We've all been given the same task - do more with less. The specifics certainly look different for each of us, but the bottom line is the same. We have fewer people on our teams, our budgets are smaller, and the jobs somehow bigger.
And it's not just at work! Everywhere in our lives, there are more things making demands on our time and attention.
I'll definitely get into some specific tips and tricks on this site, but I want to start with a general framework we can use to evaluate and prioritize our efforts.
The Three Dimensions of Productivity
Productivity has turned into a bit of a bad word - kind of like 'diet'. It's something we think we should be concerned about, and we feel guilty when we don't live up to our own impossible standards. Our concept of productivity has been reduced to how many things we're checking off a list, but it's really so much more than that. There are three dimensions, each an expansion of the one before it: efficiency, effectiveness, and impact.
Efficiency is about the ratio of inputs to outputs. If we spend an hour on a task, we want to know that we did an hour of work. When we only get 20 minutes of work done during that hour, we don't feel very efficient. This is usually because there's some kind of friction that's slowing us down. It might be that we don't have enough energy or enough will power. It might be because we were constantly interrupted. Or we may have been uncertain how to accomplish the task, so we spent all our time 'figuring it out' or let ourselves get distracted.
Measuring efficiency (and improving it) is relatively straightforward, even if it's not always easy. This is the area that most of the 'tips and tricks' fall in to.
As we become more efficient, we start to free up energy to devote to higher order work.
If efficiency is about doing things the right way, effectiveness is about doing the right things. Put another way, efficiency is about output and effectiveness is about outcome.
If you're going in the wrong direction, it doesn't matter how efficiently you get there.
In this higher dimension of productivity, we're taking the time to evaluate our options rather than just diving into the work.
This is often more difficult because we have to take more of ourselves into account. What are my goals and priorities for this project? What am I hoping to get out of it?
We constantly affect and are affected by our environment. As we become more efficient and effective, we free up energy that can be used to look at the impact we're having on those around us.
It might seem lofty to talk about legacy and sustainability in regards to our everyday work. We usually feel too stressed to worry about something that can't really be measured anyway.
How does our work affect others? Are we actively improving the systems with which we work? Is it going to be easier for whoever has to do this after us? Are we leaving the place better than how we found it?
Are we meeting people's deeper needs with our work?
Moving up the Ladder
Increasing efficiency results in more work getting done.
Increasing effectiveness results in more of the right work getting done.
Increasing impact results in more of the right work getting done in a way that makes other things (people/systems/projects) better.
The degree of difficulty increases as we move up dimensions. It often becomes much more abstract, and there are a lot more questions involved with no easy answer.
I've found that the secret to long-term productivity is making choices and doing work that moves me forward in more than one dimension at a time. To me, this is what Scaling Value is all about - leveraging our efforts in a way that compounds our accomplishments.
What about you? Do you struggle with a particular aspect of productivity? Or feel comfortable with one of the dimensions, but not another? Let me know in the comments below.