You Won't Get Ahead Just by Being More Productive
How would you finish this sentence? "If I were just more productive, I could ______." You've probably filled in that blank more times than you can count. If you were just more productive, you could become more profitable. You could improve workplace culture. Find new clients. Find better clients. Get your body healthy. Get your bank account healthy. Do more of the work you love. Do less work. Do no work. Focus on making an impact on the world.
Don't forget the big one, a statement I hear from countless entrepreneurs: If you could just be more productive, you could scale your business. You could realize the vision for your company that you hold fast to on 14-hour days and working weekends; the vision that keeps you going during all-nighters and early morning meetings. When you're pulled away from your kids' soccer game and when you're struggling to clear your inbox before a family vacation.
Productivity is necessary, that's true. It's so necessary, an entire industry has built up around helping people maximize their time -- apps, calendars, project software, the list goes on. And that industry is growing. For example, in just three years, the market size for business and productivity apps grew from $28 billion $58 billion. Bullet journals, which combine productivity strategies with creative expression, are the trend behind this year's 18 percent increase in sales of notebooks and writing instruments. Still, while these tools can help you do more things faster, it's not the best way to scale your business. In fact, it's a trap that will not only stunt your company's growth, but keep you chained to it indefinitely.
I speak from personal experience. I was a productivity hack junkie. I had all the latest toys, studied all the tricks and followed all the experts. Like many of you, I was convinced that, to free up more time for whatever I wanted to do, I had to be more productive. But, productivity didn't get me out of doing; it got me doing more. Blowing through a task quickly just meant I had time to do more tasks, which I gamely took on thinking I would eventually come to the end of my to-do list. Except there is no end. Not as long as I was doing all the work.
Parkinson's Law states that "our consumption of a resource expands to meet its supply." In simple terms, whatever time you give yourself to work, you will use. Nights, weekends, vacations -- whatever you think you need. This is the root cause of the failure of productivity. The more productive you are, the more you can take on. The more you take on, the more productive you have to be. This is part of the reason why most small-business owners work more than 40 hours a week, and 19 percent of us are pulling 60-plus hourly weeks.
Once I figured out that my obsession with productivity was keeping me trapped in a never-ending cycle of doing, I went in search of the most efficient way to scale my business. Most entrepreneurs know full well that scaling is only possible when you can get other people and other things to do the work. That's true, and that only works if you have organizational efficiency.
Organizational efficiency is when all the gears of your business mesh like clockwork. It is the ultimate in leverage, because you design your company's resources to work in concert, maximizing their output. It is about managing resources so that the important work gets done, instead of always rushing to do what's most urgent. You have achieved organizational efficiency when you are accessing the best talents of your team (even a team of one) to do the most important work, and clearly communicating your company mission, objectives and metrics.
One of the first steps I took was dedicating some work time to design my business not for maximum productivity, but maximum organizational efficiency. I still had to do the work, but now I was taking time to think about how to make the necessary changes to my business so that it could run more efficiently, and eventually, run itself. Instead of asking, "How am I going to get this done (faster)?" I started asking different questions.
- What is the primary role my company depends upon most and how can we best serve and protect that role?
- What tasks can I trash, trim or transfer to someone else?
- What is the simplest way to capture the systems I use -- even those I may not know I'm using?
- How can I balance my team so that they are doing work that is best suited for them and helps us achieve our designated outcomes?
- What metrics do I need to track so that I can quickly spot bottlenecks in my business?
Over time, with better organizational efficiency came better communication with my team, which enabled me to expand my business. And I'm not alone. A 2013-2014 study showed that companies with "effective change and communication are 3.5 times as likely to significantly outperform their peers." I was able to pull this off while also freeing up my time to do more of the work I love and enjoy more of the life I earned.
To the spark the strongest growth, you need a business that runs like clockwork -- with or without you. To achieve that, your primary focus is to design the flow of work through your company so that other people and other things can get the work done. Commit to putting your company's output first and your productivity second, and you'll soon find that everything you thought better productivity might give you, organizational efficiency will hand you on a silver platter.