Here’s a look at three interesting stories currently in the news with ramifications for your team’s productivity.
1. How to tackle big priorities when you’re constantly putting out fires
It’s easy to come into work planning to spend a good chunk of your day on big ideas and the work that will most powerfully advance your goals – and then to realize at 4:00 that you’ve spent the whole day on phone calls, ad hoc meetings, and emails. “If you don’t have a strategy for making time for those bigger ambitions and your truly lofty goals, they’ll simply never get done,” writes The Muse CEO Kathryn Minshew in Fast Company, where she talks about how she stays involved in day-to-day workflow without letting it destroy her ability to focus on bigger things. She recommends identifying the chunk of time when you feel most productive and reserving it on your calendar (“you need to protect this block of time from intrusion—it isn't optional”); creating physical barriers like working from home or in a conference room when you really need to focus; and finding the things on your to-do list that can be delegated to someone else. On that last point, she writes, “More and more, I don’t have to be the one who’s putting out every fire. These days, I look for ways to help the very capable people around me share the load, leaving me more time to actually get to those big ideas.”
2. Could “yesterbox” change the way you deal with email?
Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has devised a way to help busy employees avoid what he calls the “never-ending treadmill” of daily messages, reports the Wall Street Journal. Hsieh calls his technique “yesterbox.” The idea is that each day, you answer yesterday’s email messages – but not today’s, unless they’re truly urgent. That way, you know exactly how many messages you have to get through, rather than constantly fielding new incoming emails throughout the day, and you can actually reach a point where you’re “done” with your email duties for the day. Hsieh says that says this technique often lets him complete his email processing by noon, and that he actually responds faster (even though he’s rarely answering in the same day a message was received) because it has stopped him from procrastinating on difficult responses the way he used to. The method “takes a lot of discipline,” he says. “Unless it can’t wait 48 hours, they are not your problem today.”
3. Do back-up plans undermine performance?
Harvard Business Review reports on a thought-provoking new study that suggests that making back-up plans might undermine your commitment to achieving your original goals. “We think that when achieving a goal requires work, not luck, making a backup plan can hurt performance by reducing the desire for that goal,” says researcher Jihae Shin. There are of course benefits to having back-up plans and Shin doesn’t dismiss those, instead noting, “The punch line of this research could certainly be this: If you prepare for failure, you may be more likely to fail. But the practical advice we would give is more nuanced than that. We’re not suggesting that you always avoid making backup plans. But maybe you could hold off on doing so until you’ve put as much effort as possible into your primary goal. If you’re a manager of a team working toward a certain objective, consider asking a second group, consisting of different people, to come up with the backup plan rather than your A team. If you’re an entrepreneur, think about committing to one start-up idea for a period of time, instead of planning for and being ready to jump to another project as soon as things go south.”