We all are witnessing it — we are experiencing it! Times are changing drastically, most of us are working more than we ever have in a single day, most of us are having ‘working vacations’ and our family time means, every family member working on his/her laptops, iPads and kids forcibly enjoying screen-time. Work-related thoughts wish us ‘good morning’ and tuck us tight in our beds at night! Some of us are certain that this is a great way of working as it gives us a feeling of accomplishment, tires us fully, and promisingly ticks our to-do-lists! For some of us, this seems overwhelming, takes a toll on our work-life balance and we wrestle with our own thoughts to infer that we disapprove of the so-called ‘new-normal’ way of work.
What a coincidence, both the kinds of workers may feel they have been productive! This necessitates a supple definition of productivity. Work productivity, unfortunately, cannot be measured only in terms of input and output. One of the traditional notions of productivity entails how efficiently one works in the given number of hours. Going beyond its conventional concept, productivity should transcend to a more encompassing concept.
The uncertainties and changing times call for a reconsideration of ‘productivity’ as a concept and as an outcome. There will be a high consensus that personal productivity is linked with organisational productivity. Personal productivity conventionally means accomplishing goals in a balanced manner to ease one’s life. Productivity is not merely the input in terms of time and effort and output in terms of work done and tasks completed but it includes deeper aspects pertaining to human potential in terms of cognitive abilities, motivation, personality, competencies and work-home environmental factors such as well-paid job, supportive work culture, fulfilling co-worker relationships, encouraging boss/supervisor and finally adequate opportunities to grow professionally. So how can we augment personal productivity?
One old-school approach for enhancing personal productivity is time-management. Self-management is the overarching goal we all should chase rather than just focusing on time-management. It is the ability to perform one’s actions in an active way, appropriate to the current situation, with minimal influence of supporting or disturbing factors. It further involves self-control, including required self-criticism along with a high degree of confidence and awareness of one’s options for efficient working and a consideration of limitations of action.
Another important well studied approach for enhancing personal productivity suggested by organisational psychologist Adam Grant is attention management rather than time-management. He suggests that rather than thinking about how long we take to complete work-related tasks; we must prioritise and invest in the people and projects that are significant for us. “Attention management is the art of focusing on getting things done for the right reasons, in the right places and at the right moments.”
Triaging and emergency assessment traditionally used in the medical and health service domain can be transferred to other work domains as well. The process of triaging involves a quick assessment of the current situation and understanding the emergency and sequence to act in the given situation. In the work context, it means to firstly, categorise your tasks based on urgency and importance. The second step would be to define a sequence of tasks; then finally create a priority list based on urgency and importance of the task, triaging tasks into categories namely immediate, urgent, and delayed. Thanks to the lockdown, we have realised that most things in life can wait and many tasks realistically need not be done ‘with immediate effect’. Organisations should play their part well by allowing enough time for task completion. Employers and employees both need to ask themselves: It is possible that tasks we think are ‘urgent’ can actually be put in the ‘delayed’ category?
It’s time to admit that the notorious procrastination is not bad after all! It is perfectly fine to procrastinate as long as it helps in triaging and not completely avoiding specific tasks. Benefits of structured procrastination have been well documented in his book by the Stanford Philosophy Professor John Perry. It is paramount that one feels content and satisfied after putting in time, effort and resources into daily work. Sometimes procrastination leaves enough room for reconsideration of time and energy one puts into the work.
The Nudge Management approach is equally relevant in this context. To nudge simply means to mildly push, alert or remind oneself or another in order to act in given situations. The primary goal of a nudge is to bring about change in one’s behaviour without altering any options one has. A choice architect (a person who makes an informed choice) is responsible for creating a relevant context, wherein the decisions have to be made. One example could be using simple nudges for self-management by adopting ‘choice architecture’ while creating a priority list. Being a choice architect one chooses which tasks go in which triaging category: immediate, urgent or delayed!
Another approach in enhancing personal productivity is to assess one’s situation, capacity and be able to identify one’s ‘energy-ebbs’. Energy-ebbs are work-related activities that do not use your energy efficiently. A wise choice of a task to be done according to the amount of energy it requires will help in optimal use of your energy. Know your energy levels at a given point of a day and utilise appropriately for the tasks. Never underestimate the role of recuperation and recovery through leisure activities! Taking enough breaks through the work day will boost your productivity.
What we need to prepare is a ‘NOT-to-do” list, which includes tasks identified through structured procrastination that fall in the category of ‘energy-ebbs’. We shall save a lot of energy; which otherwise is consumed by tasks that are actually not our priority and that reduce our efficiency. This shall help us redistribute our energy in tasks that fall in the triaging categories of “immediate and urgent”. A nudge of having a ‘distraction-free’ block-time by turning off all apps that steal your time may prove beneficial in achieving daily goals. One can think of a specific time-slot in the day that is ‘meeting-free’. The nudge theory also posits the dual-process theory of mind. System 1 also named as ‘automatic system’ depends on our intuition and affective thinking; whereas system 2 named as ‘reflective system’ depends on reflection and rational thinking.
To enhance personal productivity our choices to engage in work need to be reflective rather than automatic. By nudging ourselves to a mindful work engagement, we shall not only accomplish goals but also feel productive.
(The author is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at FLAME University, Pune)
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