The five barriers to increased productivity

The need for efficiency and productivity seems like a no-brainer.

In engineering classes, media, and even fiction books (e.g. The Goal), increased productivity for companies and organizations has been emphasized, analyzed and taught in detail. The ability to improve work processes, manufacture just in time, achieve operational efficiency and optimize inventory levels allows companies to decrease costs and become more competitive and profitable.

Increase Productivity

 Equally important, but less often discussed, is personal productivity (i.e. the ability to work efficiently, and, more importantly, effectively). Learning how to improve productivity is essential for entrepreneurs and executives as well as entry-level employees. Work productivity is as important for many of today’s professionals as creativity, teamwork and communication skills are.

Just as a few milliseconds make the difference between anonymous athletes and Olympians, slightly better performance or a few days’ advantage in time to market may enable a business to win a market. In a winner-takes-all world, the ability to increase productivity is crucial.

 In this post, we’ll discuss current 5 barriers to personal productivity and why we must overcome them. Here are the barriers:

1. Gadgets

Not long ago, the only way to be distracted from work was by getting a phone call (landline, of course) in the office . In those days, it was still possible to drive home, have lunch and go to the movies without being interrupted by phone calls, emails, SMS / WhatsApp text messages, etc.

Slowly, gadgets have become more powerful – pagers became mobile phones and then smart phones, which came with their siblings, powerful and lightweight tablets. Professionals are happy to use them, but pay the price of full-time  approachability.

Finishing an important  task becomes increasingly difficult when the cell phone nearby carries a message from a loving family member, concerned business partner, or angry customer, and they all expect immediate attention. Being accessible almost 24/7 takes a toll.

2. Distractions

True, there have always been excuses to avoid a boring job and opt for more fun or socially rewarding activities. But the realm of distractions grew exponentially with the emergence of social networks and media.

Employees spend hours on Facebook, Twitter, and their likes, driven by the fear of missing important (or totally trivial) status updates. This has become such an epidemic that various employers are launching initiatives aimed at minimizing such distractions.

3. Variety

A few decades ago, business owners had a short list of advertising platforms to choose from: printed media (newspapers and magazines), broadcast media (TV and radio), billboards, and the Yellow Pages. Today the opportunities online, offline, in-apps, via social media, through various forms of sponsorship, etc. make the advertisement decisions much more complicated.

Similarly, there are many different ways to manage relationships with clients: to manufacture (or outsource) the products, to cooperate with business partners, etc.

 Today’s companies must learn the benefits of each alternative, experiment with them and choose the mix that best fits their products or services. This often means engaging in zillions of different processes and activities while running the business. Any inefficiency or ineffectiveness in some of these processes and activities wastes time and decreases overall productivity.

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4. Quantity

Today’s work involves dozens and possibly hundreds of activities, processes, distractions, and factors that make focused work – one task at a time – almost impossible.

This is true (and concerning) for everyone – from startup founders to corporate executives:

  • Entrepreneurs have to deal with a huge number of activities and tasks (e.g. seeking clients, assessing distribution channels, legal issues related to incorporating the startup, managing outsourced work through freelancers).
  • Corporate executives don’t just take care of their own personal productivity; they must also make sure that their subordinates work productively while learning and acquiring new skills. Some managers also want to ensure that their employees do not burn out rapidly.

The problem is that many activities, such as code development, are best accomplished through straight several-hour sessions without external interruptions. The time it takes to re-enter “the zone” after a 30-minute conference call (or similar interruptions) could be very long.

5. Learning

As the world develops, driven both by technological changes and social trends, one must learn more and more just to keep in pace. Today’s business environment requires constant updates about new types of competitors, changing customer preferences and behaviors, advanced tools and resources, etc.

In the past, changes were relatively slow, and the required learning was moderate; today’s pace forces significant and almost immediate learning of many diverse factors. Learning new things requires time, energy and a mindset switch from “work mode” to “learn mode.” The inability to learn effectively and do so just in time is a major obstacle to productivity improvement.

How to increase productivity?

When we see the barriers to productivity clearly, it becomes obvious that being able to work productively with minimal idle time and distraction is essential.

 However, unlike Math, Accounting and Economy 101, learning how to increase productivity is neither an integral part of a college curriculum nor the focus of internal corporate training for new classes of recruits.

 Therefore, most people must be proactive and self-motivated to improve their own personal productivity.

 There are various ways and techniques to do so, which will be covered in a future post. For the time being, here are some examples:

  • Books and guides

For example, The 4-hour work week

  • Productivity software (for automating and speeding up processes)

For example, PaloAlto Software’s LivePlan for business plan preparation

  • Seminars teaching time management techniques

For example, Undemy’s Getting Things Done course

  • Productivity apps and productivity tools

For example, OfficeTime, Eternity Time Log and Evernote.

  • Hired help

For example, Fiverr (5 $ per assignment)

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