The Secret to Peak Productivity

A Simple Guide to Reaching Your Personal Best

The Secret to Peak Productivity

Author: Tamara Myles
Pub Date: February 2014
Print Edition: $16.00
Print ISBN: 9780814433850
Page Count: 224
Format: Paper or Softback

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Excerpt

Chapter 1

Steps to Productivity

What distinguishes a professional organizer or productivity consultant from a decluttering or cleaning service? Professional organizers transfer skills rather than simply complete tasks. You might pick up a handy tip or two from an office cleaning service, but that is not their goal. Office cleaners do not want to transfer skills or offer tools and train their way out of a job.

At every client appointment, professional organizers strive to transfer skills, teach systems, and explain processes. They are committed to empowering their clients with the necessary skills to achieve their best organization system. Empowerment is always top of mind because consultants want their clients to achieve success. Success only happens when consultants explain systems and processes in a way that helps their clients organize their environments in their own way, and a way that works for them.

One of my earliest clients, Cindy, called me, saying, ''My office is a disaster. I need you to come help me organize my office. Things have gotten so crazy that I am in the office every night until eleven o'clock. I'm just trying to catch up with what's happened that day, and I never get to the piles of papers around me. I need to feel in control, and I think everything will be okay if I can just dig out from under all of this paper.''

When I arrived for my appointment with Cindy, I found a small bedroom that she had turned into her office. She had a desk with a computer, phone, and an inbox on it. Across from the desk were wall shelves, and there was a filing cabinet. The doors of the closet had been removed. All I could see were piles of papers. They were stacked on the desk, on top of the filing cabinet, on the wall shelves, on the floor, as well as piled in the closet.

We started working, and it was clear to me, just from the first half hour of my assessment, that it wasn't just papers causing her problems. She had a time management problem as well. The papers were a side effect, a symptom of larger problems, but it was the piles of papers that bothered her. The most common reason people call me is because they think they need help getting their physical space organized, the clutter of papers, books, and other materials in the office. Usually, they cannot see the whole picture because they are focused on the symptoms, and that's what triggers them to call. The physical clutter gets to the point where it's too much, and it is too overwhelming and becomes stressful. That's why Cindy called.

Very gently, I shared my observations. "You know, paper is often a symptom of bigger issues,'' I said. We looked at her calendar book and her system to keep track of tasks. There were Post-it notes everywhere, and notes on other pieces of paper stuck with tape or propped next to the telephone. She did not have a system to keep track of calls. If somebody left a message and she needed to return the call, she put a Post-it on her computer screen, desktop, or phone handle to remind herself. There were piles and piles of papers, including especially important files that she couldn't lose. The first thing we tackled was the physical clutter.

Nearly 90 percent of the people who call for help initiate that first call because they feel overwhelmed by physical clutter. Some clients are happiest to have someone come in and clean up their offices, file their papers, make everything look tidy, leaving them with an office that's cleaner. Others welcome the opportunity to find a lasting solution for managing their incoming papers, mail, and other documents. In other words, some clients call and want a Band-Aid for the symptom; others are ready to endeavor to find the root cause of the issue so that they can become empowered to develop lasting solutions to their productivity issues. One thing became apparent to me over the years working as a professional organizer: It was rare that anyone was ready to deal with the other issues, such as electronic clutter and time management, until a person's physical clutter was brought under control.

When I discovered that there was a flow to introducing the various strategies for achieving physical organization, electronic organization, and so on, I was excited. It felt as though I had made a novel discovery. Sitting across from my husband explaining my findings, I was sounding him out on suggestions for how I could explain this process to my prospective clients. He quietly said, ''You've heard of Maslow's pyramid, haven't you?''

Maslow's Pyramid

Unless you've been to business school to study management, or studied psychology, sociology, or another field that focuses on human behavior, you are probably only casually aware of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Like me, you probably haven't spent a lot of time applying his theories in the real world. In his 1943 psychological research studies on what motivates people, Abraham Maslow discovered there is a logical order of needs that have to be satisfied before people can be motivated to the next level. He identified five levels, starting with the most essential needs:

1. Physiological. The most basic needs that people experience are the essentials for their survival, such as air, food, drink, shelter, sex, and sleep. They need to satisfy these needs before they are motivated to be concerned about the next level.

2. Safety. Once people's physiological needs are met, then security becomes important, including personal and financial security, health, and well-being.

3. Love and Belonging. Next in the hierarchy of needs that motivate us are relationships, such as work, group, family, and partner.

4. Esteem. Both self-esteem and respect from others are among the needs identified in the next level.

5. Self-Actualization. The highest level that motivates people is fulfilling their greatest potential.

Most often Maslow's hierarchy of needs is expressed as a pyramid with the most essential needs expressed in the lowest level. Figure 1-1 illustrates his philosophy of the relationship between the different types of needs. For example, people who don't feel loved or a sense of belonging (level 3) will not have self-esteem or feel respected by others (level 4). You cannot convince people to possess self-esteem unless they achieve the love and belonging needs in the third level first. People need to fulfill each level, starting with physiological needs, before being motivated to move up the pyramid and achieve the next level.

The strategy for fulfilling a more productive life follows a similar pattern. People have to satisfy, to some extent, competency with one level before they can move on to the next. That led me to create a structure that mirrors Maslow's pyramid, using what I have learned working with so many clients to help them improve and enhance their productivity. It's called the Peak Productivity Pyramid™ system.

The Productivity Pyramid

The Peak Productivity Pyramid™ System defines the motivational relationship among five areas of productivity. It is a holistic and comprehensive approach to productivity that starts with streamlining your basic organizational systems and moving up the pyramid, working toward developing goals for different possibilities in your life. The Peak Productivity Pyramid System is a unique and proven framework to take people who want to improve their productivity through the journey of aligning their daily activities to their goals and objectives.

Here are the Peak Productivity Pyramid's five levels, starting with the first level:

1. Physical Organization. The process begins with managing the accumulation of documents, magazines, mail, notes, and books. In the business world, this is the primary need that draws people into improving their productivity.

2. Electronic Organization. Having systems in place for handling your online information--all the different ways we have to -communicate, store, and retrieve information electronically--is essential to success at the next level.

3. Time Management. This is the most common need associated with productivity. Time management involves managing tasks and appointments, to-do lists, calendars, and what you do in a given day.

4. Activity-Goal Alignment. The tasks at this level are setting goals, both business and personal, and then aligning what you do each day to fulfill those goals.

5. Possibility. Similar to self-actualization in the Maslow hierarchy, the fifth level of the Peak Productivity Pyramid is the culmination of mastering the previous four levels. Level 5 is not something to be achieved or a place to be; rather, possibility is the continual examination and goal-setting process on the path to fulfilling your potential.

The Peak Productivity Pyramid illustrates the way people approach productivity level by level. Although it is a series of five levels, the Peak Productivity Pyramid (see Figure 1-2) is not always exclusively a linear path. Given the busyness of our lives, the distractions we experience, and how our physical and electronic worlds are constantly evolving, there will always be ways to improve productivity.

Even after mastering a productivity level, it is helpful to revisit each level occasionally. It's easy to backslide and fall into old habits, especially when life gets extremely busy. It's important to check whether you continue to implement the systems you have in place. Other times you might want to backslide on purpose. You may need to reassess whether the systems you have in place are meeting your current needs. Particularly with the speed at which technology evolves, a tool that worked very well for a while could be made obsolete by a new app or program that better aligns with your methods of managing electronic information or your time. New strategies and capabilities introduce new tactics for increasing your productivity. As the scope of your goals and the resulting activities change, you might need different systems to accommodate those differences in what you do.

In most cases, when I start working with a client, the most pressing needs for improving productivity are quickly apparent. The exact needs and the outcome will be as varied as the people who undertake their own journey toward peak productivity. Not every path is a smooth one.

The Challenge of Change

Cindy was very challenged by change. A short time after our initial project together, her business expanded and she was preparing to move from her home office into a professional office park. She asked for my help in setting up her new environment before the move, so that it would be ready to handle her expanding business needs.

To start, we set up a well-planned physical structure, using shelving, filing cabinets, and other storage containers. We revisited systems for sorting and filing documents. We looked at the business's electronic files and established filing systems that mirrored their physical counterparts. We created a shared electronic calendar for all employees and developed processes and systems for training new hires. When we finished, it was a state-of-the-art business setup.

It wasn't long, though, before Cindy called and told me that she needed more help. Once again she was buried by physical clutter, her e-mail and electronic scheduling systems were disorganized, and she was failing to execute effectively on her business deliverables. My first reaction was to assume that the systems we'd chosen weren't working for her, but upon further analysis it was clear that she just wasn't ready to embrace change. The lesson learned is that unless you are ready for change, and are willing to implement and learn the systems you put in place, the papers will continue to pile up, e-mail will continue to overwhelm you, and deadlines will continually be missed. Unless you commit to the process, you may never find out what other changes would help you to be more productive and help you achieve your greater goals.

Climbing the Peak Productivity Pyramid Levels

I met John when I first moved into town. He was a forty-year-old successful entrepreneur, and we hit it off right away, so we stayed in touch.

By coincidence, he approached me with some networking ideas just as I was transitioning my business from residential organizing to business productivity training. Before he could introduce me and my services to the community, John wanted to learn more about my business and what I do. As I explained how I had been helping several clients achieve greater productivity, he was quite direct with me and said, ''I don't think there is anything you could do for me, though. I'm on top of my goals; I'm so organized. I'm very type A, you know.'' This confidence and directness is one of the many reasons John and I get along so well. I did, however, see his candor as a direct challenge and an intriguing opportunity. Does the Peak Productivity Pyramid System only work for people with acute problems, or could I actually help a high-performing person reach the possibility level?

At our first meeting in his office, I asked him, "Okay, show me. How do you organize your day? And what do you do in a day? What scheduling systems do you use?''

When John showed me how he kept track of his appointments and followed up with clients, one of his routine tasks jumped out at me as being overly complex. I made a quick suggestion that he implemented right away. That one change saved him two hours a week. Since John puts a high value on his time and assesses what it's worth, two hours per week was a serious time savings.

"Well, maybe we should work together,'' he suggested.

John has been a steady client ever since. While the frequency of our interactions vary, based on where he is in his business cycle, John does hold continuous improvement as a top priority in his business and personal life. Because I saw firsthand that his office was immaculate, we skipped the first level of productivity improvement, physical organization, and began at level 2, electronic organization.

Even though he was extremely organized electronically to handle his e-mail and schedule, we implemented techniques that streamlined some of the ways he was managing other electronic information. Being more efficient is very appealing to a type A personality such as John. He is always striving to be better, to be his best.

When we tackled level 3, time management, we worked specifically on delegation. His work on delegation was essential to support his activity--goal alignment (level 4). John had been so focused on his business that he hadn't set goals for his personal life and his relationships. He spent time with his family, but there were other areas he hadn't been paying attention to. One of his primary goals was to reduce his workweek from fifty hours to thirty hours while maintaining the same level of productivity, so he could spend time on those other aspects of his life.

Today, no one knows he's only working in his business thirty hours a week, but he is. He is delegating much more than he used to, and as a result, he no longer works on weekends. When he reached his goal, I asked him, "Now that you're working thirty hours a week, what are you going to do with the newly found twenty hours? If you don't have a purpose, then you're going to waste them with stuff you have no idea you're even doing.''

That was when he reached level 5--possibility. Part of the exercise of possibility was sitting down with him and doing time logs so that he could clearly see where his time was going. Once he knew how he was using the time, he could then shift those hours to what he wanted to do. But first he needed to figure out how to use the twenty hours. What new activities would fill that available time? Once he figured that out, he could align his activities to his goals. Now he knows that he will use the time for his spiritual activities, journaling, relationships, and other specific, important activities he didn't have time for before. That was John's path to possibility.

Possibility, or achieving your full potential, is always a work in progress. You need to examine your goals often enough to be sure they are still what you want, and that there aren't new, more important goals. It is easy to fall into old patterns and behaviors, backsliding away from what is most important to you. You can read John's full story, from his perspective, in the last chapter of this book.

There are several lessons to learn from John's experience:

* You can't always be sure what level is the best place to start. Where do you have mastery and where can you learn new skills that will help you be more productive?

* Even when you think you have mastered a level, there will be other skills to learn that will make you more productive. The path isn't always linear, moving directly up the pyramid. It is a good idea to check in periodically at each level to see if you are being as efficient as you can be.

* Possibility and activity-goal alignment are iterative processes and part of a continuous exercise to be certain you are achieving your ultimate goals.

Not everyone starts at the first level. Everyone has different primary and secondary needs for improving productivity, which is why people will move through the levels at their own pace. For those who review and hone their skills throughout the first four levels, the payoff of achieving peak productivity is worth it. People need to address the first four levels of productivity before they can access the possibility level, and once they do, they will be open to business-changing, life-changing opportunities.

Reaching the possibility level means that instead of always responding to crises, you have your life in control. You are working on what is most important for you to accomplish your goals in an environment that is organized and supports your best work. The first step is to figure out what you need to improve. That is, which level of the Peak Productivity Pyramid should you start with on your path to peak productivity?

Productivity Pointers

* Just like Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the Peak Productivity Pyramid System recognizes that people need to fulfill each level before being able to advance successfully to the next.

* There is no right level for beginning your journey; you need to discover your productivity strengths and weaknesses to find the right level for you to start.

* Everyone's journey will be different. The process can be iterative and learning will be continuous.

* Before climbing the Peak Productivity Pyramid, you must be ready for change; nothing will happen without being ready to replace what is not working with something that will work.

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