Five simple ways to improve productivity
This year the main theme of the Subcontracting Trade Fair is productivity. It is important to understand how to improve productivity when the aim is to achieve results with less input. Productivity can be measured from different perspectives as it is determined using the formula output / input. It works best as a comparative value when comparing the productivity of a certain aspect at different times. Often productivity measures the efficiency of labour input, in which case the formula is output / hours worked. In this column, I want to offer five simple tips on how to improve work productivity.
1. Always know why you do something
The first tip for improving productivity is that you should always ask yourself why you are doing something and if it is necessary. Once you have established that what you are doing is necessary, you are able to do things that truly are relevant.
When working with other people, everyone involved should be able to answer the question why. A relevant and good reason creates the motivation to do things in the best possible way.
2. Visualisation improves communication and productivity
It has been shown that communication problems are the biggest individual issues within companies. Communication problems may occur between people, between plans and implementation or in other situations where something needs to be shared with others.
Major problems arise when people think that they understand each other but have not really been able to communicate in an understandable manner. Projects fail when project managers, those carrying them out and customers have a different vision of the outcome.
One way to improve communication is to remove extra layers between the outcome and the plan. For example, drawing, acting or any other illustration method can reduce ambiguity between the desired outcome and the plan.
Written and spoken words never work as well as images that are understood almost the same way by everyone.
3. Do not allow interruptions
Interruption is the worst enemy of productivity and it would be efficient to work at least half of the day without interruptions.
Usually a large part of the actual work is done alone. When working on your own, it really would be better to be alone without disturbing communication. Unnecessary conversations interrupt your thought process and you need to take time to once again get back into a state of concentration.
Most projects do, however, require some communication with other people and in these situations more flexible methods, such as email, reduce direct interruptions. Everyone can reply to emails when it suits their work schedule. It should, however, be remembered that emailing is not the tool for negotiating complex issues.
4. Minimise the number of meetings
Meetings interrupt work processes and a one-hour meeting with ten participants takes, in total, over ten hours of actual work time.
Conversations often wander from the point of the meeting and decisions are rarely made at meetings. The time spent at meetings is time away from actual work. Very short and visual stand-up meetings work very well. A brief online chat or Skype conversation could replace a regular one-hour meeting.
When a meeting is really needed, it must be prepared carefully and each person needs to have an important role. As few people as possible should be invited to the meeting and it should focus on a very simple and clear topic. The most efficient approach is to concentrate on a predetermined problem and by the end of the meeting the participants should have a clear solution and a decision on who will implement it. Only then the goal of the meeting can be met – in other words, the participants’ expertise is utilised for solving a problem.
So reduce the number of long and informative meetings and introduce regular, short and visual stand-up meetings.
The last, yet challenging way to improve productivity is to stop an activity if it seems that the desired results will not be achieved. Many organisations waste more and more resources on projects because they do not want to admit that they have lost the often enormous resources previously allocated to those projects. Companies should, however, immediately put an end to activities that will ultimately be of no benefit – no matter how difficult it is.
All in all, productivity is a complex issue that is not only to do with efficient work methods but also motivation and other psychological factors. It is important to build efficient methods around work in order to improve personal productivity.
P.S. Our most popular guide (in Finnish: “9 ohjetta parempaan Lean-johtamiseen” / “Guide with nine tips for better Lean leadership”) is now available for free to all companies with development potential. Tip number 6, for example, tells how to improve employee commitment.
Pasi Vastamäki, Co-founder and Chairman of the Board
Lean Lion Oy