Have you ever experienced that frustration of being under pressure to get results, but no matter how long and hard you work, you just do not seem to make much progress? Do you ever feel stressed because of it? Then I have some great questions for you to answer to improve your productivity.
Who is to Blame?
It is not because you have too many things to do, too few hours or an over demanding boss? You might think it is one of these, but the answer lies much closer to home than that. It lies with you. Rather than looking to blame other people and circumstances look to yourself for the root cause. Try doing this exercise:
- Hold up your right arm in front of you;
- Point your first finger as if you are pointing at someone (I call this the 'finger of blame');
- Look to see where your other three fingers are pointing.
Most people find their other three fingers are pointing at themselves. Think of this as a metaphor, which is showing you that 75% of the 'blame' lies with you and only 25% with the person to whom you are pointing. The key to productivity is you, no one else.
Borders and Boundaries
When I work with clients who want to improve their personal effectiveness, performance and/or productivity, I always talk about borders and boundaries. Just for a moment, think about a road or a highway that you use regularly. I am guessing, but I bet it has a clear, distinctive border and boundary. I bet it has a line down the middle and that the road has two definite edges: one on each side of the road. These lines provide margins for our safety while we are driving. If you cross the line down the middle of the road, the chances are you might hit another car head-on and be killed – that is an example of a border. And if you go over the edge of the road, you are likely to end up in a ditch or crashing into something – that is an example of a boundary.
A border, is something that separates two things such as a two countries or two parts of something. A boundary, refers to a line or a limit that contains something. When you are driving if you ‘cross the line’ either a border or a boundary, you are putting yourself and others at risk. Using this as a metaphor for life, whenever you cross the line you are putting yourself and others as risk – it may not be life threatening, but nevertheless, you are increasing the risk.
Let me give you some examples in a work context. Think of your working week as a boundary – it might be a boundary of 35, 40, or even 50 hours a week. Once you start to work longer say 55 hours a week, you stretch your boundary. Once in a while is fine, but if you do this regularly, your boundary will eventually become 55 hours. If you carry on ‘stretching’ your boundary, it will become your new boundary. Then if you repeat this pattern over and over again, eventually your boundary will ‘snap’ just like an elastic band – you will ‘crash and burn’.
'Crossing the Line'
The reason for ever growing boundaries is poor management of your borders within your working week. Let me explain with this example. Your weekly team meeting is scheduled on Wednesdays from 10:00 – 11:00am. Gradually, you allow one or two team members to skip the meeting because they have other commitments. The meeting often overruns most weeks and eventually the meeting lasts 90 minutes and not 60.
This starts to lead to some problems. People start to make mistakes because they were not at the meeting when you make a decision to change a procedure; team leaders start to allow their team meetings to overrun slightly; team members start skipping meetings to meet customer deadlines and eventually customer delivery times are increased from 10 to 12 days. Okay, I may have exaggerated slightly, but by repeatedly 'crossing the line' (i.e. borders), boundaries get stretched and eventually 'snap'.
Just as the boundaries and borders on a road serve to protect us so too do boundaries and borders at work and in our personal life. If we allow ourselves and others to keep ‘crossing the line’, we are inviting danger – missed deadlines, increased stress, poor productivity and so on.
My Borders and Boundaries
Think about your boundaries and borders at work. When was the last time you moved a staff review meeting because you were too busy? When was the last time, you started a meeting late or allowed it to over run? When did you last over spend on your departmental budget? When was the last time, you turned a ‘blind eye’ to team members arriving late for work or to take a short cut by NOT following a procedure? Each time we ‘cross a border-line’, we are putting someone or something at risk and increasing pressure on our boundaries.
The next time you feel under pressure and think 'no matter how long and hard I work, I just do not seem to make much progress', ask yourself whose fault is it?