Productivity Myths & the Power of Bringing Your Whole Self to Work
There are multiple dimensions of productivity.
In this post, we will debunk a couple of productivity myths, talk about the three dimensions of human productivity, and helping employees bring their whole selves to work. We begin with the age-old myth (which is a lie more than a myth, but we try to keep things polite):
Time is money.
Time is money, goes the old cliche. But is it true? I mean, who hasn't spent an hour knocking out dozens of emails, checking numerous items off the task list, and felt they've accomplished nothing. Or the executive who spent an hour listening to their cohort vent only to walk away with the idea that saves the company thousands. And most can relate to spending an hour in nature and label the time spent doing nothing - priceless. The idea that time is money is a fallacy, not reality.
Similarly, we have falsely considered productivity, the more tasks you can get done, the more productive you are. Yet the contrast of an hour knocking out emails compared to an hour listening reveals the fallacy that productivity does not increase in correlation to the increase in tasks accomplished. While many gurus have addressed the dimensions of work and productivity, most overlook the humans involved.
Dimensions of a task
One well-known guru that addresses the dimensions of tasks and productivity was Stephen Covey. In Covey's book, 7 Habits of High Effective People, he introduced the time management matrix. The matrix is a very effective method for prioritizing tasks and ensuring you accomplish what's a priority.
The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. -Stephen Covey
Covey's model provides a tool to reference when making decisions about which projects to work on, which interruptions to allow or avoid, etc. In summary, there are 4-quadrants:
I Quadrant – important deadlines with high urgency
II Quadrant – long-term development and strategizing
III Quadrant – distractions with high urgency
IV Quadrant – activities with little to no value
*Read this article for a more extensive review of what each Quadrant entails and how the matrix works.
While it's an efficient process and one I recommend, especially in times of pressure, it's only one dimension. True, Covey focused on the task and its various aspects, and that's important. However, the truth is
Tasks don't complete themselves, Humans do. -Karen Zeigler
As a design thinking consultant, I understand that problems are most effectively and efficiently solved when we take a human-centered approach. Unquestionably, productivity is a problem that most leaders wish to address. Therefore, to be more productive, it's essential to look beyond the aspects of a task to the dimensions of the human. But first, the history of business and how it reflects our evolution in the three elements of being human and the specific needs associated.
The beginning of corporations
If you heard the phrase "mind, body, spirit" in the last decade, you were likely in a yoga class, listening to religious teachings, or other spiritual woo-woo experiences. However, it's time to be informed about what the phrase means for business. Not from a religious perspective but a human perspective. Now is the time because we have shifted from the Information Age to the Experience Age. Yet many corporations are still in the Industrial Age. A quick review of these three ages and the three dimensions of productivity from a human perspective.
The first age that brought more people together outside the homestead to work was the Industrial Age. By the hundreds, workers were brought into factories, mills, and mines to do the work of building, making, and mining. The experience of the employee didn't matter. In most cases, they were horrid. While workers needed to have their wits about them, their mind was of little significance. The focus was on getting as many abled-bodied humans in the workplace to do the work. The human's potential rested solely on the number of widgets they could produce. It is the age where the cliche of time is money began. Machines were the star of the business, and humans filled in the gaps. Just like the machines, if the humans broke down, they were replaceable. Humans were things (like machines) to be managed and controlled. If current (albeit outdated) accounting methods are an indication, equipment is still more valuable than employees. As employees are an expense and equipment is a capital investment. Something I believe our government should change, but currently not on my list of problems to solve. Nonetheless, workers' revolts began the shift to the next age.
The shift from brute to brains
Next came the Information Age. Workers began to show they could improve production if allowed to utilize their minds in solving problems. Over the suffering from the back-breaking work of the industrial age, employees looked for an effortless way to do difficult tasks. I love the way Bill Gates looks at it.
I always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job. Because he will always find an easier way to do it. - Bill Gates
Perhaps there is a correlation between laziness and the intellect that creates advances in society. Nonetheless, management's willingness to allow employees' intellectual input into their daily work opened the door for many of the innovations we enjoy today. Workers began to understand what Robert Kiyosaki meant by "The truth is that money doesn't make you rich; knowledge does." As important as the mind is, it still doesn't tap into the full human potential. This mindset has resulted in 150 years in the Information Age and a huge drag in moving into the current Experience Age. I guess you can tell us humans are pretty hard-headed.
Awakening to the Experience Age
Our always-on culture of work, media, and social networks have fried our brains. Or at the very least left them riddled with angst and numbed out. Continually stuck in our heads solving problems - seen, unseen and unnecessary - has our spirits are crying out.
I want to feel alive! I want to matter, do work that matters and experience a life that matters!
Millennials are leading the charge. To hell with money, give me experiences. They'll work multiple jobs to have the freedom to experience life on their terms. And while that approach has flaws, it also has many benefits. As with any age in history, humans tend to find their way. Life is never perfect, but we are each born with an innate desire to reach our full potential—a desire to be productive in what matters. And while the struggles in company collaboration may have you believe that it is a mutually exclusive concept, it's not.
Dimensions of the human
Once leaders begin to master the human dimensions and help their team members learn theirs, then we will see effective collaboration. More importantly, we begin to see the beauty and majesty of humanity. The beauty of our differences. And how they can come together like the instruments of an orchestra to perform brilliantly. It all begins with an awareness of the dimensions.
The body dimension
The physical body is about what you do. It's all about the doing, the actions you take. The industrial age was very much about the physical body. However, the human body has limitations and rhythms. As individuals and as leaders, it's essential to recognize the restrictions and the rhythms when it comes to the body. When it comes to productivity, the key is tuning into the body's natural rhythms of progress and pause. We are not built for back-breaking work for hours at a time. Nor were we meant to sit at a desk for hours at a time. Find your rhythm of progress and pause, and then you can walk the talk. Lead by example, and you'll also recognize signs in your employees when they are out of the rhythm of progress and pause. Physical fitness plays a vital role in this rhythm and is essential for productivity.
The mind dimension
The mind is how you think. It's all about thinking, the thoughts you think. The Information Age was all about the brain. Unlike the body, the mind appears limitless. There is always something new we can learn. Knowledge is power is the cliche. But to what end - that of sleepless nights and anxiety medication from being unable to shut it off without numbing it out. The biggest thing that too much thinking has ever built is our Ego (which I write several days on in the 30-day Listening Challenge).
Our best ideas do not come to us through the thinking mind. It is no coincidence that many of our histories and our great ideas have come to us in the shower or other mindless activity. Like the body, When it comes to productivity, the mind also has rhythms of progress and pause. Likewise, mental fitness plays an essential role in developing the concentration, clarity, and equanimity needed to be productive.
The spirit dimension
The spirit is who you are (100% authenticity), why you do things the way you do. It's all about being. And the output of being, its modus operandi, is emotions. The rising of emotional intelligence as a leadership superpower is key to this transition to the Experience Age. In humans, the spirit is that unidentifiable place within each of us that loves, is at peace, contains our unique talents, imagination, creativity, and individual dreams. Some call it heart, soul, our light, our true North. It has many names. Some believe (I among them) that it is our connection to God (Universe, Higher Power, and a multitude of names). Still, even if you don't ascribe to any belief system, this dimension of being human is undeniable. Denying this aspect of ourselves leads to shortfalls in areas beyond productivity. We miss experiencing our full potential in every area of life - health, career, relationships, everything.
Understanding emotions destructive power on productivity
However, we've spent decades rejecting and suppressing our emotions, because we have not understood them or what to do with them. Yet these emotions are destructive to our productivity. Here's a test. Take a minute to list a few things on your to-do list that you have needed to do for some time but haven't. Make sure they aren't dependent on someone else, so you can't blame them for the outcome. Now list why they remain undone. Don't give me the "I haven't had time" b.s. It's not a matter of time but one of your priorities. Likely the best you can come up with is I don't feel like it. The timing is not right (another way of saying it doesn't feel right). If one of the items is pursuing a dream, if you are honest, you'll say I don't feel like I'm good (smart, large, small, tall, whatever) enough. The point is when there is a roadblock to the physical action (body) that is beyond knowing (mind) how to do it, its origin is emotional (aka spirit).
The purpose of emotions
The simplest way I have come to figure out feelings is to see them as a weather vane. The goal is not being spun around like the wind by emotions. Instead, recognize emotions are an indicator of the direction we are pointing. The goal is to allow emotions to guide you back to your authentic self (spirit). Some call it true North. The positive emotions reveal aspects of our authentic selves. Meaning, when we experience positive emotions, we are likely operating in the spiritual dimension of being our authentic selves. Or pretty darn close.
On the other hand, negative emotions (the ones we like to avoid) indicate we are heading in a direction that is away from our true selves. Our efforts are flowing in the wrong direction. Or likely flowing from the wrong place. The task is directing our doing and thinking. Our productive efforts are on doing and thinking, rather than allowing our being to flow into our thoughts and doings of completing the task. For the spirit is the origin of the flow state. When our efforts come from the dimension of spirit, life flows.
We don't have to lose ourselves in our work to be productive. We have to find ourselves. - Karen Zeigler
So next time you want to spend hours researching the latest means of being productive, let me suggest a more productive use of your time. Get alone, shut out all distractions, get your mind in a relaxed state (no overthinking here), get present and listen in stillness for the answer. The question: What would it look like to bring my best self to this task, this day? When you start your work or your day from a place of being rather than the frantic place of doing or thinking you'll experience flow. It takes practice but it's well worth it. For when you're in the flow, everything gets done that needs to get done. And not only that productivity, profitability, employee satisfaction and engagement soar.