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Mindjet Perspectives: Optimizing Business Productivity in the Modern Workplace

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Albert Einstein once said that if he were given just one hour to save the world, he’d spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution. Most people probably …

Albert Einstein once said that if he were given just one hour to save the world, he’d spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution. Most people probably wouldn’t consider that to be a shining example of productivity, but that’s a troubling perspective — productivity shouldn’t be defined by the sheer quantity of things done, especially when the value of knocking out a series of tasks is totally dependent on what they are.

What’s important about Einstein’s approach to problem-solving is that it speaks volumes about the way today’s businesses could benefit from a shift in thinking; instead of equating productivity with the desperate race to check things off a list, understanding why a solution is needed in the first place could, in the end, save us all a lot of wasted brain power. Beyond that, finding the best tools and services to facilitate productivity without falling victim to steep learning curves, unnecessary costs, and repeatedly trying to implement stale approaches that just don’t work – that’s the definition of crazy, after all – can be challenging. Moreover, the process can be frustrating and even detrimental to productivity, despite all the promise that new tools and old tricks hold.

What follows is our perspective on some of the major productivity hurdles that businesses face today, our approaches to dealing with them, and hopefully, a few tips you haven’t heard before – or at least a new twist on the ones you already know.

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  • 1. MINDJET PERSPECTIVES Optimizing Business Productivity in the Modern Workplace
  • 2. MINDJET PERSPECTIVES Intro Albert Einstein once said that if he were given just one hour to save the world, he’d spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution. Most people probably wouldn’t consider that to be a shining example of productivity, but that’s a troubling perspective — productivity shouldn’t be defined by the sheer quantity of things done, especially when the value of knocking out a series of tasks is totally dependent on what they are. JASCHA KAYKAS-WOLFF What’s important about Einstein’s approach to problem-solving is that it speaks volumes about the way today’s businesses could benefit from a shift in thinking; instead of equating productivity with the desperate race to check things off a list, understanding why a solution is needed in the first place could, in the end, save us all a lot of wasted brain power. Beyond that, finding the best tools and services to facilitate productivity without falling victim to steep learning curves, unnecessary costs, and repeatedly trying to implement stale approaches that just don’t work – that’s the definition of crazy, after all – can be challenging. Moreover, the process can be frustrating and even detrimental to productivity, despite all the promise that new tools and old tricks hold. What follows is our perspective on some of the major productivity hurdles that businesses face today, our approaches to dealing with them, and hopefully, a few tips you haven’t heard before – or at least a new twist on the ones you already know. Jascha Kaykas-Wolff Chief Marketing Officer, Mindjet 2
  • 3. MINDJET PERSPECTIVES Stop Stumbling Over These 5 Common Productivity Hurdles Because productivity is such an essential part of measuring the success of any business (and really, it always has been), you’d think we’d have figured out how to avoid the roadblocks by now. But the modern worker is only human, and despite unlimited access to advanced tools and unparalleled mobility, still tends to trip over these 5 common productivity hurdles — here’s how to avoid the proverbial crash and burn. 1. Meaningless Goals Every business is familiar with the s-curve cycle. It essentially assumes that after a start-up It’s all well and good to assign obvious, high-level goals to projects and initiatives, but think of the anarchy if those were the only goals ever spelled out. Assessing the purpose of a project does not stop at the manager’s door. The entire team, as well as any internal or external stakeholders, needs to know what you’re up to and why, what resources are required, and who’s responsible for keeping things on track. Never underestimate the importance of clarity; there’s no quicker way to thwart progress than to set someone to a task lacking defined scope and expectations. 3
  • 4. MINDJET PERSPECTIVES Stop Stumbling 2. Becoming a Perfectionist When someone has what they consider a productive day, it usually has quite a lot to do with how Over These easy it felt to be productive, not just the fact that they got a lot done. That can be a hard high to part with, but productivity is the first thing to suffer when we sit around waiting to be “in 5 Common the zone.” When a deadline is looming, sure, take advantage of those perfect mental states — but don’t put off tasks until you’re in one. Just because you don’t want to work on a particular Productivity assignment doesn’t mean you can’t. Grin and bear it, right? Hurdles 3. Thinking Too Far Into the Future The productivity rope gets knotted up especially fast when the mind starts taking on too many decisions at once. It’s important to understand desired outcomes, but end-goals are much more difficult to tie to individual project steps than they might appear. Keep it calm by making quick, short-term decisions; stuff you can live with even for just a few minutes. For example, if you’re getting caught up between mapping out resources and composing an email, drop everything and choose to do one or the other for three minutes. You’ll give yourself permission to move forward, and you’ll know that the obligation will pass quickly. 4. Focusing on What You Have, Not What You’re Creating “[Productivity is] about producing the optimal, intended or desired result using the least amount of effort or resources,” says Mindjet’s Michael Deutch. Still, “The magic isn’t only about getting things done or doing more with less; it’s about getting things done well.” That’s an important distinction that, when embraced, can inspire motivation and in turn, productivity. Try to dwell a little bit less on the checklist, and a little more on the vision. 5. Letting Leaders Call All the Shots “Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done,” said the late Peter Drucker, a renowned business management consultant and author. With the continued flattening-out of organizational hierarchies, this is less of an issue than it once was — but there are still those folks in leadership positions that demand incremental updates, multiple meetings, and hands-on involvement with team projects. This article makes an excellent point that’s hard to dismiss: because meetings are for discussion and not doing, they’re expensive, costing the combined pay of everyone in the room + a loss of productivity for the duration of the meeting. Yikes. 4
  • 5. MINDJET PERSPECTIVES Multi-Tasking is Productivity’s Biggest Killer No one in the professional world is a stranger to wishing for more time to complete a task, but with today’s technology, constant connection and consequent distraction, time is no longer our biggest problem. Instead, today we’re faced with a more self-imposed complication: multi-tasking. Take an average worker, for example. Mid-project, they likely pause in order to check their work e-mail, followed by a quick perusal of Facebook, Tumblr, and maybe a world news feed. They have a few laughs, bookmark some useful article fodder, and although their colleagues surely appreciated the quick response, all of that was at the expense of their current project. Gloria Mark, a UC Irvine professor who studies digital distraction, says it can take some people up to 23 minutes to return to their task after being interrupted. It doesn’t always take quite that long, but if you consider how many times most people fall down the rabbit hole of notifications per hour, it ends up being a lot of time lost. Have you seen my head? Once upon a time, “multi-tasking” was something you put down to enhance the Skills section of your resume. Today we don’t even think twice about it, as the technology we use in both our work and personal lives natively supports this behavior. And while it may feel like we’re doing a lot at once, Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson argue that multi-tasking is actually a misnomer. “In most situations, the person juggling e-mail, text messaging, Facebook and a meeting is really doing something called ‘rapid toggling between tasks,’ and is engaged in constant context switching.” 5
  • 6. MINDJET PERSPECTIVES Multi-Tasking is Productivity’s Biggest Killer With Mark’s findings in mind, taking a few minutes away from one task to quickly perform another probably isn’t an issue for the average consumer, but for white-collar workers, it’s a detriment to productivity. Sullivan and Thompson, along with Alessandro Acquisti, a professor of IT, and psychologist Eyal Peer at Carnegie Mellon, constructed an experiment designed to measure the brain power lost when someone is interrupted: “To simulate the pull of an expected cellphone call or e-mail, we had subjects sit in a lab and perform a standard cognitive skill test. In the experiment, 136 subjects were asked to read a short passage and answer questions about it. There were three groups of subjects; one merely completed the test. The other two were told they ‘might be contacted for further instructions’ at any moment via instant message.” During the first test, the second and third groups were interrupted twice. During the second test, only the second group was interrupted. The third group awaited an interruption that never came. To say the results were troublesome would be an understatement. Both of the interrupted groups answered correctly 20 percent less often than members of the control group, meaning interruptions made them 20 percent dumber. Business burnout is (really) real According to Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan, whose eureka moment came to him after he dropped his phone in the toilet, we simply don’t have the “mental bandwidth” to be doing more than one thing at once. “All those times that I thought I was using my time well — ‘Hey, I’ve got five minutes, let me check my email’ — I was actually using my bandwidth badly,” he said. It’s not exactly a revelation. In fact, people have been talking about the benefits of being “in the moment” for ages, but now that technology supports being in too many moments at once, perhaps it’s time for a repackaging of old advice. In terms of time and productivity, Chip Cutter of LinkedIn put it nicely: “Having precious little time doesn’t matter. Spending quality time with it does.” 6
  • 7. MINDJET PERSPECTIVES 6 Alternative Productivity Tips for Business Rebels You’ve heard it all, and probably tried it, too: the tips, tricks, approaches, and products aimed at boosting your productivity. You know that being productive means getting organized. Being prepared. Avoiding your phone. Drinking ginseng tea. It means using radial thinking and mind mapping, downloading the right apps, taking the first step, and understanding the why instead of just the what. While these are all useful tips for some, maybe they’re not useful for you. And so, for all you productivity rebels out there, we’d like to throw a wrench into the world’s common assumptions about what it means to get things done. Here are 6 alternative productivity tips to try when traditional tricks just aren’t cutting it. 1. Become a night owl. Or a morning person. Whichever one you are not. This isn’t an easy thing to do, but it’s possible to jump-start your brain by throwing it a curve ball. For many of us, productivity either happens at random or by sheer force of will; but recent studies show a clear connection between our daily habits and how productive we really are. Overcome your dullest state of mind by training yourself to work during your least fruitful time of day — you could find that your overall productivity eventually becomes less dependent on a specific and finite period, and all that extra time could lead to greater output. 7
  • 8. MINDJET PERSPECTIVES 6 Alternative Productivity Tips for Business Rebels 2. Categorize to-dos by personal preference instead of overall importance. Which of your many tasks actually appeal to you? Which one involves talking to the office birdbrain (and makes you want to tear your hair out)? Rate your tasks based on preference, and alternate between one ‘good’ task and one not-so-good — if you buck up and send that email confessing how you lost someone’s account information, you get to move on to choosing images for your blog. Think of it as a productivity sandwich. 3. Do stuff backwards (when you can). There’s an old writer’s trick that works pretty well when you just don’t know how to get started: write the ending first. Obviously, this won’t work for everything, but it can get you moving. For example, if you’re working on a typical marketing campaign, you might start by hosting a meeting to lay out the specifics of team roles and responsibilities. And while that’s perfectly logical, chances are you’re waiting to get started until everyone’s available to chat. Instead, shake it up by outlining the details of the campaign’s final outcome as best you can, and asking people to come to the meeting prepared with plans on how they’ll get there. At minimum, you’ll have clarified the end-goal well enough to help people streamline their processes (and that means greater productivity moving forward). 4. Interrupt yourself on purpose. The idea here is to turn procrastination on its head. A lot of the time, we push things off until the last minute because it’s that looming deadline that’s causing us to freeze up. Try working in short bursts (20 minutes or so) knowing that at the end of that period of time, you have to take a five-minute break to get coffee/ watch a cat video/ check Facebook. Hopefully, you’ll get on a roll because you have so little time, and you’ll blow right past that forced interruption. And if not? You give yourself permission to procrastinate a little, lessening the predictable guilt-trip. 5. Do something boring. The idea here is to turn procrastination on its head. A lot of the time, we push things off until the last minute because it’s that looming deadline that’s causing us to freeze up. Try working in short bursts (20 minutes or so) knowing that at the end of that period of time, you have to take a five-minute break to get coffee/ watch a cat video/ check Facebook. Hopefully, you’ll get on a roll because you have so little time, and you’ll blow right past that forced interruption. And if not? You give yourself permission to procrastinate a little, lessening the predictable guilt-trip. 6. Ask for help. This isn’t exactly ‘alternative’, but it’s something we could all stand to do a lot more. If you’re having a problem getting past a plateau, reach out to your colleagues and ask what they would do next. Collaboration is a proven way to move forward faster, and your coworkers might have tricks up their sleeves that will work for you. Worst-case scenario? You end up chatting for a bit and give your brain a minute to get back on track — just don’t let a quick Q&A turn into an hourlong trip to Starbucks. 8
  • 9. MINDJET PERSPECTIVES Want to know more? To find out how Mindjet can help your organization improve productivity, collaboration, innovation practices, and overall success, visit our shop and find the solution that’s right for you. Learn more about productivity and innovation by visiting Conspire, Mindjet’s company blog. 9
  • 10. MINDJET PERSPECTIVES 10
  • 11. Work Inspired Work Inspired © 2012-2013. Mindjet Inc. All rights reserved. Mindjet, the Mindjet logo, MindManager, Mindjet Connect are trademarks of Mindjet, registered in the U.S. and other countries.