Personal productivity and motivation

Over the last couple of weeks I have had two discussions on productivity that struck home. recently.

Firstly how for many people they only get things done when there is a negative outcome for not doing things, ie they lack motivation. For example self financial fines or performance rating by managers. But what happens to the self employed consultant or small business owner who “kicks their butt”? Well how about a Personal CEO?

Sounds like a good idea, but unless you can afford to hire one it ain’t going to happen. Hence, my excitement when I found The Printable CEO. A series of free downloadable forms designed to keep you focused on your productive outcomes. Forms provided include:-

The forms are very clean and simple making them easy to use, for example below is a picture of the Concrete Goal Tracker:-

The other discussion was around setting appointments for yourself to complete tasks. Many people do this, but then ignore the appointment because they are doing something else that is deemed more important. This is a very bad habit as the more you do it subconsciously value of these appointments diminish as your brain knows you are “lying” to it and eventually it will impact all of your goals.

Like most people I tend to use the setting myself an appointment for my own personal goals. You know the type the ones that really help you get through life, exercise, self reflection, planning, time with family, paperwork etc. Hence my excitement about finding this post on ZenHabits (via LifeHacker) which provides some great tips for managing your personal goals:-

1. One goal at a time.
2. Make sure you really want it.
3. Make it your top priority.
4. Reduce your commitments.
5. Keep it simple.
6. Stay focused.
7. Block off time.
8. Make it your most important appointment.
9. Show that you’re serious.
10. Find your time wasters.
11. Make it a part of your daily or weekly routine.

Satisfaction does equal higher returns

A fairly common statement heard these days in organisations is “high employee satisfaction translates to higher earnings”. Gautam Gosh pointed me to a recent paper by Alex Edmans, a Finance Professor at Wharton which compares;

stock returns of companies with high employee satisfaction and compares them to various benchmarks — the broader market, peer firms in the same industry, and companies with similar characteristics. His research indicates that firms cited as good places to work earn returns that are more than double those of the overall market.

What I found interesting is the investment market seems to ignore public available report, such as the Fortune “Best Places to Work” when there is statistical evidence of companies with higher employee satisfaction have higher returns, 14%. This just seems so obvious to me, or am I missing something?

The abstract is below:-

This paper analyzes the relationship between employee satisfaction and long-run stock performance. An annually rebalanced portfolio of Fortune magazine’s “Best Companies to Work For in America” earned 14% per year from 1998-2005, over double the market return. The portfolio also outperformed industry- and characteristics-matched benchmarks; controlling for risk, it yielded a four-factor alpha of 0.64%. These findings have three main implications. First, employee satisfaction may improve corporate performance rather than representing inefficiently excessive non-pecuniary compensation. Second, the stock market does not fully value intangibles, even when independently verified by a publicly available survey. This suggests that intangible investment generally may not be incorporated into short-term prices, providing support for managerial myopia theories. Third, socially responsible investing (“SRI”) screens need not reduce investment returns.

The paper is heavy reading but there is a good summary available on Knowledge @Whartons, How Investing in Intangibles — Like Employee Satisfaction — Translates into Financial Returns.

Taking control of information overload

Something I have been struggling with for about 18 months is information overload, who hasn’t, especially with regard to email and RSS feeds and to a lesser extend podcasts.

To date my method of coping has been to unsubscribe (I removed about 500 blog feeds) or ignore the stream of information (which I do with email subscriptions), this works to a point. I still keep up with the big stories, using the assumption that the limited number of blogs I do follow will point me to the really important stuff, this I must say works well. However I am missing a lot of other interesting stuff and sometimes it takes a week or two for me to catch on that something big is going on.

This morning I found a great post from Steve Rubel (via Twitter from Techmeme) on how to be an information ninja, where Steve provides a run down of how to use Google Reader to control the information overload. The post has 5 key sections:-

* The Core Philosophy: Google Reader is a database and a feed reader
* Continually add tons of feeds in organized, methodical way
* Establish a taxonomy that makes retrieval and sharing easy using on-the-fly tagging
* Annotate your data by connecting Reader to Gmail or Blogger
* Putting it all together – sorting, searching and sharing

After reading it I realised why I was unable to keep up with the information flow, I was not managing it very well. I guess a new years resolution will be to sort out this information flow.

RIP – Marc Orchant

Earlier today I got told that Marc Orchant has passed away. Marc suffered a massive heart attack last week and never recovered.

Personally I never met Marc but but I was lucky enough to hear him speak about productivity (GTD specifically) on several occasions. He was one of my Twitter friends and to my surprise even replied to my tweets a couple of times, providing me productivity tips and hints.

My thoughts go out to his family and friends.

Follow up on always on communication

Over the last 6 months I have written a few times about always on communication and the impact on workplaces, work life balance and productivity. Today is a follow up.

By the end of next week I will have had the Palm Treo 750 for 2 months. Verdict?

You take my Treo away I will hunt you down! Basically I am addicted to it.

My key uses of the Treo are in no particular order:

  • Phone
  • SMS client
  • Calendar
  • To Do list
  • Contact manager
  • Work email device
  • Personal email device
  • IM client
  • Mobile web browser
  • Twitter client
  • Facebook client
  • Camera
  • Notepad
  • Shopping list
  • Alarm clock

Why have I become so connected to my Treo? Several reasons but the 2 key ones are speed and portability. On the speed front I have an HSDPA data plan which averages 600kbps to 1.5Mbps which is about the same as my ADSL connection. (For readers outside of Australia just accept that fact that our broadband is poor.) As for portability the Treo goes everywhere with me.

These two factors mean I can be productive anywhere and at anytime.

The downside of all this is I have significantly increased my continuous partial attention issue in my life. I have also started to do develop some very poor social habits, for example I can read email and twitter while I am in bed at any time of the day. If you follow my Twitter stream you will have seen some of my 4am tweets when I wake up :-).

I am now a very Bursty person.

Calendar synchronisation

Long time readers will know I have been searching for the ultimate calendar synchronisation system to keep my Corporate calendar, sync’d with my mobile device (now Palm Treo 750), with my Google Calendars (multiple). This has become more important now as one of the Google Calendars is being used to coordinate who is looking after our son since the separation.

Currently my Palm Treo is set up with Exchange synchronisation for all of my email, tasks, contacts and calendar items, when I connected via USB my Notes are also synchronised. During business hours things are keep update every 5 minutes, outside business hours once an hour. (A note to Microsoft why can’t I syncronise my Notes over the air like everything else, is this a factor of ActiveSync, Outlook, or Exchange?)

What I want is my second Google Calendar synchronised to my device, and then back into my Outlook.

I have previously tried ScheduleWorld and found issues with timezones, which is a big issue given all my work meetings are across multiple timezones. ScheduldWorld is also a bit over the top for what I needed, basically it wanted to become the hub for my calendar data, sorry that is my Treo.

Over the weekend I started testing out GooSync a complete “over the air” synchronisation service, I even paid the £19 for the full service option, but there is 30 Day money back deal. The installation was easy, my only issue was I screwed up the subscription purchase and seemed to have got my Visa card banned by some security service, this might not be such a bad thing!

Overall it is working nicely. I have been adding appointments in all 3 places and they are appearing correctly in the other locations! My only complaint is GooSync can’t do automated sync’s.

My productivity tips

A couple of weeks ago Tony Goodson sat down and had a chat with me about productivity, being a productivity buddy, Twitter and life in general. The audio is not the best, Skype was playing up and we had to record in 3 different sessions but we got through it. Following recording Tony went and moved house which delayed it being posted.

If you are interested in productivity go check out the show, just skip my interview :-).

Always on connectivity and management

I wrote about hyperconnectivity a few days ago which is essentially a technology trend, but it is and will continue to have a profound impact on management both professional and personal. The basic issue is with everything always connected and communicating where does one draw the line?

Let’s take the obvious examples, BlackBerry’s and personal email.

I walk around the office these days and people seem to be always checking personal web based email during work hours. 10-15 years ago back in the days when personal phone calls were monitored, this would be unacceptable. But today management in most “knowledge worker” organisations seem to have accepted that personal email will get checked.

A side note IT organisations have a paradox to manage, they don’t want the work email system filled with personal emails, however personal web based emails allow for virus ladened files to be easily deposited into the corporation.

The BlackBerry and other push email devices have taken over our personal lives. I walk around shopping centres, restaurants, parks etc and there we have people checking work emails. Spouses, kids and friends are ignored while the process takes place. Again a portion of society now seems to accept that this will take place.

I haven’t even begun to touch on RSS readers, SMS messages, blogs, mobile phones but the same is true for all.

It is only going to get worse.

Over the last few weeks Microsoft in the UK set up a tree house in a park in down town London to show that with all this great new technology people can work anywhere, at anytime. They even have a new name for this type of work Moof, “Mobile out of office” with a blog. Where is the balance?

Web Worker Daily wrote about Busy vs Burst working styles back in April, based on James Governor’s post , a FastForward post, and a post from Harvard Business School professor Andrew McAfee. The basic idea across all posts is that we have a clash of cultures brewing around how work actually gets done in the workplace. Web Worker Daily summed it up nicely:-

Busy: Show your face during all standard working hours.
Burst: If you produce what you need to, we don’t care when you do it or how long it takes.

The bursty style can only succeed when you have an always on environment.

Here are a few questions I think we need to explore.

  1. As a manager how do you control both, personal and professional so one doesn’t take over the other?
  2. How do we manage the “social/knowledge/collaboration tool junkies” James Governor talks about?
  3. How do we measure productivity of the “social/knowledge/collaboration tool junkies”?
  4. Do we need to change the definition of productivity?
  5. How do you recruit a “social/knowledge/collaboration tool junkie”, what would the job description look like?
  6. How do we explain to the Busy people that the Burst people are actually getting their work done?
  7. If Bursty people can, or are perceived to, get their jobs done so quickly, should we expect more productivity out of them during 9 to 5?

There are some easy answers to some of the questions but I feel once we add everything together management is going to get very interesting.

Doing one more thing

Anna Farmery from over at The Engaging Brand pushes us all to do just one more thing, well 10 of them in fact. She asked what would happen to the productivity your team if you did one more thing from the list every day?

The list is mainly about recognition, something that is in line with the things I have been thinking about recent with regard to employee engagement, recognition and satisfaction. I have not spoken about engagement and satisfaction for a while so it is time to dig it up again.

When employees are satisfied they engage when they engage companies tend to increase their performance(there is research out there but this is opinion 😉 ). This could be because they go the extra mile for the organisation and the manager. One of the biggest influences of employee satisfaction is the first level manager, yes there are lots of things that impact satisfaction but this to me is the biggest. One of the biggest satisfiers from management is recognition. By recognition I mean all sorts, financial, or emotional.

Now where this gets interesting is recognition means different things to different people at different times in their lives. Basically it comes down to what is important to the employee, not what the manager or HR thinks is important, and that’s the difficult part. For example those readers born after 1980 probably view a good salary and opportunities for advancement and the most important thing. You Baby Boomers are at the moment looking for work-life balance and good benefits, Gen-Xers sitting in the middle want interesting work (and the Boomers to leave the workforce, but that is another post), with work life balance. The trouble is when you recognise people’s performance you need to take this into account.

For a Gen-Y, a bonus or career development move might be the key, for the Baby Boomer give them a day off, Gen-X throw them a difficult project with a pat on the back. All of them would also appreciate a simple “Thank-You”. Ok I am simplifying things but you get the point.

Here are a list of resources you might find useful when coming up with ways to recognise employees:-

Productivity ideas

During my weekly review today I looked through some feedback from the HBDI Survey I took for the training course in Hong Kong, if you know HBDI I am D > A > C > B. One of the pieces of feedback was to look at ways to develop other quadrants, to help with this HBDI provides some ideas on things you can do. So I took one idea, keeping a time log for a week and decided to implement it.

For the next week I am going to try and keep a log of what I am doing every 15 minutes precisely. The benefits should be twofold.

First, to develop my B quadrant, my lowest, really focusing on planning i.e. how to do something, organising facts, and reviewing details.

Second I felt it might be a good idea to help with productivity, understanding where I spend my time should help with determining blocks in productivity and when I get through lots of items.