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Productivity in the New Normal

  • 20 July 2020
  • Michael McGrath

The article by Sabri Suby in last Friday’s Financial Review on productivity1 struck me, although not until Sunday when I sat down and read it!

That in-itself has become my new normal. No more down-time travelling to airports or on planes where I used to decompress, read and gather my thoughts. I have not been on a plane in 4 months and I used to travel to two states each week, in and out in a day. I don’t miss it, but I do miss the chance to quietly read and think.

I think it was Henry Ford that once said “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.

My day now, based in our office in Sydney, is mostly spent in online meetings and then catching up on the commitments I’ve made in those meetings with very little space in between. On the one hand I have improved my productivity – less travel and much more face-time with clients and colleagues, but I’m still coming to terms with how to navigate the new normal, finding some time to balance up and gain perspective and think, so that what I bring to meetings is useful!

Being productive and being effective are not necessarily the same thing. Effectiveness I feel is being more measured, pacing ourselves – it’s a more sustainable idea. I can appear very productive for a while, appearing to be getting a lot done, but at what cost? And for how long without some kind of reaction or even burn-out?

Sabri had some good things to say about productivity tools, like: ban unnecessary calls and chats, improving typing speed (the average office worker gets 90 emails a day and sends 40), block out ‘deep work’ time in your diary, don’t check emails outside of specified times, no open door policy. All ideas to improve our output.

However, we are not machines. I liked Stephen Covey’s approach in his best seller “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. He urges us to ‘sharpen the saw’, which is to work on ourselves. That takes time and may not look very productive in the short term, but nevertheless can be highly effective over time. Covey also talks about the need to spend more time in the ‘important but not urgent’ quadrant, which Sabri refers to as things that ‘create new value.’ These are things like strategy, planning, investing in relationships, working on ourselves or producing free content, and they are rarely the urgent things that press in on us for immediate attention. Often we end up filling any time in the ‘urgent but not important’ quadrant.

Whatever new normal you find yourselves in I hope you can find ways to be effective as well as productive and that you make sure to keep ‘sharpening the saw’.

1 https://www.afr.com/work-and-careers/workplace/11-changes-you-can-make-to-become-more-productive-20200612-p551xw

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