by: Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP

Mike M. was a senior manager for one of my large corporate clients, but you wouldn’t know he was on the fast track if you looked at his office. He worked long hours, felt pressured, and was always playing catch up. Mike was unresponsive to requests and missed key deadlines. His company’s upper management had reached the end of its patience, so I was called in to help Mike with his productivity. It didn’t occur to him that he could lose his job; he thought his past successes would carry him through. It took us three months to turn a potential disaster into a triumph. It’s three years later, and Mike still sends me a thank you note each year on the anniversary of our turnaround sessions.

This situation is not uncommon. I work with hundreds of companies and thousands of individuals every year. My hands-on coaching experience-plus thousands of interviews and email surveys-has enabled me to identify the ten main factors affecting personal productivity in the workplace. The first letter of each factor spells the word “PRODUCTIVE”:

1. P reparation-This competency relates to how well you’ve planned and laid the foundation for your daily activities. If you excel in this competency, you are PROACTIVE, rather than REACTIVE. Most people don’t have well-articulated goals. Perhaps you don’t know how to set them. Perhaps writing goals down seems like too much effort, or you simply haven’t taken the time to write them. It’s worth the work to create a plan, because the goals you set will provide direction for your life and focus your activities. You must translate your lofty, long-term goals into actionable tasks you can work on today.

2. R eduction-This competency has to do with how well you eliminate time wasters in your daily activities. If you excel in this competency, you are ASSERTIVE, rather than PASSIVE in allowing people to dictate your schedule. With a finite amount of time available, if you wanted to get more done, the temptation is to go faster and work more hours. However, productivity is not about squeezing more into your days. You must reduce “speed bumps”-things that waste your time. Speed bumps exist at organizational, departmental, and individual levels. They could include administration, too many meetings, unnecessary levels of bureaucracy, too much red tape, or unclear priorities. YOU can also be a speed bump-the causal factor in wasting precious time. You must eliminate speed bumps, so you can create the space to accomplish the important.

3. O rder-This competency relates to your level of organization. If you excel in this competency, you have SYSTEMS, rather than PILES. You can find what you want, when you want it, in thirty seconds or less. How well do you control the paper, email, reading material, and inputs into and out of your office? Order is your ability to sort, filter, and process this information effectively. It’s how tidy your work areas look, inside and out. Being organized will give you more control over your life and time. You must find the time and the self-control to start achieving more of the things you want to do through proper systems.

4. D iscipline-This competency refers to your ability to maintain consistent, productive behavior. If you excel in this competency, you complete what you MUST do, rather than what you WANT to do. Are you persistent in completing your high priority tasks, without getting sidelined by menial activities? Do you put your nose to the grindstone each day, or do you only work hard when you’re in the mood? Do you have a set of “rules” for yourself that govern your behavior and activity? Everyone has an “off day.” But if you’re self-disciplined, you exhibit consistent focus in your day-to-day work. Learn to do what needs to be done and exercise restraint over your own impulses, emotions, and desires. Sometimes working on the right thing doesn’t mean doing the fun thing. You must focus on high-value output, as defined by your job requirements, and learn to stop procrastinating.

5. U nease-This competency refers to your ability to handle stress well, so that it doesn’t impact your performance and productivity. If you excel in this competency, you focus on VALUE, rather than VELOCITY. You’re not running around in a harried frenzy all the time. According to nationwide office productivity study conducted by Xerox and Harris Interactive in 2003, most people work over 60 hours a week total, and over 33 percent work on weekends. The “faster, cheaper, do more with nothing” approach has created a workplace where workers are always in high gear. This work style reduces productivity and increases stress. Stress is also a known factor in 70 percent of all diseases, so people must learn to reduce tension. You must be familiar with stress-reduction strategies, so you can recover when pushed to the limit every day.

6. C oncentration-This competency refers to your ability to stay on target and focus on the task at hand. If you excel in this competency, you are PURPOSEFUL, rather than DISTRACTED. As a child, I remember sitting for hours at a time, absorbed in my favorite books. My mother would enter the living room asking, “Didn’t you hear me call you?” I would look at her, confused, as I came back to reality, and answer honestly, “No, mommy I didn’ t.” And that was the complete truth! That level of concentration is very hard to achieve today. With noise, interruptions, instant messages, and email, so many things competing for our attention in the workplace that it’s often very difficult to concentrate. You must be able to achieve a state of “flow” and work without breaking focus.

7. T ime Mastery-This competency relates to how well you manage your activities throughout the day. If you excel in this competency, you focus on QUALITY of your activities, rather than the QUANTITY. Some people spend more time planning their vacations than their time. With good time management comes the rewards of results, recognition, free time, clarify, and focus. Effective time management brings purpose in life, structure to your day, direction, reduced frustration, and a sense of accomplishment. In addition, it reduces stress, since it gives you much more control over your day. You must run your life, rather than allowing your life to run you.

8. I nformation Management-This competency relates to how well you handle all the information coming at you. If you excel in this competency, you are DECISIVE, rather than TENTATIVE. We’ve become dependent upon computers, email, voicemail, the Internet, Blackberries, PDAs, cell phones, and pagers. These devices connect us to the world of work. Today, you must be technologically savvy and make choices quickly. You also must choose the best method and medium of communication for the particular message you want to convey. Technology can undoubtedly improve your productivity, but it can make you LESS productive if you’re not careful. You must use the latest technologies to your advantage, without letting technology take advantage of you.

9. V itality-This competency refers to your wellness. If you excel in this competency, you TAKE CARE of yourself, rather than IGNORING your physiological needs. How healthy are you? How much energy do you have throughout the day to accomplish the things you want to do? Do you sleep enough? You have the potential to dramatically impact our productivity by paying closer attention to our behaviors around health. In other words, we eat too much, drink too much, don’t exercise enough, work too much, and don’ t sleep enough. No wonder some people can’t be productive! Some studies suggest that upwards of 70 percent of doctor visits are prompted by our own choices in these areas. You must practice proper self-care, so that are physically capable of performing at your matchless best.

10. E quilibrium-This competency refers to the proper mix of activities in your life. If you excel in this competency, you feel BALANCED, rather than UNBALANCED. Balance is tough to achieve, because you have a real commitment to your job and to your family. You love your work life and your personal lives, often with equal vigor, and don’t want to give either one up. Professionals find it difficult to participate fully in one arena without sacrificing the other, but successful people know high performance depends on both personal satisfaction and professional achievement. You must practice lifestyle tactics and make the proper choices that help you to work at a realistic level.

The more solidly you feel you demonstrate each one of these competencies, the better the chances that your habits support personal productivity:

• If you said a resounding, “That’s me!” after each one, you’re probably a Productivity PRO!

• If you can identify with some but not all of the traits, you may be a “middle of the road” employee, which means you’re not the most productive person, but you’re not the worst. Ouch! Who wants to be average? Really work on kicking it up a notch!

• If you just shook your head, select one competency every three weeks and work on systematically improving your productivity. If you are low in a particular area, reading the corresponding chapter in my book Leave the Office Earlier will give you specific tools and exercises to improve in that competency.

Make it a productive day! ™

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