You can significantly improve your performance at work by practicing these eight tips provided by Jason Womack, executive coach and author of the book, Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More (Wiley) (Compare Prices). Jason participated in an email interview which is so full of useful ideas that they overflowed into a series of articles.
See part 2: 6 Tips for Productivity Improvement.
Interview With Jason Womack About How to Improve Performance
Susan Heathfield: So many productivity and performance improvement systems seem to be time-consuming, unwieldy, and difficult to integrate into daily work life. I’m looking for simple tips that my readers might actually do, that would help them improve their performance as quickly as they try out the idea. These are the kind of tips that make a reader shake his or her head with wonder that they never thought of something that simple, but helpful, themselves. Then, voila! The new tip is integrated. Can you help?
Jason Womack: Susan, you and I are going to get along. Love the way you think. The first problem when you deal with how to improve performance is that people have mislabeled the problem. They emphatically state the fact that they “don’t have time.” So, by default, you are right. The systems are what take time to learn about, set up, maintain and enhance. Right? Do a search in the iTunes app store for “productivity” and “list managers” and you’ll come up with many competing systems; .99 cents will get you an app that promises to… you name it.
The real place to start, and what your readers can begin thinking about right away, is not the system, but the process they go through in identifying why they need to be productive and work on their performance in the first place.
Here’s what I recommend. Out of the gate, make three lists - not one, not 15 - just three.
- Things to think about some more,
- Things you're managing over the next 3-9 months (these come from what you’re thinking about), and
- Things to do in the next 96 hours (these come from what you’re managing).
Things to think about some more:
- Moving through a 24 hour period, most people will identify something that they want to think about again, later.
- Someone talks about a vacation they just took and you think, “Hmmm, I should talk about our summer vacation with my spouse.”
- Someone mentions a seminar/conference that they attended, and you think, “Next quarter, I need to look into attending a trade conference.” Someone on the subway has a book they’re reading, and that makes you think… you get the point.
So, keep some kind of things to think about inventory. At any given time, I might have 15-20 things on this list, and I just look at it weekly to make sure that I’m still into those things. Be careful not to load this list up. It’s not a bucket list of things to do sometime in your life.
Things you're managing over the next 3-9 months:
90 – 240 days is a long way away, but, it will be here before you know it. The easiest way to approach this list is to take out your calendar and look at the next 12 to 36 Fridays. Ask yourself, “What do I want to have done by then?" I work with people around the world and they say that this one activity is one of the most important things I've recommended. Update the list monthly; review it weekly. I like to remind my clients, “You are your productivity brand. What you take on, and what you accomplish, creates your brand identity."
Share this plan with your mentor, if you have one. You'll want your mentor to see what you think you should be working on so he can question, assist and challenge your productivity plans regularly.
Things to do in the next 96 hours:
This is where the rubber hits the road - where things get done, for real. 96 hours is about as much as most people can future forecast. You can just about know what the next four days have in store for you: who you have meetings with, what you’ll be doing out there in the big world, and so forth. My own to do list is just that, and, I work as hard as possible to get the actions I’ve listed there down to 15 minute blocks of activity.
Why 15 minutes? Easy: It’s long enough to actually make progress on something yet short enough to find during a typical day. Trust me, if you look for them, you’ll notice 2-10 15 minute blocks of time open in each day.
Heathfield: What are the three - five biggest opportunities for the average employee to improve performance on a daily basis?
Womack: Ok, interesting question. The very title of the book, Your Best Just Got Better tends to attract the higher performers, the recently promoted, and the go getters of the world (executives, volunteers, community members, college and high school students, pretty much anyone who is going for more). So, when I see that word average, I have to step back and think a bit more.
- Pick your three MITs for the day. These are your Most Important Things - not to-dos, but the areas you want to have focused on, moved on, and addressed head on during the day. While some clients pick their MITs the morning of, I suggest that you do this today, before you leave work. Leave this list where can see it multiple times during the day, and check in about every 2 hours and ask, “How am I doing on what I said I’d focus on today?”
Create a process-oriented approach to work flow management. The process I coach is to build options into the work day. The more you know, the more options you have. When you remember the option to continue down one path that had your attention or re-focus on your one, two or three priorities and get the important work done, you may make that choice.
- Maximize interruptions: Yes, you read that right. Most people try to minimize how many times they are interrupted. They say yes to meetings, make up fake meetings, take a stack of work (or their laptop) to a conference room or coffee shop, turn on their Do Not Disturb message on their phone or an Out Of Office on email - all in the hopes that they will get a few longer blocks of uninterrupted time to get their work done. Instead of continuing to do that, consider maximizing that next interruption.
Here’s how: Keep a stack of sticky notes or 3X5 note cards nearby. On the top of each one, write down a person's name who you know will interrupt you sometime today. Next time the person comes over to ask, “Do you have a minute?” say yes, and also talk about the few things you’ve come up with that are on your list for them. Resist the urge to interrupt them when you think of something. Simply add it to the list.
Imagine the time you'd save if people would do this for you. Imagine the time you would save if everyone interrupted each other two-four fewer times per hour, and maximized each interruption by talking at once about the two or four things that they thought of over the past little while.
- Acknowledge the good work: Who’s doing something good? Who is doing something great? Starting tomorrow, and once a day for the next five days, stop and acknowledge someone on your team. Let the employee know very explicitly what you saw them do, how you think it is helping move the mission forward, and that you appreciate the effort they are making. Over five days, experiment with this and stay aware of your own engagement in/with what you do. If you notice that you’re more engaged, keep doing this. It will improve your performance and the performance of the employees who report to you.
More About Thank You and Recognition
- Market yourself for a new mentor: Your teachers, coaches, mentors – what I call your social network in the book – have encouraged, pushed, and asked you to improve as far as you have gotten. To get to that next level, you may not want to count on the same group of mentors as before. Let a few, specific people know that you’re looking for a new mentor. You would like someone to meet with just a few times for coffee/tea or for lunch. Get away from the office, and sit down with someone who will listen intently to what you’re working on, where you’re going, and what you dream about without interjecting an opinion – or, even, advice.
You want a mentor who will listen, ask you questions, listen more, and ask you to think about things in ways that you have not yet thought of. The good thing about your current social network is that you’re comfortable thinking with them, and they are comfortable with what you do and how you do it. But, that’s the unfortunate thing about your current social network, too.
More About Mentoring
- Here’s another tip about email that readers can implement right away: When you email a coworker asking for something, put a verb in the subject line of the email. Most of the people you work around get anywhere from 50-200 emails a day. You want yours to be the email that they see on their SmartPhone or in their inbox and know exactly what you're asking them to do. Think of your subject line as your action line instead and see your response rate soar.
You can implement these eight tips to improve your performance and productivity at work today. Why are you waiting? You have nothing but success and less stress in your future if you accomplish more - and more effectively - every day.