Is it really more time that you need? Hacking your way to productivity

Blog by Louise Drake, Director of Programmes and Innovation at Clore Social Leadership

'Where has the time gone?', 'I’m too busy', 'If only I had more time'...How often do you find yourself saying these things? Or secretly thinking this to yourself and feeling guilty that you haven’t achieved what you set out to achieve? Or taking work home that you never got a chance to do during the ‘working’ day?

If you say these things more often than you’d like, read on.

At Clore Social Leadership, our Leadership Development Framework starts like all great leadership frameworks, requiring leaders to learn more about themselves (warts and all) before moving on to consider the other complexities involved in leading people and organisations. ‘Know Yourself, Be Yourself, Look After Yourself’ is where we start, requiring a holistic view of the ‘leader’ as a whole person. Invariably, productivity, time management and work life balance are a few topics which arise in the ‘look after yourself’ element.

‘Productivity’ is a hot topic in many spheres, not least in understanding why the UK lags behind many other nations. Whole government departments are trying to understand the UK productivity gap and how to close it. So it is no surprise that on an individual and organisational level, it is something worth spending time reviewing. In my opinion, leaders should spend time considering their own personal productivity and that of their organisation, because it is fundamental to healthy, thriving individuals and organisations doing their best work, something everyone working for social change should aim to achieve.

As part of the programmes at Clore Social, we advise Graham Allcott’s Productivity Ninja in our top list of books you should read. This month, I have embarked on a deep dive review of ‘productivity’, attending workshops with Graham and Bat-Hen G, both inspiring individuals hacking their way to productivity. I share my key learnings and top tips below and hope it gives anyone feeling overwhelmed a sense that there are solutions, and at least some inspiration for those of you reading who may already be on the productivity journey.

1. It’s about attention, not about time. We live in an age where some of the brightest minds in Silicon Valley are working on how best to grab every inch of attention from you, mostly via your phone. Manage your attention, not your time. For more on this concept, read this.

2. Once you have conquered your attention, the next thing to realise is your attention across a 24 hour period is not equal. We are humans after all and not computers, so we have rhythms and we are impacted by our biology more than we would like to believe. Jump out of bed and love the morning? Get your best ideas at 1am? Lucky larks, the working world is built for you. Night owls, figure out the system that works for you. Watch Daniel Pink talk about time here.

3. Agility. Be OK with being agile, and by that I mean, being OK with changing your own priorities and, as a leader, those of your organisation. Tech companies have been working in an agile way for a long time and we’re all starting to catch-on. It’s still hard, if you make a ‘to-do’ list of things or goals for the day, giving them up can on some level feel a bit like failure. It’s not. We live in a fast paced work. In Bat-Hen G said in her session ‘tech start-ups are used to changing their priorities on a day by day if not hour by hour basis. You may have to review your priorities a couple of times a day, in such a fast paced environment’. I’d argue that in some social change organisations that is also the case, especially for those on the frontline. You can’t know what the future will bring and it’s OK to change your task priorities on a daily basis. Note of caution - be sure to have a structure to your agility, and communication is key here for leaders if you don’t want to leave your teams in a spin. Examples of agile working practices can be found here. An interesting review of agile working can be found here.

4. Create a second-brain system. Your brain is not built for memory - allow it to do its best work, which includes creative thinking and problem solving (the stuff you are employed for and I expect you really enjoy). Creating a ‘second-brain’ has many benefits but one I’d like to pick out for leaders is the concept of being ‘Response-able’, not responsible. Of course, as leaders you have responsibility, however it is your job to be Response-able. Leadership happens in times of crisis and opportunity. You should have a system and a second brain that allows you to know what is happening and needs to be done, so if there’s an opportunity or crisis you need to deal with, you can. You have the capacity and a second brain that you can turn to and delegate the appropriate tasks and roles. Especially in moments of crisis, if you try and remember all the other things that need to be done, you won’t. The second brain system will be your best friend in so many ways and will allow you the achieve top tip 3, but allowing you to be comfortable with being more agile. Read more about second brain here.

5. Essentialism. ‘Do the right things, not everything’. This top tip may sound like it is contradicting the two above, but stay with me. If you know the broader mission and vision you want to achieve, a question to consider personally and organisationally is ‘what is my/our highest point of contribution?’. By keeping this in mind, you can learn to say no to things that do not help you achieve your mission and vision at your highest point of contribution. You can be more agile in the day to day as you can be sure you know where you are headed without knowing exactly how you will get there. When working to achieve change, saying no can be the hardest word, but for your personal and organisational impact it should be in your top words as a leader. Read the 4 minute book summary of Essentialism.

I could go on, but in my attempt to be more ‘healthily’ productive I’ll stop now.

A lot of what we look at in leadership development is changing behaviours and habits, and some of these are heavily ingrained. Try a few of these out and if you struggle at first, try, try and try again. You won’t necessarily become a productivity ninja or time hacker overnight, but having a go at a few of the top tips may well start you on your path to feeling less overwhelmed and more productive.

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