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Knowledge Economy

What’s productivity in a knowledge economy?

Here’s how we really measure productivity today, in a knowledge economy:

  • Number of emails received/sent/commented
  • Response time to emails
  • Number of meetings
  • Hours present in the office

This is the stuff we’re concerned about – on the scale of how busy we are. We measure them because they’re quantifiable. It’s what we boast and complain about. If that’s how we keep score, it’s no wonder that busyness is the main business of business.

In manual jobs, Time Spent ÷ Good Widgets produced ≡ Productivity.

What really adds value in a company where information is the main commodity? Here are some suggestions:

  • Innovation
  • Speed to execute
  • Ability to adjust rapidly
  • Problem-solving
  • Team Working
  • Learning

These are the things that companies often say they care about – the behaviours they encourage. But it’s not what we talk about among ourselves.

What gets attention at your place of work? How should we be keeping score of the things that count?



Time Perspective

Business thinking about Time Management needs updating.

Did you know that we all have a preference for the way we think about time? It’s called our Time Perspective, the concept’s been around for 25 years, with tons of top-quality cross cultural and longitudinal research. People who are Future (F) orientated make sacrifices now, that they think will benefit them in the long-term. They have career plans, pension plans, insurance plans. They’re about plans. Present Hedonists (PH) get distracted by immediate gratification. They’re good at being in the moment, and live for today, who knows what tomorrow will bring? Present Fatalists (PF) feel they have little control over their destiny, someone else is in charge of their life plan. Past Positives (PP) have a rosy, nostalgic picture of the past, the good old days. Past Negatives (PN) are, well, negative about their past, and the past in general.

“Every picture tells a story”

These 5 perspectives explain how we go about our daily lives, and how we make our choices about time use throughout the day. They’re fundamental to how we use our time at work, but also to how we do our work. Let’s have a look at the diagram above. How will this character behave at work?

They’re high PH. Reactive, present, personable. Combined with Low F – not so good at making plans or being proactive. Easily distracted by something interesting that grabs their attention, so maybe not a good finisher. Low PF – they believe they’re responsible for their destiny, won’t blame things on “the management” and will manage their own development. Medium PP and low PN – they won’t have much time for the people who remember how Project X went wrong in June 1987, or who like to reminisce about when we were a start-up working out of a garage.

“You’re failing to connect the Past, Present and Future”

Why does this matter? Next time you’re driving through a change management project, and you meet resistance, it just may be because people aren’t buying the future you’re selling. You’re failing to connect the Future with the Past and the Present, and not everyone wants to live there anyway.

“Time Management and Productivity used to be the same thing”

Psychologists have been studying Time ever since psychology became a science, yet what they have discovered mostly stays in the academic world. Business  thinking about time is still rooted in Frederick Taylor’s time and motion studies, where efficiency and productivity are still the declared goals. This worked in the 19th and early 20th century, when factory output was, literally, what counted. Time Management and Productivity used to be the same thing.

Today, most people are adding value by using their knowledge, rather than being part of an industrial process, yet we still use the same words to talk about output. This leaves no room for measuring modern concepts like innovation, problem-solving, creativity, strategic thinking, collaboration and team-working.

People who use their brains for a living, which is most of us, need a better framework for managing their time and measuring their effectiveness than working faster, harder, or longer. That’s not Working any more.

If you would like to find out more about your own Time Perspective, please leave a comment below.

Covey's 4 Quadrants

A way to prioritise, if you have time

How do you prioritise when everything seems to fall into the Urgent or Important quadrants of Stephen R Covey’s  model?

I always assume that people have seen this model before, and know how it works. I guess you can think of it as a sorting-hat for tasks. If the tasks are in the top two quadrants, they’re important, and that’s where you should spend most of your time. The bottom two quadrants are for tasks that are not important, but it’s very easy to spend a lot of time there.

This is Whack-a-Mole prioritising

If you’ve ever spent your day being busy, but not feeling like you’ve made any progress on your goals, you’ve been hanging out in the Urgent zone. You’ve been working to meet deadlines and reacting to the thing in front of you – the Boss, a phone call, an email – stuff that didn’t even make it onto your To-Do List for today. This is Whack-a-Mole prioritising.

The truth is, not everything is Urgent, we just don’t get time to stop and think “which box does this really fit in?” – all the moles have to be whacked urgently. No one stops to find out where they’re coming from in the first place. No one stops to think whether we’re in the business of whacking moles either.

Much as I like Covey’s model, in my opinion it doesn’t deal with the systemic problems that teams face – of managers saying stuff in the top right quadrant is strategically important, but their behaviour doesn’t back it up. People thinking that they need to reply to an email in a nanosecond, otherwise they’re not on the ball. Colleagues making demands and causing interruptions that cascade into a wasted day.

So how do you prioritise, when everything seems urgent?


Here are six techniques I used to coach marathon runners to get from the start line to the finish line, that you can use to move your list from “To Do” to “Done”

  1. Understand your big goal.
  2. Check your motivation.
  3. Give yourself a series of timed check points.
  4. Make some progress.
  5. Use visual cues.
  6. Incorporate rituals.

1. Understand your big goal.

Our big goal is to run 42k in a target time. To get there we need to meet some process goals (like training regularly) and some outcome goals (like hitting 10k at your pace time). Only things which move us to the big goal make it onto the list, anything else is irrelevant. Look at your To Do list and double-check that it relates to the big goal. How do “check email” and “attend weekly meeting” relate to your big goal?

2. Check your motivation.

Why are you doing this? How does it directly relate to you, and who you are? What turns “ought” into “have to”, or a duty into a necessity, for you. If you’re mostly extrinsically motivated, you’ll need some recognition from other people – make sure you get some. Intrinsically motivated people are more interested in mastering a subject, and having control over how they achieve this. Use this motivation to errr.. motivate yourself. Seriously, it’s easy to forget what’s driving you sometimes, don’t get bogged down in the minute to minute, day-to-day stuff, remember why you’re here and use it as a touchstone.

3. Give yourself a series of timed check points

The big goal might be to run 42km in 3 hours 40 minutes, but you need some check points along the way. You need them to check progress according to your time plan, and also to give yourself a pat on the back as you hit these mini goals. It’s important to review how far you’ve come, not just how far you have to go. Don’t actually try patting yourself on the back while you’re running, you’ll probably fall over.

4. Make some progress

Sometimes you just have to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. You’ve hit a wall and run out of mental tricks to motivate yourself. As Winston Churchill once said, “if you’re going through Hell, keep going”. Take a step, then another step. Walk when you get to a drinks station, but don’t stop. Do something, anything, however small, that advances you. Adjust the timing , but keep the momentum, and don’t stop. It takes sooo much effort to get going again.

5. Use visual cues

We looked at a map and turned it into an itinerary. “At 2 hours I’m running past the Berlin Opera house”. “My support group will be cheering me on at 13 miles, I can see my wife waving a banner.”

To Do list - personal kanban

My to do list is a personal Kanban – tasks move through from Backlog to Done

Here’s my visual system for work. It’s called a personal kanban – it’s ridiculously simple. Open tasks sit underneath each heading – I’ve removed them here, because you wouldn’t be able to read my writing so you can’t see my top-secret plans . I’ve found Apps and NagWare like Outlook tasks don’t work for me, because they’re static and a “Done” task just disappears. With this, one task moves from the Backlog column, through Doing, to Done. It feels more dynamic and lets me know what I’ve achieved, as well as what’s to do, which motivates me more. There are never more than five yellow sticky notes under the “Doing” sticky note.

6. Incorporate rituals

If you can make anything a habit, you don’t have to think about it. Marathoners will wear the same running shoes and use the same energy drinks or gels. They also run through the same check list before a long run or a race. Some runners have mantras that they will use to get into the right state.  They choose what to incorporate into their rituals. Some serving suggestions for you:

  • Make a review of your To Do list the night before,
  • Rehearse the first 5 minutes when you brush your teeth.
  • Remind yourself of your bigger goal before you start the day
  • Get one of the items on your list done before you dive into your email.
  • When you have your first coffee or tea, use that time to reflect on progress to date.

Feel free to make your own up, and let me know how you did.