Have you found yourself telling others how busy you are?  If so, you are not alone, you are one of many, me included.

Why do we do this?  And what does it imply about our thinking?  Do you, me, we believe that productivity equates to busyness?

What is productivity?

Definitions of productivity are often anchored to two key concepts:

  • Productivity is the effectiveness of productive effort.
  • Where productive effort is measured in terms of rate of output.

However I think this definition only makes sense in part.

Yes, your productivity can be described as the effectiveness of productive effort.  However your productivity needs to be measured by more than the rate of output.

If you focus only on the rate of output you may find yourself focused primarily on efficiency.  In turn, focused on trying to do more with less resources, and perhaps in less time.  Of not placing sufficient focus on the quality aspect of your productive effort.

How do you manage your productivity?  What is your focus?  Are you trying to do more with less in less time and putting at risk your quality?

Productivity & high performance?

High performance is multi-dimensional.  It can be defined as your ability to remain:

  1. Solutions focused and future focused; be self-directed.
  2. Consistently energised despite the ebbs and flows in workplace demands.
  3. Clear, concise and effective in decision making; and
  4. Engaged, motivated and able to collaborate.

To achieve high performance you need to be productive, and you need to be efficient.  However efficiency is necessary but it is not sufficient to sustainable high performance.

Productivity that enables high performance is about building a tool kit of strategies that allow you to work smarter not just harder, to have your productivity defined by quality.

Re-defining productivity?

The answer to re-defining productivity lies in re-focusing ‘how’ you achieve sustainable high performance:

How you sustain your ability to:

  1. Be strategic in forecasting the future.
  2. Cultivate sustainable quality in your effort-to-output relationship.
  3. Build mental models to raise situational awareness for focused decision-making.
  4. Be responsive not reactive to what is occurring in your surrounding environment.

Example: Building Mental Models

Mental models help shape your approach to problem solving.  They help you understand how something works in reality and how your understanding of this is represented in your day to day environment. In turn mental models influence and help shape how you respond.  Without being aware, you will be using countless mental models in day to day life.

You will be using mental models to help you understand how to make decisions based on what you encounter.  This includes:

  • Routine and expected decisions in your day-to-day working environment.
  • Decisions made in high pressured and demanding situations.
  • Decisions you may need to make due to unexpected events or at worst emergencies.

Charles Duhigg in his book The Science of Productivity talks about the role of mental models.

He cites an example of a Qantas pilot, Captain Richard de Crespigny who found himself Captaining flight QF32 in an A380 who experienced a situation where things went horribly wrong.

In summary: The plane he was flying experienced multiple failures that severely impacted its ability to continue flying and land.  In fact, all flight simulations created post the emergency indicate the plane should have crashed on landing.  Not only did de Crespigny land the plane, he landed it without harm to passengers and crew.

What was the secret of his success?

Essential to his ability to land his plane safely was his clarity of his mental models.

He used his mental models to:

  1. Frame his approach to problem solving during the emergency.
  2. To facilitate focused and deliberate decisions.

Part of his success lay in his choice to build key mental models-maps prior to the emergency.  Before and when he boarded his flight he discussed the potential of things going wrong, so he and his crew had clear expectations of his approach to problem solving during the emergency, including what decisions he and they would likely need to take.

Research suggests that people like de Crespigny who are practiced and adept at building and refining detailed mental models often have greater situational awareness.  They have an approach to problem solving and the models they will use that gives them access to greater resilience in decision-making.

New definition

Productivity to enable high performance in a modern, busy and demanding workplaces requires a different definition to definitions we used in the past.

It needs to enable your ability to:

  1. Be strategic in forecasting the future.
  2. Cultivate sustainable quality in your effort-to-output relationship.
  3. Build mental models to raise situational awareness for focused decision-making.
  4. Be responsive not reactive to what is occurring in your surrounding environment.

I encourage you to take some time to reflect on your definition of productivity and the reality of how you apply it in the day-to-day working environment.

  1. Has busyness become part of your day to day language?
  2. Is your focus on efficiency; to work harder with less and/or in less time?
  3. How can you refocus on quality of your productive effort?
  4. What are your mental models-maps for problem solving, for making decisions?