Personal Skills for Professional Excellence

One answer to this question is to work more hours in the day, more days in the week and take no holidays. Unfortunately there comes a point, very early in this process, that productivity decreases and innovation stalls. So what is the second answer? Well, working smarter seems to me much preferred, what do you think? So perhaps we need to look at ways we can work smarter and keep ourselves alert and open to new ways of doing the same, but more.

Creativity and innovation is a skill that we are born with, look at any child in their early years as they play and learn. At this time we see children creating and innovating as they learn through play, trial and error. So what happens when that child reaches work? Well two things have happened. Firstly they have learnt through their parents, educators and society certain practices. We could call them process & procedures or even rules & regulations. And what follows education? Work with more processes & procedures and rules & regulations. The simple fact is that whenever there is a process & procedure or a rule & regulation, creativity and innovation go out of the window. Our lives are full of patterns, lists and instructions. In the words of Edward de Bono’ “Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way”. Therefore, the answer to our first conundrum “Workplace Innovation” is to get rid of established patterns” but that is not possible we say. Well that is true and not true.

Of course we have to keep some processes and procedures or the workplace will not function. But let us introduce empowerment where possible and to let go this obsession of control. Let our experienced and skilled staff make the mistakes they need to create new opportunities as it is only through mistakes that we learn to be successful. Did you learn to ride a bicycle by reading a book? Did you ever fall off your bicycle? Of course you did – but that how we learn to ride out bicycle. Wherever possible we should put the “book” away and try for ourselves. As Thomas A. Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” We hear a great deal about delegation, but delegation is simply duplicating what we can do by others following the same process to get the same result. In the words of Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Therefore if you want creativity and innovation you have to stop doing the same thing over and over again. Try something different.

Increasing productivity requires working smarter, not longer. As we said before the longer the day the more productivity falls off. Over the last few decades working hours have dropped in many cases to 40 hours as standard. However, alarmingly, we see many of these people working extra hours, either paid or unpaid, to get their work completed. Some working 60 to 70 hours because of the fear of missing deadlines or performance criticism. Why is this? Is it because we have more work to undertake, less people to deal with the workload or inadequate management systems? Probably all of these have some truth in them but surely the answer can be found above. In the same period of reduced working hours we have seen a massive increase in technology supposedly to make our work easier. We have also seen automation take over large areas of work, especially in the mundane and repletion aspects.

Perhaps the answer lies within the fact that this new technology and working practices are being applied over old working practices. It is like putting a new piece of software into an old computer. It works slower because it is not compatible. However, whatever the reason we still have the problem of productivity, so let’s have a quick look at some suggestions of how we can increase our productivity.

  1. Find out what you are doing – keep a log that shows where you time goes so you can reduce non- productive areas.
  2. Take regular breaks, exercise – take the stairs, go and see somebody rather than email them – work in 90 minute intervals
  3. Be proactive, not reactive. Set aside time for responding to emails, but don’t let them determine what your day is going to look like. Have a plan of attack at the start of each day, and then do your best to stick to it.
  4. Set self-imposed deadlines and reward yourself when you achieve them. Follow the “two-minute rule.” Completing the task right away actually takes less time than having to get back to it later.
  5. Just say no to meetings. If not possible make sure the meeting is run properly and has a purpose and an objective.
  6. Quit multitasking. Research has found attempting to do several tasks at once can result in lost time and productivity. Do one job at a time.
  7. Turn off notifications. During work hours, turn off your notifications, and instead build in time to check email and messages.
  8. Minimize interruptions (to the best of your ability).

For those who wish to tackle innovation and productivity issues, we recommend the 360LEADERS ACADEMY Workplace Innovation & Productivity Skills training course.