Inch by Inch: Continual Productivity Improvement
People used to believe it was impossible to run a mile in
less than four minutes. It was called the “Four-Minute-Mile-
Barrier.” For many years, athletes tried to break this
barrier, and no one could do it; in fact, there was a
multitude of scientific evidence to support the fact that it
couldn’t be done.
Then in 1964, Roger Bannister, a British medical student,
broke the barrier. As you’d suspect, it was a huge deal and
made headlines in the world of sports. Guess what happened
after he did it? Yep — a lot of people started doing the
very same thing — five or seven athletes that year.
Why? Simple: he had shown them the possibility and
encouraged them to break through their own limitations.
When you believe that something is impossible to do, you
don’t even try, or you do it half-heartedly, so that when it
doesn’t work given your low level of effort, you do
what…say, “see, I told you I couldn’t do it.” “It’s
impossible! I knew it was!” This is the famous self-
fulfilling prophecy. If you think you can get better and be
more productive, you can, and you will.
Always think, “What if?” Take stock. Think about your daily
tasks and ask some important questions. “How can I do this
better next time?” “How can I be more efficient?” “How can I
get these results with less effort?”
Occasionally, you must take the time to stop, step back, and
ask yourself these questions. You can’t just keep plowing
ahead without occasionally regrouping and reassessing what
you’re doing or have become blind to doing.
Here are a few concrete and immediate ways to begin making
Sitting bombs. You’ve passed that magazine twenty times –
you know, the one that has a great article for your mom –
and keep telling yourself, “I need to send that article.” Do
it now. Decide that, whenever possible, you will dispatch
routine tasks immediately. If it takes less than three
minutes, do it right then.
Appointments. Your friend repeatedly cancels lunch dates at
the last minute. This drives you crazy, but you continue to
put up with it. Next time, don’t avoid dealing with the
issue. If the person is important to you, explain how
frustrated you are.
Waiting time. It makes you nuts to have to continually wait
for your doctor, who is always late (we must go to the same
doctor). Instead, you decide you will make good use of this
time and now carry notecards and magazines in your tote.
Forgetfulness. At the end of the day, you had to rush out
the door and leave that project half-done. You’re always
frustrated, because when you return and look at the page,
you can’t for the life of you remember what you were
thinking or doing. Before quitting for the day, jot a few
notes on a sticky note about where you left off and what
your next step is.
Post-vacation slam. You return from vacation and are so
overwhelmed by your overflowing paper and email in-boxes,
you’re more stressed out than before you left. Decide
instead to return a day earlier, so you can get unpacked, do
the laundry, and sort your mail.
When something is bothering you, do a bit of introspection
to see what’s going on and how you might approach it more
efficiently or effectively next time. If you’re in a rut,
and you’ve grown accustomed to low productivity, change may
not be comfortable and change may not be easy. Take an
honest look at your life, determine what’s no longer
working, and change it.
Make it a productive day!
by Laura M. Stack