In Denmark, if you stay at work beyond working hours, people will assume you are not good at what you do.
In direct contrast, if you are willing to work long hours in Asia, you are perceived as an employee who is hardworking.
Sadly, this has become the benchmark for most people who enter the workforce to achieve growth.
The tendency to work long hours has a lot to do with the Asian Mindset passed down from the previous generations.
Be the first to come to work and the last to leave and you’re a hardworking employee. Best way to earn ‘brownie points’ from your boss too.
Working long hours does not mean you get more work done.
As a student, I’ve been guilty of sitting at my study table for hours on end to prove to my parents that I was hardworking and productive.
But I was secretly reading Harry Potter nested within the textbook.
As an employee, I’ve been guilty of surfing Facebook while sitting in my cubicle.
And I know I’m not the only one.
Many people in the office are actively doing work. But they confuse being active with being productive.
Imagine slogging for hours and days on end but failing to see the results in your favour.
At times like this, you tend to wonder what is going wrong.
And when you don’t get your answers to these questions, you lose motivation and momentum.
You slow down.
When Motivation dips, energy level dips. Frustration takes over. You hit a standstill, with no drive to work.
You end up procrastinating.
THERE ARE 2 SIDES TO PRODUCTIVITY
Working in a company with the same role over a few years will help you become efficient. You are able to do your work much faster with less time.
When you are efficient, you do things right without mistakes. For example, you can write a report, conduct a class or close a sale. When people say you are efficient, they mean that you can be trusted to complete the work well.
Congratulations! You have become efficient. But that’s just one side of the productivity coin.
You can be Efficient yet Ineffective.
This is the side of productivity most know and talk about. You read about hacks and tricks to do tasks faster. These tips help you save time, but the return on effort is minimal.
A higher return on effort is achieved by being Effective.
If you want to experience a significant jump in your productivity, you need to be Effective.
And for that, you need to master the art of Conscious Attention.
“Time without Attention is worthless, so value Attention over Time”
– Tim Ferriss
If you are not conscious of what you pay attention to, you are wasting time. Worrying about your children at home while sitting in a training program is a waste of time.
If your goal is to find the right vendor for your current project, working on your company’s presentation slide deck is ineffective. Researching and talking to vendors to weigh their offers will have a higher return on effort.
If your goal is to set 10 appointments, then designing a website is ineffective. Talking to multiple prospects to set those appointments will have a higher return on effort.
If your goal is to become a blogger, writing a business plan is ineffective. Writing the articles you need to publish will have a higher return on effort.
IDENTIFY THE SWEET SPOT ACTIVITY
If you’re a tennis or gold player, you’ll have heard the expression, “Sweet Spot”. The sweet spot is the specific point on a golf club’s head or racquet’s face that gives you the biggest bang for the buck.
To be more accurate, the sweet spot is that point that allows you to get the most impact for the least effort.
Becoming Effective means you stay focused on the sweet spot.
What employees need to learn, is to identify the sweet spot activity and focus on that. This means that you focus on completing one sweet spot activity over ten random activities.
This is where less becomes more.
Desmond is an insurance agent with over 23 years of experience. In his younger days, he serviced individuals with their insurance. He would travel from one end of Singapore to the other to meet them and close his sales. As he got older, however, the same routine took a toll on his health. So he asked himself,
“How can I service more clients without travelling so much?”
That’s when he took a step back, paid attention to his routine and realized he could focus on servicing and acquiring more Corporate clients. All were located within the Central Business District and the accounts he had were much bigger in size. He could meet 8-10 clients in 3 hours as opposed to 4-5 clients over 8 hours.
It fit in as the perfect sweet spot activity to hit his targets. When you focus on the sweet spot activity, you generate better results at a faster pace.
Isn’t that what we all want?
So what are some steps you can take to become productive?
1. Identify the sweet spot activities. Minimum Input Maximum Output (MIMO)
2. Focus on the most important activity and complete it. Even if it takes a few days to do so.
3. Repeat for 30 days and measure your productivity.
4. Record the obstacles and tweak where necessary.
But there’s a caveat. This is not a simple task. Getting distracted has become a norm at work. Urgent matters inevitably take precedence over the important matters.
It is very easy to get sucked into this unproductive loop.
In the initial stages, you will feel very uncomfortable spending a full day on one task. Most people are unable to visualise the return of effort on their sweet spot activity. It may even feel idealistic to work without distractions.
But once you stick to the plan, you will start seeing the returns on effort and the progress you make within such a short period of time will amaze you.
You will have lesser items to tick off from your to-do list and leave work feeling satisfied with more work done.
You will achieve small wins faster that will give your morale the much-needed boost.
Test it out and let me know how things change.
What are your blocks to being productive? Comment below.