You work in an office. That means you have to figure out how to be productive, even if you are the founder of a company. Yet, even those who seem to have a handle on their email and get the gold star on a project need to learn a few important productivity lessons. That's because there's a tendency with all of us to fall into patterns that seem to work. We rely on the same apps, the same workflow, and the same people around us to handle certain tasks. Before you settle in too much this year, ask yourself if you are really that productive or what you can change. Work through these tips one by one and compare them to how you work today.

1. It's all about your reaction time

Productivity is all about reaction. When I see people who are terribly unproductive--they don't respond to emails, they seem to get behind on projects, they don't understand social media--it's because they are too slow to react. This is more than typing fast. You can "react" to trends, conflicts, new tools, a new process, a new colleagues, and much more in a healthy way. When you get easily flustered and slow to follow a trend, it means you are unproductive.

2. You will finish what you prioritize

In an office setting, I sometimes see people who look totally overwhelmed. They have too many plates spinning. And, they often use the excuse that they have too much going on. (Or, they like to be viewed that way because it makes them seem indispensable.) These are the folks who tend to reply to an email about a week too late. Yet, you will always finish the tasks you see as a high priority. Off-load what you know you shouldn't do, but make sure you at least communicate about those tasks. We define "really productive" as someone who finishes priority tasks.

3. You're only as productive as the lowest performing team member

There may be times when even the super-stars of productivity need to take a long, hard look at the people on your team. Where is the kludge? You might have an incredible reaction time and know how to prioritize, but someone on your team might be slowing you down. The trick is to reassign the tasks for that person or to move that person into a completely different role. Productivity gurus look at the big picture and not just what they have scattered across their own desk.

4. You communicate about what you care about

As part of my job writing about business, I often visit companies and hang out in their office just to get a sense for what is working and what isn't working. I'm doing that tomorrow, in fact. One of the really interesting findings is that people communicate about the things they care about. That might not be the most "productive" approach. On any project, even the smart office workers fall into the trap of communicating selfishly. Break that mold. View the project through a wider lens and communicate thoroughly, even if it means letting people know what is not important.

5. You are only one person

The biggest failures on a team occur when individuals try to do more than they can possibly do in a day and then don't communicate and don't off-load tasks. That's the real definition of being unproductive: Letting yourself get overloaded and not doing anything about it. A high-functioning team is one that shares the load and see where the weak points will slow everyone down. That "weak point" might be your ability to process email or check social media. There are no perfect teams; however, there are teams that know how to perfectly orchestrate and assign tasks.

Published on: Jan 18, 2016
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