By Gwen Moran
Sometimes, the secret to being more productive lies in how you think and what you believe.
Getting more done effectively and efficiently is a challenge for both employees and employers. And it’s an expensive one. A March 2018 study by leadership training company VitalSmarts found that 70% of managers currently have at least one “high-potential” (HIPO) employee they are considering letting go for poor performance.
High-potential employees are those who have exceptional decision making, technical, and analytical skills, according to the study. However, these workers still have trouble staying focused on the right priorities, struggle to meet deadlines, and fail to communicate or avoid surprises in their workday or responsibilities.
And while ideas for boosting productivity often focus on actions, there is another component that contributes to helping people be more effective in their roles: their mind-set.
“We see a big connection between mind-set and productivity,” says productivity expert Justin Hale. And shifting those beliefs and thoughts can be a critical factor in helping employees be better at their jobs, he says. Here are four mind-set shifts that can boost productivity and effectiveness.
FROM CHAOS TO CHOICE
When it feels like you can’t take a minute to breathe at work, that’s exactly when you need to push the pause button, says Beth Linderbaum, managing consultant at Right Management, ManpowerGroup’s global career and talent development unit.
“Any part of wanting to do things differently starts with gaining awareness of how we currently are and how we’re showing up,” Linderbaum says. By being mindful about what you’re doing and why, you can often get a clearer picture of what is truly necessary and what can be discarded or delegated. You can also see that what you’re taking on is often a matter of choice instead of feeling like you have no control, she says. Simply acknowledging that you’re not at the mercy of someone else and that you do have choices about how you proceed can help you refocus, prioritize, and get more done. In the VitalSmarts study, 34% of managers said HIPO employees have strong technical skills but poor organizational and priority-management skills.
A familiar example of this in action is the delegation process, she says. Let’s say you have a goal to delegate more and focus on more high-priority tasks. But when a quick task or a tricky issue crops up, there is a tendency to just take care of it because it would take too long to delegate. “Maybe I tell myself things like, ‘Oh gosh, I’m the only one who can do that and it’s going to be much faster if I do it myself versus I explain it to someone else,’” she says. But when you stop and realize that you’re choosing to take on that task instead of building a system that will help your team get better at handling these tasks and free up your time, you can begin to make more conscious choices about how you’re spending your time.
FROM TO-DOS TO AGREEMENTS
Throughout our days, we collect more additions to our to-do lists, Hale says. However, if we stop simply collecting an array of errands and tasks and, instead, consciously think of each new obligation as an agreement, that simple shift in thinking helps us become more discerning about what we take on, he says.
“The reason why this matters isn’t just the amount of stuff we’re agreeing to, it’s the fact that agreements come with emotional baggage, right? An agreement is a promise. Our brains are built to remind us constantly of things we haven’t completed,” he says. So when you treat that new task your boss has given you or that new project that has come up as something to which you need to agree, it does a couple of things: First, you have a measure of control in taking on the activity. And you begin to weed out the tasks that don’t need to be done—or don’t need to be done by you.
“I find that as people really cultivate this agreement mind-set, rather than just to-dos, they actually get better at the letters N-O coming to their lips, right? They get better at actually saying, ‘I’m not going to be able to do that,’ or ‘Can we renegotiate the agreement in a way that works better for both of us?’” he says.
FROM PERFORMANCE TO OUTCOME
If you find yourself stuck in the weeds, overwhelmed with next actions, to-dos, or agreements you need to take care of, it’s often because you’re focused on process instead of outcome. Our obsession with doing everything better and measuring performance analytics may actually remove us from why our work matters and reduce engagement and productivity, he says. That’s when you need to reconnect with the “why” of your work, Hale says.
“I may be overwhelmed or stressed about some presentation I’m doing. I’m doing a big speech at a conference, or I’m speaking to a group, or coaching somebody, and the moment that I get so stressed, I say, ‘I don’t want to do this. I’m not interested,’ I have to actually step back and say, ‘What’s the outcome here that I care about?’” he says. Then he focuses on how he can make people’s lives better by sharing information that he has. That’s motivating and helps him get back on track. “When I remember the outcome, it infuses meaning into the action,” he says.
FROM URGENCY TO IMPACT
Another problem area the VitalSmarts survey uncovered was that HIPO employees were too busy putting out fires to get to the work that mattered. Thirty-seven percent of managers said these workers do too much “busy work.”
That’s a common issue, says productivity expert Laura Stack, aka The Productivity Pro. Instead of organizing your day by ticking off some “quick hits” on your task list, focus on the meaningful work first, and build your day around getting those things done. “Your leader does not care about how many things you get checked off your list. All they care about are your results,” she says.
So turn off your email and other notifications and start with the tasks that are going to produce the results you need. Work on those first. If another task or request crops up, write it down to keep track of it, but deal with it later. When you regain your concentration and start seeing through the tasks that matter, you’re going to get better results, she says.
Often, when people work in large organizations or are faced with big projects, they may reach a point where they feel they are spinning their wheels or not getting things done, Linderbaum says. The mind-set shifts that can make you more productive are about taking back a measure of control about how you spend your time and energy, she says.
“There are all these forces, and it’s really about being able to take 100% ownership of where you are and who you are in that situation,” she says. When you do realize that you really are in charge of the choices you make, you can make better ones, she says.
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