Executive Education

The real productivity problem in your organisation

Whenever a discussion starts around productivity, a few ‘usual suspect’ productivity issues always come up. Too many emails, ineffective meetings, constant interruptions. We are finding it harder and harder to do our jobs in a reasonable way as we need to deal with so much friction and noise. One client of mine recently told me how he loved his work but had begun to hate his job. He was being worn down by the constant deluge of noise, and the never-ending demands on his limited time.

These are very real issues, and they are getting worse by the day. The number of emails many executives receive on a daily basis has dramatically risen. Many of my clients are getting 200-300 emails per day. Just a few years ago that used to be 30-40 per day. Some organisations have become completely meeting-driven, with executives spending up to 80% of their core working hours in meetings. This does not leave a lot of time to deal with the 300 emails, let along get any meaningful priorities done.

All of this activity keeps us busy, but not necessarily productive. We realise that something has to change if we are to survive with our sanity. So, we turn to some personal productivity training or coaching. We learn to manage our emails, prioritise our tasks and streamline our schedules. And this helps…for a while. But over the following weeks and months we slip back in old comfortable habits and routines, and end up overloaded and overwhelmed again.

The real productivity problem is not our individual productivity systems and strategies. It is the productivity cultures that we work within. In my experience, most organisational cultures kill our productivity, and unfortunately most leaders simply allow this to happen. High levels of email noise become standard, and suddenly everyone thinks that hundreds of emails is a normal volume of email to receive (it is not, it is crazy). Managers see their leaders in meetings all day, every day, and they begin to behave in the same way, as this seems to be the way work gets done. Workers put up with constant interruption, from email alerts to instant messaging to physical interruptions, and think that ‘this is just the way it is around here’.

Workers in today’s busy organisations definitely need to review and update their personal productivity systems and strategies if they want to work effectively. But if a sustained boost to productivity is required, we need to go beyond this and look at creating a culture that allows productivity to flourish.

Leaders need to see productivity as a leadership issue and strive to enable their teams to work in a more productive way. This entails raising the awareness across the team of unproductive behaviours that hamper our productivity, and then put in place some team agreements or protocols that will reduce productivity friction. When teams agree on a set of protocols, and hold each other accountable to these, productivity cannot help but improve. And if time and money is spent on personal productivity programs, they will at least have half a chance of creating a sustained change to the individual’s effectiveness.

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Dermot Crowley
Dermot Crowley is one of Australia’s leading productivity thought leaders, director of Adapt Productivity, and author of Urgent!, Smart Work and Smart Teams. Dermot Crowley is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.