For the past few months, I have been thinking consistently and deliberately about how I can be more effective in my work. Though most of that time is usually spent thinking about how I can I be more productive, I do not think productive is the right word.
Productive implies doing more work, or even just being busier. When you look up the definition of productive, the stress is on producing more. You might see the word “results" in the definition of productive, but the bias is towards producing more.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe people who produce more, are generally more successful. You cannot sit on your ass, do the minimal amount of work, and expect to be successful. I think saying to oneself, “I work smarter not harder” is an excuse for taking long lunches and going home early, while everyone else stays to help one more customer, make one more sales call, or fix one more bug.
I want to be more effective, not more productive
I don’t want to just worker harder. Just do more. Just work longer hours. Just spin my wheels.
I want to be more effective.
Like you. I have plenty to do. More work than I can get done. The choices I have for work to do is enormous.
I have choices, baby.
More choices of thing to work on than I do choices of spaghetti sauce.
The question, of course is, “What to choose?"
But what is effective?
This has been on of those times when I needed to consult Peter Drucker. As I have done more than a few times in my career, I turn to Drucker for advice, in the form of his book, The Effective Executive.
I turn to Chapter 3: What Can I Contribute?
And it hits me like a ton of bricks in the opening paragraph:
“The effective executive focuses on contribution. He looks up from his work and outward towards goals. He asks: “What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and the results of the institution I serve?”
“His stress is on responsibility.”
1950s pronouns aside, this always wakes me up.
At least for a moment.
The intoxicating allure of busy
I find it easy, intoxicating, to get bogged down on everything I could do in a day. And in the quest to do more, I do a lot more tasks that make me feel busy and productive and helpful, but do not answer the question, “What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and the results of the institution I serve?”
After all, I have to prepare for that meeting at 11. I have to say “Yes” to helping create that campaign.” I have to help Cynthia with her project because she has a deadline tomorrow, and her customer needs it done.”
I am not saying these urgent tasks should be ignored (well, maybe I am), but I have been working hard to spend most of my time on the fewest tasks that can make the largest contribution to the most important results of my company (I should apply this idea to my family life, as well. Another blog perhaps?).
Every day, I struggle with the push and pull of being effective and being busy.
But I am winning more.
As Drucker advises me on page 57: “Commitment to contribution is commitment to responsible effectiveness.”
A daily effort to commit. A daily practice.
My commitment is growing. Even though, for some reason, I do not make such a definitive statement as “I will ONLY work on tasks that make a contribution to results” or “No more busy work for me” or “I will never eat fried foods again. Ever.”
Maybe you have that level of discipline. I do not. But I am consciously thinking about being more effective. Every day.
There is a deeper truth to all this, but I do not trust you enough to share that yet.