Minimizing your least productive moments helps you become more productive.

It’s easier to raise your floor than to raise your ceiling. Cutting out the least productive moments is an easier way to help yourself become more productive than building in maximum productive moments.

Why is this true? Usually, unproductive moments are caused by external factors while moments of maximum productivity are a combination of opportunity, time, and personal clarity. It’s possible to identify those external factors and minimize their ability to impact you.

If there’s a person who constantly schedules pointless meetings, stop attending. If there’s a work location that causes you to be unproductive, avoid it. If you aren’t getting the information you need, build an improved network.

Your productivity is yours to control. Don’t just seek to be more productive generally, minimize the moments where you are least productive and you’ll see amazing results.

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What is your meeting trying to achieve?

We all know the curse of too many meetings. It’s that event that causes you to hold your head in your hands as you realize that you no longer control your own schedule. Often, it can feel as if most meetings don’t hold much value.

But there’s a fallacy in believing all meetings are bad. A well-planned meeting, grounded in action, and scheduled with intelligence can be the best way to ensure that productivity is ensured.

A question that I ask in many meetings is “what is the desired outcome of this session.” Nothing ground-breaking there but still worth asking. If this question cannot be answered at the start of the meeting then there was:

  • No planning was given to what was needed (no agenda)
  • No action being called for or information specifically being shared
  • Likely either too many of the wrong people or not enough of the right people present because the list wasn’t planned

If you can’t give the desired outcome, you can’t have a meeting. It’s that simple.

Use your time wisely when you are on the road.

When I travel I often fall into the trap of trying to put too much into the working agenda. I try to meet everyone, schedule things over breakfast/lunch/dinner, team build after the day is over, show up first/leave late. The whole nine yards. I invariably walk away from business trips feeling like the trip was extremely worthwhile but also feeling drained.

This is also a trap from having worked from home for years. Travelling is my opportunity to look my colleagues in the eye and have those conversations that typically happen in an office environment – those conversations that allow two people to understand each other as people and not just coworkers. I do everything I can to maximize those opportunities.

What this means is that any given two or three-day trip is tiring but still easy to recover from. Any trip that is four or five business days typically can wipe me out completely for a couple of days. It’s because I shove so much into every day that I can often end up without any time for myself¬†to unwind and let my mind get back to a grounded state.

This is not the best course of action. In reality, I should ensure that I leave some time for myself. Personal downtime is what keeps each of us sane. Taking it away is a quick and easy way to burn out and lack of focus.

Habits and patterns make it easier to be productive.

Recently, my schedule has been a bit off. I’ve been working on a variety of projects that all seem to have project teams that schedule meetings at conflicting times. This means that I regularly end up with 30 or 60 minute gaps in my calendar between meetings. These are the most unproductive times possible because it takes at least 5 to 10 minutes to unwind from the last and then the same to get back ready for the next. This leaves only 10 to 45 minutes to get something done.

Predictability in your schedule is good for ensuring you have high productivity. When you know how the rest of the day is going to go, you can focus on the tasks at hand and start to get ahead. If you find yourself constantly bouncing back and forth between new tasks, you will never get anything of value complete.

I have a hard time with long-term habits. I’ve developed a few but I fail more often than not when trying to establish new ones. It can be very difficult to do things in new ways. But striving to do better is always worthwhile.

3 tips for getting the job done.

I figure it can’t hurt to throw out another simple list type post. Sometimes it helps to think things through in simple terms.

1. Figure out what the final product will look like before you start.

It may seem like overly simple advice, but I’ve started more than a few projects without knowing where I was going to have to start over once I figured it out. This doesn’t just apply to complicated tasks, but to easy ones as well. A five-minute task that turns into 30 because you had to restart a few times is a bigger waste of time than an 8-hour project becoming 9.

2. Identify any support you are going to need.

It should go without saying but never start a project that you can’t finish. Sometimes the ability to finish a project is completely outside of your control. I’ve worked on high-value projects that came up with great solutions with well-defined costs and risks that ended up going nowhere – only because there was nobody willing to pick it up and implement it. There’s no use working on something that you cannot complete on your own and you don’t have support to get completed.

3. Don’t play politics.

This one is key. Sometimes you will get pulled into corporate politics and there is nothing you can do about it. When other people play the game and you need them, there’s nothing you can do but participate. But that doesn’t mean you have to play them yourself. The most effective way I’ve ever seen to deal with politics is to treat it as if it’s a real request and handle it just like anything else. Always focus on the solution and do everything in the light of day. Your solution should stand on its own; if it doesn’t then more work is probably still needed anyway.

4 questions to determine if you are being productive.

Anyone who has a job that has changing tasks and responsibilities on a regular basis is likely familiar with the internal question of “am I being productive.” It’s not that we don’t know what needs to get done, it’s just that some tasks may not be aligned with our internal sense of what is productive. For example, anytime that I get a project that takes me down highly creative, design-oriented routes I quickly feel unproductive.

Here are four quick ways that I’ve developed to help me understand if I’m being productive:

1. Do others know the next stop or are they just as confused? 

The most common situation that initiates my feelings of unproductivity is not knowing what step comes next to get to a solution. If I have to stop because I don’t know where to go, that time always feels a bit wasted.

My first step toward resolution is to ask others what they think I should be doing next based on their experience. Often they can quickly point you in the right direction and get you back on task. When they can’t and you are truly in unexplored territory then you know the time is going to be useful because someone needs to blaze a new trail. Stay on top of the time you are investing but don’t feel bad about it. It will go quicker the next time.

2. Is the size of the prize equal to the time being invested?

Some projects simply require time and thought. Projects that are big enough (saving money, costing money, high publicity, impacts a lot of people, lots of controversy, etc) to need investment beyond just getting to the answer. There are many soft outcomes that need to be done to keep everyone onboard. Handholding, answering questions, presenting the solution, evaluating new options all over and over and over are not wasted time. Spending time on making sure others are comfortable before you move forward can sometimes be the best time invested even if it feels unproductive to you.

3. Is inaction going to lead to a better solution than more action?

There have been more than a few projects that I’ve worked on that simply needed time to simmer if they were going to be successful. Solutions sometimes have an optimal time that they can be decided within. Trying to get it done too early can be wasted time and trying too late may be completely useless.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be doing anything during this window. You can be preparing for the arguments you’ll get, further refining the answer, modeling various alternatives but you may be doing everything behind the scenes. And much of it may turn out to be overkill.

4. Are you simply being too tough on yourself?

Sometimes you have to ask yourself if your expectations of what you can get done. If others are constantly questioning why things aren’t being done, then you should definitely be wondering if you are simply being unproductive. But if you are consistently the only one questioning your productivity then the problem may simply be one that has been self-created.

Productivity is the ultimate #CRE buzzword

I’ve worked in real estate for over a decade now. Every single year I have been in this industry I come across some new and novel approach to defining real estate’s impact on employee productivity. It’s always worth a laugh to me to see various workplace vendors trying to give a productivity increase number associated with sit/stand desks or collaborative areas. There’s simply no studies or numbers that can prove or disprove this effect while also accounting for all other variables. It’s just not possible.

Yet every year someone new takes a crack at it. It only makes sense. If you can be the one that cracks the code for proving the impact of real estate and workplace on employee productivity, you would be in line for millions of dollars of new business and global acclaim. If you can absolutely prove that your desk designs improve productivity by 10%, companies would be falling all over themselves to implement it.

But alas, that’s not how this world works. Productivity is such a nebulous and changing concept that has different definitions for every single employee in the company. What improves one person’s productivity may kill another’s.

What does this mean to you? Carefully question anyone that claims that can improve your productivity through workplace changes. It may happen, it may not – but it will likely never be proven. All you can really do is focus on making a workplace flexible enough to meet the needs of many different types of employees while also aligning the workplace with company culture. If you can achieve these two things, productivity should follow. Just be careful thinking you can prove it.