Even though systems and structures matter a lot, personal productivity does make a difference in the end. Why? Because after a smart system, process or structure routes something to you, it’s now up to you to deal with it as efficiently as possible.
Even at the personal level, we can take guidance from how to make systems or processes efficient:
I want to expand on this by adding something that often gets buried inside the three: environment. Environment is just another way of saying space. Think of it as your work space and the immediate surroundings of it.
Our list now looks like this:
Here’s how I interpret this for an individual, like, you know, for myself (imagine that).
People means your own competency (knowledge, skill and experience) as well as your state of mind and emotions; your psychological and physical well being. Athletes usually attribute their success or lack thereof on their state of mind, their attitudes– how you feel about what you’re doing matters as much as how you are doing it.
Process means your personal ways of doing things, how you’ve organised activities you do often. Think of it as your personal work flow. You may have more than one, each fitted to a particular category of tasks or activities (e.g., dealing with email, writing and publishing blog posts, etc.)
Technology means tools and materials you use to assist with your work. Smart choices make for more efficient processes and better results, but only if you know how to make good use of them. So, just buying a tool is not enough, you have to learn how to use it. This brings you back to competency again – you have to keep building knowledge, skill and experience.
Environment means your place of work and it’s immediate surroundings. By this I mean, the phone in the other room, insulation from outside disturbances (or lack thereof). It is useful to think of this as a combination of an internal and an external environment.
The internal environment is what you have direct control over –it’s pretty much what’s within physical reach. The external environment is everything over which you have little or no control. It’s the outside world and it’s uncanny ability to create interruptions and disruptions at the most inconvenient times.
While you can never completely control your external environment, you can shield yourself from a lot of it. I call this building a Murphy fence and part of this exercise is to deal with one aspect of this you can control.
Maybe you can’t control what happens, but you can to a large extent decide how you want to feel about it. See how this brought us back to your psychological well being? Attitudes matter. It’s all interconnected.
Where to start
When setting out on a quest to improve personal effectiveness or productivity, it is often most useful to start with the environment. I say this for two reasons:
It has a much larger influence on your productivity than you think. (Studies show that we may waste as much as 1 to 2 hours per day just looking for stuff.)
It is very easy to see tangible and immediate results from your actions. (Absence of clutter is very visible although visible clutter is only a small part of what may be wrong with your environment).
The best way to figure out where to start is simply to decide for yourself what bugs you the most about your performance. What’s working (leave it alone) and what’s not (do something about it).
What’s not working will probably not just be in the environment category, but when in doubt, start there.
I am starting my own mini-campaign to work on things I am dissatisfied with regarding my own personal productivity. I’ll share how this unfolds as I progress. For the record, I am starting with the environment.