(5 mins read)

More with less…

Faster and better…

Do it today, not tomorrow…

Have you experienced situations where you were pushed to do more, faster, or with fewer resources?

I am almost 100% sure that every one of us has experienced situations wherein we had to deal with higher expectations, to work towards shorter deadlines or to deliver more with smaller teams. We shouldn’t be surprised that anything like that happens; it’s a result of an ongoing effort to improve productivity and efficiency of any business operations.

On the other hand, there are some elements of the efficiency puzzle which are constant and have not changed during centuries. We have one head, two hands and there are 24 hours each day; that’s all! This is invariable and whatever we do, it will not change soon.

If there are some obvious limitations in resources we have to deal with higher demand or expectations, we need to find new ways of working, we need to search for the Holy ‘Business’ Grail: “How to work smarter, not harder?” Many smart people have tried and they were able to implement lots of techniques or systems improving our productivity. Let’s name a few: overtime, working during weekends, multitasking, using technology, delegating, outsourcing, etc.. When we implement new ways of working and we gain some efficiency, the bar of expectations is moving higher and higher. It’s like an infinite productivity game, where there is no end, no relief and no winner. It’s an ongoing process of continuous challenge where creativity and innovation plays a critical role.

Let me share below some learning and best practices from my efficiency journey. Hopefully, it will resonate with many of you and it will help you to improve your leadership efficiency and productivity.

Some time ago, when I had my first opportunity to manage a team, I started using the Eisenhower Matrix, named after Dwight D. Eisenhower (34th President of the United States) who used and promoted this approach. This method was easy and simple. At the beginning, there was a need to evaluate all tasks from urgent/not urgent and important/not important point of view and place each task in the appropriate quadrants.

As a result, all tasks are grouped in four categories:

  • Focus – important and urgent tasks should be done immediately and dealt with personally
  • Plan – not urgent but important tasks will be done personally later
  • Delegate – not important and urgent tasks should be delegated
  • Ignore – not important and not urgent tasks should be dropped.

Simplicity and clarity brought by this approach were so powerful and it helped me and my team to discuss and allocate tasks among all team members. We enjoyed a harmony of collaboration and efficiency.

After some time, we observed that changes impacting our personal and professional life had accelerated. Our calendars, or “to do” lists, became full or overloaded. However, there was one interesting issue: the acceleration was not algorithmic but exponential. Internal or external factors – information noise, multiple priorities, higher demands, technology, AI or communication tools – disrupted our ways of working significantly. Our physical or virtual desks have got overflowed with an increasing number of priorities, ad hoc projects or urgent tasks and we learned that it was impossible to continue using the Eisenhower Matrix. We were pushed out of our comfort zone and we had to find a solution to a problem which was impacting our work/life balance and productivity.

As a result we changed our ways of working, however it was not a revolution but rather an evolution.

The Working SMARTER Matrix

The virtue of the issue remains the same: we were dealing with urgent or not urgent issues which are important or not important continuously. First, we had to find answers to some basic questions:

How to eliminate all the noise and distractions?

How not to lose focus?

How to allocate more brain power and attention to the most critical issues?

How to delegate in a smart way?

How to free up some time.

After many discussions we modified our team’s ways of working to maximise productivity and introduced the Working SMARTER Matrix.

The first, and most important task, is to reduce the number of top priorities. It’s easy to say and extremely difficult to execute as these days everything is a priority. Out-of-the-box thinking led me to a conclusion that a key to success is changing the perspective: less horizontal focus and MORE vertical focus. It translates into having a maximum of 2-3 power priorities instead of having 10 top priorities. We have to identify two or three of the most impactful projects/tasks into which we invest our brain power and time – we go deeper in figuring out solutions. How do you define a power priority? It should be something which will impact culture, organization effectiveness, leadership or talent in a significant factor. Less powerful priorities which will have more impact on our ways of working.

Another important topic is planning for the future. However, it’s less about planning and more about anticipating and thinking forward. Why, because today’s future plans may not be relevant or valid tomorrow. It’s more about prediction of upcoming challenges, customer needs or talent requirements. Once we engage in a dialogue on what could be critical for our success in the future, we should invite smart people at the table, allocate our brain power and time into going deeper into those business opportunities or challenges.

Working smarter means also giving people you work with more space for their leadership and decisions. We should stop delegating and we need to empower people more. They are experts who understand those issues or challenges which are close to them, not you. As a leader, our task would be to discuss with them all roles and responsibilities and to agree on ways of working. Set up a system which will support empowerment, which will create more leaders and which will democratize the decision process in any organization. Empowerment will speed up the decision process and what is more important, it will increase the quality of decisions. And don’t forget about one element, empowerment does not mean delegate and disappear. You have to be available to them if they need some help, to discuss something, or are struggling with an issue or a bigger problem.

Focusing and working smarter will not work without us cleaning up our mental space. We are bombarded with new information, new requests, information noise every second. However, we need to forget and not ignore. If we ignore it, our subconscious mind will be still “busy” and it will be coming back to everything we decided to ignore. So don’t ignore but just simply forget about everything which is not in your “focus” or “think forward” zones. Be super assertive, apologize and decline all not important meetings, calls or skip some super sexy but totally useless initiatives or projects.

In our case the above improvement worked really well. It looks like right now we are a bit ahead of the Infinitive Efficiency Game. But for how long???

If you are interested in going deeper into habits improving individual efficiency please explore the links below:

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