Productive Is Not Just Busy: A Different Way of Thinking about Results

4 Habits to Cultivate Productivity

How managers can cultivate a culture of true productivity with four habits

Onward and upward into our extended of review of Google’s famous Project Oxygen: we’ve landed this week on Trait 4 of exceptional managers: 

As a leader, you are responsible for delivering results through your people.  Being productive and results-oriented is the fourth trait of effective managers as defined by Google’s Project Oxygen.  

This week’s theme is tricky because most people think of themselves as productive because they measure their perception against their level of busyness (it’s easy to do). We’ll show why this can be misleading and why Google understands the importance of tying together productivity and results.

What does true productivity look like? We can think of a few things it’s not (and we bet you can, too). It’s not:
  • Racing from one meeting to the next
  • Working late (in and of itself)
  • Having the hours competition with colleagues
  • Listening to your phone ring off the hook
  • Checking your email more than a few times a day
  • Having a scarcity mindset (trying to get a task done with as few resources as possible)

Productivity is especially difficult to manage when you are in leadership: there is always a fire to put out, someone who needs your attention, or asks from the executive suite. So how do you cope, and how do you set the tone for your team? We suggest four places to start:

1.  Share the Burden 

Of the things on your plate, what can you delegate or collaborate on with your direct reports? Wise employees know that easing and sharing the burden can speed the path to results and improve the quality of projects. The current business climate’s obsession with efficiency is partially right here: many hands make light work, and as highlighted previously in our article about micromanagement, the trust built between you and your team by delegating is valuable.

2.  Delay Resurfacing 

We live in a culture of constant interruptions from our smart phones to our email to meeting invites. If at all possible, steer away from these distractions and interruptions to remain focused on your task. This will allow your brain a better chance of getting into a “flow” state, where you lose track of time in concentration on the task and are more effectively able to access the creative functions of the brain. The ideal timeline for this type of focused work is fifty minutes uninterrupted at a time. After spending a chunk like this, you’ll feel good resurfacing to check email or examine meeting requests. Sound impossible? It’s tough, but this sort of woodshedding will massively increase your productivity, even if you can only do it a few times a week.

3.  Avoid Reactive Initiatives 

Taking on the next shiny object is something you and your team can keep each other honest on. A tempting pattern some leaders get into is spearheading new and sexy initiatives. They give it a name, they get the team amped up, and they expect focus on  it for a period of time. Unfortunately, it may distract from core operations and other priorities.This can make for a stressful work environment. Get honest feedback from your team about if and how they see your vision contributing to the core functions of the team. Press them for ideas on execution, knowing they’ll be carrying a significant amount of the burden. Their feedback may be the making of the project.

4.  Stay in a Lane   

One of the toughest things to do under pressure is to resist the urge to reassess how the team is handling its work or aspects of its work. One of the stamps of good leadership is the ability to pivot based on what you see as work unfolds. But equally difficult is committing to a swim lane for work and sticking to it. Results can take weeks, sometimes months to show, and pivoting too soon can actually reduce productivity. Popular psychology has also verified that it takes a minimum of thirty days to form a new habit, sometimes longer. So waiting to see the results is a valuable exercise and will make any pivots you choose later more meaningful. 

How can you help your team be more focused on being productive and less on being busy?