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Stop Focusing on Productivity if You Want to be Effective

Executive Summary

As the proverb goes, “life is a marathon, not a sprint.” That is easier said than believed. We’re all playing several roles and juggling a variety of responsibilities, each with their own list of tasks associated with them.

  • To manage our schedules without losing our sanity, management consultants, Rosemary Tator and Alesia Laton, recommend separating effectiveness from productivity.  
  • We shouldn’t want to be effective merely to accomplish more things. If the things we are accomplishing don’t align with our values, we won’t be satisfied.
  • When we are clear on what is important to us, we will not only be more effective with the resources we have, but we will also be more productive.

There is a difference between being effective and being productive. Productivity is a measure of how much you do with the resources you have in a given amount of time. Being productive means you are producing something. You can be productive on a manufacturing line, or while writing a report, or by improving your sales results. Productivity can be a static number or quota.

Effectiveness, on the other hand, is like a muscle: something you can flex and build. Effectiveness is an ability; it is a measure of how you engage in a set of actions that produces the desired outcome. It is also a skill that has gone largely unexamined in terms of what we mean by being ‘‘effective in life.’’ Being effective means that you choose what you focus on and where you place your efforts in order to cause an intentional effect on your life.

To be effective, you must first ask yourself, ‘‘What do I want to accomplish?’’ You cannot be effective without consciously choosing to be. This book [More Time for You] examines effectiveness as it relates to managing your minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, and life. We’ll look at specific areas of our lives that cause stress and anxiety—for example, e-mail, clutter, the inability to choose priorities, and the lack of planning.

Learning to Choose

One of the muscles required to lead an effective life is choice. Choices that you resist making will persist. For instance, countless e-mails in your inbox are going to persist until you make some choices about them or until your system manager or company policies choose for you and cut you off from receiving or sending any more messages.

The holiday season gives us a good example of the difference between effectiveness and productivity. How many people do you know who complete all their shopping, send all their cards, spend weeks decorating their houses, and then find when the holidays are over, they are left wondering, ‘‘All that for this?’’ In the end the holidays are a huge letdown. These people were incredibly productive, yet all that productivity didn’t result in a satisfying experience. Perhaps they were not especially effective at enjoying and relishing the holidays with family and friends. What if, right now, you pulled out your calendar for October, November, and December and scheduled time for buying holiday cards, editing your list, and writing and mailing your cards? What if you scheduled time to make a list of everyone you were going to buy presents for? And, while you’re at it, what if you scheduled time on three evenings and four weekend days to go holiday shopping? How would that change your experience of the holidays? What if you completed your shopping and shipping by the first of December, leaving you the whole month to enjoy the holidays, the parties, and extra time with your family? What would that experience be like? Maybe you are already a careful planner for the holidays. What if you were able to plan new rituals such as a spa day or a ski trip to replenish yourself? Maybe you could visit a nursing home, a children’s hospital, or a homeless shelter to spread some goodwill.

Meaning Fuels the Desire to be Effective 

Being effective is not only about getting things done, but also about enjoying what is important to us. Our inability or unwillingness to schedule the time to plan major events in our lives, such as holidays, contributes to our harried schedules. Having insufficient time to get everything done leaves us with the experience of not feeling satisfied with life. It’s the lack of choosing that contributes to our sense of being overwhelmed and stressed out, of falling behind, and any other terms we may use to describe not being in control of our lives. Effectiveness is our key to experiencing a sense of accomplishment, pride, and peace. At the end of the day, ask yourself, ‘‘Did I operate in a way consistent with my vision, purpose, or goals in life? Did I make a difference?’’ Or are you left with the nagging notion of, ‘‘I didn’t even start half of what I set out to do today. I left a mountain of work behind me. And, oh, I remembered something else that I promised to do but forgot.’’

We need to set up our lives for effectiveness and structure our time so that we can have the life we want to live. Effectiveness is at the core of living a satisfying life. You make choices from moment to moment; you set a compass to guide your life. Along the way, you may encounter rough seas and may have to correct or change your course to navigate through them. The core practices in this book [More Time for You] will support you in being effective and productive and, more than anything, happy with the life that you’re living. At the core of being effective is the ability to make choices.

Quantity vs. Quality

When my daughter was young, I, Rosemary, was a working single mom who was trying to somehow get it all done. I was always in a rush to get to work, to the store, and to school, and I felt caught up in a whirlwind that never stopped. When I picked my daughter up from child care, I was still winding down from work, rushing home to cook dinner and help her with homework, and then off to bed. One evening, as I kissed her good-night, I had an epiphany. I realized that I had snagged my daughter into my whirlwind and she was spinning as fast as I was. I knew that if I didn’t do something to stop the swirl, we were going to miss out on sharing a whole part of our lives together. I instituted what we called ‘‘us time’’—a time with no other responsibilities or distractions, a time for us to converse each day. Picking her up from child care on my way home from work became our special time together. I turned off the radio as we drove so that we could talk, and she would tell me what was happening in her life. It was our way to reconnect and transition from business executive and student to Mom and Daughter. Obviously, that wasn’t the only time we were alone together, but that short time in the car was a wonderfully effective way to experience something truly important together.

With just twenty-four hours in a day, having even a half hour dedicated to being ‘‘in the moment’’ with someone important to you can be the true definition of quality time. We think of time as something that can be controlled or manipulated, and that, by doing so, we’ll be able to accomplish all of our goals. In truth, we have much more to do than time to do it in. All the time management in the world cannot counteract the reality that there are only twenty-four hours in a day, of which about eight are usually designated for sleep. The source of productivity isn’t the quantity of things that you complete; it’s completing the things that deliver the most quality in the ways that you measure quality.

For instance, you could measure quality in terms of satisfaction or in terms of impact. It is important to redefine what is important in terms of quality. It is easy to fool ourselves into thinking that as long as we are checking off items on our lists, we are doing all right. That’s only half the story; the other half is about being mindful of what’s truly important in our lives.

How Effectiveness Increases Productivity

A natural outcome of being clear about what’s important to you, and of consciously choosing what you are doing and setting yourself up to do it with all of your resources, is that you will be much more productive. The key to increasing your productivity (i.e., your output) is to work on your effectiveness. Last March, a client sent us a bouquet of ten beautiful red and white tulips. When we got them, the directions said to cut off the ends and put them in fresh warm water. We followed the directions, and all day long we had a touch of spring in the office. The next day, we were out of the office and unable to water the flowers. When we returned, the tulips had all drooped down around the vase. It was sad to see them wilted like that; they were so vibrant the day before and a welcome addition to the office. We took them out of the vase, clipped their ends again, and poured in fresh warm water. The next morning, the tulips were again standing up straight in their vase as though nothing had ever happened.

We like to think of that story in terms of effectiveness. Flowers are designed to bloom; all they need are the right conditions: water, nutrients, and sunlight. As human beings, we are designed to be effective and productive. What gets in our way is that we don’t create the right conditions in our life to be effective and productive, and so we wilt, like a flower without enough water. Once we restore the conditions that optimize our effectiveness, we find our productivity in bloom again. You will learn in later chapters [of
More Time for You] about the different kinds of support you can create for yourself to restore the conditions you need.

Excerpted with permission from More Time for You: A Powerful System to Organize Your Work and Get Things Done by Rosemary Tator and Alesia Laton.

Bring It Home

“I don’t have time to write my own stories,” I said to a friend over almondmilk lattes. This was a common complaint of mine. With a background in journalism and career in marketing for other businesses, I made a living out of telling other people’s stories. “Is the problem a lack of time, or using your time on the wrong things?” my friend rebutted. I took a sip and pondered her question.

I’m a planner-toting millennial who can’t say no - truly a deadly combination. My to-do lists are ambitious, and I am often unable to get through them each day. Like paid time off or credit card points, the tasks get rolled over and compound until it outpaces my currency.

- HarperCollins Leadership Essentials

Rosemary Tator and Alesia Laton

Rosemary Meehan Tator, principal partner of 2beffective™ LLC, provides her clients with the keys to increasing their effectiveness while reducing their stress. Her clients include AT&T, IHS, Bright Horizons, SolidWorks, and major financial services companies.

Alesia Latson, as principal of the Latson Leadership Group, has been studying and practicing the art and science of leadership and organizational development for over 20 years. She has held management and organizational development roles in Fortune 100 financial services organizations and healthcare.

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