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Releasing the “productivity pressure cooker”

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Over the past few years, surveys from the Office of National Statistics have consistently found decreasing labour productivity in the UK. In the last quarter of 2015 rates fell by 1.2 per cent. The first quarter of 2016 only saw a 0.5 per cent increase from the previous year. It’s no surprise then that the pressure is on.

As a business leader, I know productivity and delegation go hand-in-hand. I’ve watched my company transform from startup to an established tech company. As the company has changed, so too has my role. Whereas I started being extremely hands-on and doing most of the nitty gritty work myself, I now collect information from customers, employees, and industry leaders – and try to stay out of everyone else’s way.

Said like this it sounds strange, but I make it my job to not have work to do. In my role, it’s important I don’t become the bottleneck, sitting on decisions and stifling productivity. So, just like some people aim to end the day with “Inbox zero,” my goal is to reach “work zero.” This requires quick, effective delegation before moving on to the next thing. If someone else can complete a task, I let them do it while I focus on actions with a quick turnaround, or decisions that have the potential for huge business impact and require information that only I have. As a manager, you shouldn’t limit the potential of others or the potential of your business by micromanaging.

Read more about increasing productivity in your business:

Here are six tips to release the “productivity pressure cooker”: 

(1) Smash your workload

Prioritise your activities and realise that not every action belongs in the “high priority, high urgency” box. Complete urgent tasks as soon as possible. But if you have a few “quicker and easier to do” items in your inbox, rattle these off first to build up your mental momentum. Procrastinating on something you don’t feel like doing adds mental fatigue and unneeded stress, ultimately holding things up longer than necessary. To power swiftly through your workload, you’ll need to complete even unpleasant tasks efficiently. This frees up time to focus on what really matters and puts you in a good place when you leave the office.

(2) Set a clear communication policy and stick to it

Communicate with your teams and clearly explain how to best get something in front of you – that way you can focus on what’s actually important and not on the blinking notification begging for your attention. I’ve always been clear with my colleagues: I’ll respond to an email by the end of the day. If something is a need-to-know-now issue, they should text me with an alert; calls are reserved for anything urgent (and for my family). 

(3) Don’t waste your time

Many work meetings waste time, which is why I always ask about the reason behind all of the appointments I’m asked to attend. If the value of a meeting isn’t clear, I won’t attend, even if it’s just a 15 minute catch up. This is a philosophy I have encouraged my team to adopt. If there isn’t a clear agenda, don’t organise a meeting. 

(4) Keep emails short and sweet

No one likes to either write or receive a 500 word email. Brevity is best. I rarely write emails that are more than a few sentences. If it’s going to take more than that to say what I need to say, I’ll pick up the phone instead. 

(5) Technologies can drive you there faster

Become more “app aware” and challenge your employees to experiment with new apps and cloud-based technologies that help them work faster and more efficiently. Appoint digital enthusiasts to lead the way and encourage the use of collaboration tools in your business. The Harvard Business Review suggests “just about every individual, company and sector now has access to digital technologies”. Okta’s “Businesses@Work Report” has found companies use between ten to 16 apps to get work done – any app that speeds up a process automatically contributes towards a more productive and agile workforce. 

(6) Keep up a strong but steady pace

There are going to be 12 or even 18-hour workdays from time to time but these must be rare occasions, not regular events. Finding balance is the key to long-term success and career longevity. Find outlets for stress such as exercising, and spending time with family and friends after work. 

Today, business managers in every industry are looking for ways to stay competitive and address the challenge of productivity. One way to achieve this is by taking a step back and delegating tasks to others, and finding new ways to communicate with their staff and reach out to their consumers and partners. Managers can then focus on charting the course of their company and navigating the industry, ultimately boosting their productivity and that of their business as a whole.

Todd McKinnon is CEO and co-founder of Okta.

Image: Shutterstock

In the UK productivity is a long-standing problem. The answer, says Amir Sharif of Brunel Business School, won’t involve being more entrepreneurial, or putting more investment into STEM skills, science and tech.

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