Make a plan: productivity without purpose is pointless

Spring 2012 sees the return of the planning retreat. This year we have a new format running the retreat over two days with an overnight at the beautiful Hawthbush Farm. Click here for full details.

In the meantime, Steve Hearsum invites you to stop work and consider, is there any purpose to what you do?

Planning & productivity without purpose is pointless

One of the challenges of running a business, particularly if you spend a large amount of time on your own, is making the best use of time. I am a Jedi Master when it comes to the art of drawing out making a cuppa, and have recently discovered the re-runs of Undercover Boss on C4 in the morning (hey, the school run is exhausting…).

And procrastination and avoidance is hardly exclusive to me, or you. Many organisations I have worked with strive for efficiency and high performance, throwing time and money at processes, technology, paperwork and productivity training, and yet still end up flailing, or full of people expert at looking like they are efficient whilst delivering less. Even if you embrace the art of Accelerated Productivity or other free productivity tools (e.g. Remember the Milk), it may not actually help you get where you want to go, individually or organisationally, and even more damaging is the tendency to pursue action at all costs whilst ignoring what in reality matters to you.

What, I hear you cry, has this got to do with my own productivity/action/success/delivery etc?

“When it comes to motivation, there’s a gap between what science knows and business does.”

Daniel Pink, Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us

What doesn’t motivate us, and therefore lead to increased productivity and performance, is ‘carrot & stick’, except if you are working in a job requiring routine, repetitive, manual tasks. If you need to work creatively, or use your brain in pretty much any way, being productive and performing to a high level requires three conditions to be met:

  • Autonomy – the desire to direct or own lives
  • Mastery – the urge to get better and better at something that matters
  • Purpose – the yeaning to do what we do in service of something larger than ourselves

In other words, finding out what matters to you is crucial if you are going to get where you want to go and develop a plan that you will actually follow. The problem is, conventional approaches to planning and productivity just don’t cut it for two main reasons.

Reflection is discounted or ignored as a business tool, at a huge cost to us at a human level, and organisationally. I regularly get push back or looks of incredulity when I tentatively suggest to clients that maybe the answer to doing more is to do less. And yet all my experience shows me that the most intractable issues are often the ones that require us to slow down and step back in order to see what is really in front of us.

Meaning in the workplace is largely un-disscussable. But here’s the thing: we are meaning making machines, so you do this anyway. The question is not whether your making meaning in relation to work, it is whether what you do is aligned with your wider career goals and what really matters to you.

Which brings me back to Undercover Boss. Aside from the emotional payoff at the end of each episode where a wealthy business owner gets to do ‘nice stuff’ for a few valued employees, what strikes me is that the people that tend to get rewarded for their loyalty, hard work and attitude, are those who have the strongest motivation and awareness of what matters to them personally. For some it is caring for family, old and young, others it is mission driven e.g. community projects, or more personal stories such as the recovering alcoholic whose journey spurs him on to help prevent others falling into the same traps as he did.

So here is my question to you: what matters to you, and how does that fit in with your work? And if you know the answer, how good is your plan to get the most out of that, personally, professionally, organisationally and in business?

Steve Hearsum – People Who Do Associate

To book a place on our next retreat starting on the 21st of March you can either click here to find out more, email us, or call on 01273 252550.