Productivity and people – two fundamental truths

The basic building blocks are the most important things for productivity
The basic building blocks are the most important things for productivity

A couple of blindingly obvious and fundamental truths coming up. Ready? They apply to lots and lots of work-related stuff, but let’s concentrate on getting stuff done. They’re so basic I often hesitate to cite them in training courses but when I do, people look at me like I’m some kind of genius.

Ah, if only they knew!

Fundamental truth #1

You can’t control the other person.

You can influence them, sure, but short of locking them in a room so that you control their physical location you can’t control them. Even if they’re people who report directly to you, you don’t control them – because they’ve

  1. always got the option to quit, either with or without another job to go to
  2. got opportunities at every turn to sabotage what you’re trying to do.
  3. The latter is particularly tricky – it’s damned hard to fight passive-aggressive resistance when people ‘accidentally’ forget to do things etc. At least with the first one you know what’s going on!

And if you’re working with people you don’t actually control it’s even worse. Influence only goes so far – particularly in our modern working environment when it’s all about collaboration and cross-group working!

And yet… and yet… so much energy is put into trying to change the behaviour of other people it’s frightening. Even if it’s possible, it’s often often pyrrhic. The hassle-benefit ratio is clearly in favour of just shrugging your shoulders and using that mental energy to do something else.

The alternative is perhaps even worse: BMW. I’m not talking about the flash German cars here. BMW stands for Bitch, Moan and Whinge. All that energy put into just complaining!  Sure it’s cathartic up to a point – and therefore a good thing – but we tend to reach that point pretty early on.

As a rule of thumb, if you’re meeting someone for a coffee, the BMW should be as long as the froth lair on the top of the coffee and the effort put into actually doing something should be the liquid! 😉

Fundamental truth #2

If what you’re doing isn’t working, you should do something different.

Enough said really!

And yet how often do you we not?  We either carry on doing more of the same or even just do it bigger.  I seriously know someone who can’t speak French and if he finds someone in France who can’t (or won’t) speak English, he resorts to just speaking English louder.  Let’s face it – if they don’t understand English at a normal volume, what make you think they’re going to understand English at a higher level?  FFS!

To be honest though, we all do it. We get hooked up in the heat of the moment and respond with what we’ve got available to us – the tools we’re familiar with come fastest to hand. As the old saw goes (often attributed to Malthus but I can’t confirm that!): “If all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.

So what’s to be done?

Logically, those two fundamental truths combine to mean lead to one conclusion. If your productivity is consistently hampered by someone else, the logical thing for you do to is to do something different that doesn’t depend on them, but on you.

It might be a change in attitude. It might be a change in working pattern. It might be a change in effort. What it is, specifically, depends on what the issue is, but the logic remains the same – change something about what you are doing.

Of course that’s easier said than done. If it was as easy as I’ve pretended it is, we’d all be doing it, productivity would be massively increased and I’d not be able to make a living out of helping people get more done. The trick lies in being deliberative about what you do.

And by deliberative I mean things like:

  • stop, just stop – either as you’re doing something or as a planned activity of it’s own
  • do some Reflective Practice – either formal or informal, but either way consider what you can change
  • get help – it’s much easier to change things with support
  • put toys in place – by toys I mean things (anything!) to make your new approach the default; alternatively do the same to make your old way of doing things harder… anything, in fact, to remind you about what you’ve decided to do.

It’s not about absolutes

All too often we go through this process and decide ‘“There’s nothing I can do”. Often that’s tosh (I dare you to prove it to me 😉 ) but even if there’s nothing you can do about something, that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about anything.

Remember, it’s about things getting better-relative, not better-absolute.  Even if all you can do is improve on thing out of five, that’s still up to a 20% improvement!


What are you doing that’s limited by other people? Is there anything you can do? Yeah? Well why haven’t you done it? 😉

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