Everyone knows New Zealand would be better off making furniture (and houses) rather than exporting raw logs. While productivity is a bit of an ugly word, there’s a lot to like about creating more value in less time, or with fewer resources. It’s highly likely to lead to a greater sense of achievement, more confidence and happiness, ability to take time off, and more financial security.

Your approach to achieving productivity gains will vary depending on whether you work directly for an organisation, or provide services on a freelance basis. However, I hope these examples of the ways I am aiming to lift my productivity will spark some ideas for enhancing your situation.

Say yes to larger, higher value projects

For me, moving from ‘logs to furniture’ means taking on a higher proportion of large projects which involve strategic thinking to come up with solutions. This means learning to say no to some smaller scale editing opportunities. The benefits of this approach include:

  • a smooth flow of ongoing work at any time, which allows me to manage my time well
  • less need for time-intensive marketing
  • a variety of work within each project, with great opportunities for learning and upskilling, which builds my ability to provide increased value over time.

Is there any way to increase the value of your current work?

Take a different approach

I am moving away from summarising other people’s information in my monthly articles and in my LinkedIn posts to writing more about what I’m thinking and doing (without identifying specific work). This is much quicker to create because I don’t need to do any time-intensive research.

I have to keep learning this one, because I like researching and absorbing other people’s ideas. For example, I downloaded and printed the entire ‘Local Government Funding and Financing’ report prepared by the Productivity Commission, with the intention of summarising some key points for this August article. I’m still tempted to read it, but that’s the sunk costs principle at play … that once you have invested in a certain direction, it’s hard to not carry on with it, even when you realise it’s not the best option for you.

Is there anything you could do more quickly and easily, by doing it differently?

Apply the Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle is that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. I’m working on figuring out what’s in the 80% of things I do that don’t deliver great results. Here are some of the changes I have made so far.

  • I am getting better at ringing the computer guy as soon as things start going wrong, rather than wasting time trying to solve technological challenges myself.
  • For years I have had a manual system for recording my income and expenses. It’s quite a mindset shift to invest in software to do most of the heavy lifting for me.
  • I have paid someone else to set up a new, more professional website for me.
  • A graphic designer is creating new social media templates for me, creating better brand consistency and reducing the time I spend hunting around for images and messing about in Canva.

Is there anything you currently do that someone else could do better and faster?

Work with strengths rather than weaknesses

Using the talents which come naturally to us, rather than trying to improve on our weaknesses, is more efficient and leads to higher value outcomes. I recently completed the CliftonStrengths questionnaire to identify what my top 10 strengths are, and now I’m using these in my work wherever possible.

If you are interested in investing in this questionnaire, I strongly recommend purchasing the full CliftonStrengths 34 report rather than the shorter one which only outlines your top five strengths. It includes a full listing of the things which are not natural strengths, which you can then consciously manage, either by limiting the need to do this type of work, or delegating these tasks.

It also highlights the potential pitfalls associated with each strength, so you can be alert to these. For example, two of my strengths are learning new things and taking in lots of new information, but sometimes I am better trusting I know enough already.

I used my report to create a strengths strategy which I review each week. This involves considering how I have used my strengths during the week and how I can maximise my use of them next week.

Is it worth taking the CliftonStrengths test?

Receive coaching

An hour with someone who ‘gets you’ and can pinpoint areas for effective change can lead to rapid improvements in productivity. I have a tendency to create great long lists of things I could be doing. I went in to coaching sessions with the intention to learn how to do more, and came out knowing how to do less!

It’s really important to choose a coach who is a good match for you. Ask for recommendations from people you trust and who have a similar outlook to you. You have a lot of choice because your coach doesn’t need to be local now that we can use Skype and Zoom to connect through the Internet. I have worked with two great coaches this year who both live in the USA.

Could you request, or invest in, coaching as part of your professional development?

Recap of the questions

  • Is there any way to increase the value of your current work?
  • Is there anything you could do more quickly and easily, by doing it differently?
  • Is there anything you currently do that someone else could do better and faster?
  • Is it worth taking the CliftonStrengths test?
  • Could you request, or invest in, coaching as part of your professional development?