Time is our most scarce resource. Yet many of us don’t think about how we are spending that time.
One of the key resources I found to be extremely helpful while I reflected on my personal workflow is “A Factory of One” by Daniel Markovitz. What makes Markovitz’ book unique is his application of lean manufacturing principles to the office environment. He illustrates how office workers can benefit from the same methods to boost productivity factory workers use. I highly recommend reading the book and spending some time thinking about how you can work smarter every day, rather than harder.
Here are five of my key takeaways from the book:
1. Think about the 4Ds when you get a new task
Do it – If you can finish something in <2 minutes, take care of it immediately.
Delegate it – If there’s another person who can do it better than you, have them do it.
Designate it – If the task will take a significant amount of time, set up a time to finish it.
Discard it – Markovitz stresses that we all need to be ruthless in ignoring and eliminating tasks that add minimal value.
2. Turn off email/phone alerts
Turning off the alerts on my phone and email was extremely hard at first. I thought I couldn’t do it. No way could I not be plugged into what was going on, right?!
My GSB professor, Ed Batista, challenged me to try it for a day and see what happens. So I did … and I loved it. While I still check my phone a lot (more than I should), not having the flashing lights from a new notification (on a message that is probably not that urgent) allows me to focus much more on the task at hand.
I encourage you to take the plunge for 24 hours … and see what happens.
3. Live in your calendar, not your email box
Markovitz suggests setting up your Outlook email so that the first screen that pops up is your calendar rather than your emails. If you do that, he says that you focus much more on the key tasks you have to get done in a proactive way, rather than reacting to the random requests and distractions that pop up. The key idea here is to own your time rather than give it out to others in a reactionary way.
4. Use the 5 Whys
One of the core tools from lean manufacturing is to try to get to the root cause of an issue rather than just focus on the surface level problems. To do this, workers have to ask “why?” and respond to each of those questions to find out what really caused the problem.
You can use the 5 Whys in the workplace. For example, if you struggle with getting a report done on time, your thought process may be:
Q: Why didn’t I finish this report for Tuesday?
A: Because I had no time.
Q: Why didn’t I have the time?
A: Because John wanted me to help him.
Q: Why did John want me to help him?
A: I’m the only one who knows how to fill out the inventory reports.
Q: Why am I the only one who knows how to fill out the inventory reports?
A: Nobody else has been trained to do it.
Q: Why hasn’t anyone else been trained to do it?
A: Because I haven’t taken the time to train anyone.
As this example shows, the true issue is a lack of training on inventory reports, not that a random request for help came up. Therefore, you can focus on solving the root issue so that you can truly increase your productivity in the long-term.
5. Allocate tasks throughout your day based on your personal productivity
Markovitz may not explicitly talk about this in the book, but I have found it to be extremely helpful in being more productive.
Each of us is more productive at some times of the day than others. For example, I’ve always been a morning person, and I try to put the most demanding tasks I have for that day in the morning when I feel the freshest and most alert. In contrast, my energy levels dip in the mid-afternoon, so I schedule the more routine and less cognitively demanding tasks I have to do then.
Each of us is different, but reflecting on the times of day in which you are most productive and then matching the task to the energy level can make you far more productive.