topics will generate the most discussion, disagreement and time loss. Leave the contentious issues last – when people are less likely to waste time. Put the priority items that will generate the least discussion near the start of the meeting. Allocate estimated time limits to every agenda item, and be sure to include an ending time as well as a starting time on the agenda.

Prepare, and encourage participants to prepare.

Insist that any suggestions for the agenda be submitted at least a week in advance in order to be included on the agenda. Have the agenda and any reports to be discussed distributed to the other participants at least 3 days in advance of the meeting. Discourage participants from wasting everyone else’s time reading reports at the meeting. Meetings are for discussion and decision-making.

 Start on time.

Don’t make exceptions. If anyone arrives late, including your boss, explain that you are now on item 2 or 3. Don’t apologize for being prompt and efficient. Set a businesslike but friendly tone, keep the meeting on course, and encourage participation while maintaining control. Resist the urge to summarize the progress to date for every late arrival. If they ask, tell them you’ll update them after the meeting.

Make notes at every meeting and encourage others to do likewise.

Record decisions reached, actions required, the individuals responsible for the various actions, and the expected completion dates. Review this information at the end of the meeting to ensure that everyone is clear as to his or her responsibilities. If everyone takes notes, there is no need to wait for minutes to be issued before taking action.

Don’t waste the group’s time on one person’s responsibilities.

If you have made a group decision and provided input, assign the action to one person, not several. If a few people have strong feelings as to how something should be done, ask them to submit the suggestions in writing to the person who will be taking action.

Always take a few minutes after every meeting to evaluate how it went.

Jot down what you will do next time to improve the process. Continually strive to reduce the time loss and increase the value of every meeting you manage.