How to Turn Busy into Productive

Productivity is a hot topic these days.  Everyone is busy but not a lot of people feel productive. Expectations within the workplace are higher than ever and deadlines are shorter. With mobile technology most employees feel they are permanently on-demand.

Employees want to be productive and not just busy. They feel stressed if they can’t get on top of their ever increasing workload. But employers are frustrated too because despite a high investment in technology and supports they feel they are not getting the increase in performance their investment should deliver.

Improving Productivity

Getting more done in the time available is an attractive goal, but it isn’t always obvious how to achieve it. It is important to make sure that: 1) the correct work is being done and 2) that the outcome of that work leads to the correct results for the business.

The good news is that workplace productivity can be improved quickly by making small changes that provide measurable results. The best way to do this is to encourage staff to develop the solutions themselves. Engagement needs to happen at 3 levels within the organisation.

But before we discuss any solutions to workplace productivity let’s make sure we understand what we are trying to improve. What does productivity actually mean in today’s workplace?

Defining Productivity

The challenge in defining productivity is that it means different things in different businesses, jobs and roles.

Starting with the basics – the dictionary definition of Productivity is “the rate at which goods are produced or work is completed”.

So productivity can be described as a measure of Outputs. In a company that manufactures products, it is clear what this means. The output would be a measure of how many products are produced over a given period of time. This is quite simplistic and of course all businesses don’t manufacture products. But within every role in every business, there are “Outputs” that the person in the role is required to produce.

And usually the best people to define those outputs are: 1) the people with experience of the role and 2) the business manager to whom they report. At an organisational level it is important to firstly clarify and then communicate the outputs and the outcomes (i.e. business results) that each employee must work towards. That sounds like a lengthy and complex exercise but it doesn’t have to be.

Start with the questions: 1) what does productivity mean for my business? What is a productive return on each employee’s time? What constitutes valuable work done?

Engage Employees

Motivate employees to improve their personal productivity by providing training in the key concepts of how being productive. This includes techniques on how to efficiently:

  • Plan their day
  • Prioritise their tasks
  • Manage their Emails
  • Control their distractions

Motivate teams to work on what they can do collectively to improve productivity. Simple changes such as:

  • Adopting a Meetings process to reduce meeting time and improve follow up
  • Agreeing best Email practices to reduce the number of internal processing time
  • Sharing the weekly workload so that everyone has uninterrupted “deep thinking” time
  • Identifying and eliminating the distractions within the office.

Organisational Productivity

To support employees the organisation needs to ensure that the correct processes and communications mechanisms are in place to sustain any productivity improvements they make. Without this their efforts will falter and employees will become frustrated and disengaged.

It is important to also examine what structural or cultural changes may need to happen to support a productive workplace. The following organisational issues can prevent people performing at their best and lead to employee stress and unhappiness:

  • Inefficient processes
  • Layers of sign-off
  • Poor decision making by management
  • Shifting priorities and deadlines
  • Lacks of clarity
  • Poor planning

By removing these barriers there is a higher chance of sustaining an increase in productivity and performance. But employee commitment also improves as people feel they are achieving in a culture that encourages continuous improvement and engagement.

Measuring Productivity

The measurement of productivity within roles doesn’t have to be complex. Take Email processing as an example. Productivity can be measured as: the number of Emails received each day (Input) versus the number of Emails answered each day (Output). Some other measures could include the:

  • Number of application forms processed
  • Number of reports written
  • Number of performance reviews completed
  • Number of customer problems solved
  • Number of marketing social media interactions
  • Number of invoices sent

This can be too simplistic because volume measures are seldom sufficient on their own. Output measures must also take into account the quality of the output, its timeliness, its cost and also how many people were involved. The effectiveness of the outputs is what matters, rather than the efficiency. But these examples are a good place to start thinking about your own business measures.

Productivity within Your Organisation

Embark on a productivity project that engages your employees. Encourage and support them to make small incremental changes to how they work with business outcomes and results in mind. Foster a culture of continuous improvement.  Add measures so that your return on investment and your employees commitment to the project can be clearly demonstrated.

Moira speaking at last month’s Be Productive Top Tips Seminar in BOI Workbench.


To discuss how to improve productivity in your organisation with a Productivity Seminar, Training session or project click here or call Moira on 0868189719.

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