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.

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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.

Every #workplace is only as good as you make it. #WorkplaceWednesday

Designing an office plan is one of the most difficult things to do in support of a business. Every group works differently, has different technology or privacy needs, wants different levels of collaboration space, cares about the creative nature of the space, or simply wants to sit next to the people they work with the most.

The fact is, designing the ideal workplace is nearly impossible. In reality, the best you can hope for is to design a workplace focused around flexibility so that occupants have the ability to control their productivity themselves. And that is the biggest win possible – when you enable people to find their own productivity sweet spot you will improve the average productivity of the office considerably.

Designs that focus on getting everyone to the same average productivity may improve the bottom end but it will cap the top end productivity of your superstar employees. Typically a fixed workplace limits collaboration more than any other item which is the area that allows for exponential productivity increases. If you uncap the potential of your top producers you will find greater net business improvement even if it means some of the poorer performers self-limit themselves through bad decisions.

The self-limiters are also now going to have nowhere to hide because their productivity is their own to control. A flexible workplace gives no excuses to anyone to not be at least at average productivity. When there is no place to hide, the best rise to the top.

Celebrate the home workers on #WorkplaceWednesday

I’ve been a home worker for the past 4 years with some part-time work-from-home for a few years before that even. It took a lot of effort to develop habits that make myself be productive; I’d estimate about 12 months before I developed a consistent rhythm. At this point I feel more productive working predominately from home than an office. Although I’ve met and spoken to a large number of people that have never been able to find

There are a large number of people that I’ve met and spoken to that have never been able to find the work-from-home processes that work for them. In fact, there are far more people that either don’t really work when at home or struggle to be productive from home than those that can pull off the full-time work-from-home efforts.

The only thing anyone can really know about the future of the workplace is that it will be a hybrid of many different productivity philosophies. Everyone is seeking the key to increasing productivity, the answer will likely not be a single answer. Even AI and automation aren’t necessarily a solution in most cases.

So celebrate the home workers today. They are blazing the trail to more diverse answers for how to make companies more productive. The office is a laboratory, let’s see what works.

The myth of the structured work week.

A truism of any job is: the work must get done. Sometimes that means delegating and sharing responsibilities. Sometimes it means having your day planned out in 15-minute increments. Sometimes it means being reactionary to the needs of others.

Most companies and managers like their employees to have set work hours such as Monday to Friday 8 to 5. They want their employees to feel like they can shut down on the weekends and have their dinner time be uninterrupted by the various things that could still be coming in. When you are in an office environment this timing also helps because it makes it easier to schedule the receptionists, janitorial staff, IT downtime, and all of the other various office support functions.

But the reality is that while most work tasks are most likely to occur within that window, because that’s when the vast majority of your colleagues are working, it’s certainly not absolutely true. There are occasional Wednesdays where you know beforehand there will be nothing at all required to keep the business going yet most people are still going to be at the office, in their chair, doing their best to look busy. Similarly, there will be Wednesdays where anything less than working from 6a to 8p can’t get everything completed that needs to get completed. Structured hours do not account for the natural ebbs and flows of how activities and tasks actually come in.

This is not to provide an answer to how to best manage the time of your employees but to give you a new lens to thinking about it as yet another variable that can be optimized to both make your employees happier and also make your business more efficient and productive. Office hours are often assumed to just “be what they are” but they do not have to be set in stone.