Why do you do What you do? The Practice of Personal Productivity

Ken Haigh  —  September 12, 2011 — 6 Comments

For the second quarter in a row, worker productivity was down according to this month’s U.S. Labor Department report. For the second quarter, labor productivity (i.e. output per hour) declined at an annual rate of 0.7 percent due to the fact that output did not keep pace with the rising number of hours worked. At a macro level, this might be a good sign since employers can no longer squeeze more output from their overworked labor force and will have to create jobs to increase output.

At an individual level, though, something else is happening. The result of a weaker economy has taken a toll on today’s workforce. According to the latest Well-Being Index (WBI), the Work Environment Index (e.g. job satisfaction, ability to use one’s strengths, treatment, and environment) has remained at an all-time low, resulting in the sixth consecutive month of lowest recorded scores in the history of the WBI.

We have increased our workload and responsibility due to pressure from our employers and a competitive job market. In addition, due to cost cutting, we often do not have the necessary resources to accomplish our tasks. We have become overburdened and are frustrated with our work environment and our inability to get stuff done. We have lost productivity.

So, is our productivity (or lack thereof) purely a result of our situation? I believe the answer is no. The current situation has just exposed our underlying issues and motivations.

Why do you do What you do?
In the The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, authors Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer describe the inner work life system, “When something happens at work – some workday event – it immediately triggers the system: the cognitive, emotional, and motivational processes.” (p. 37)

Figure 2-2 from the Progress Principle (p. 38)

Our perception of an event, our emotional reaction, and ultimately our intrinsic motivation (motivation that comes from inside you) will drive performance and productivity – not our situation.* We are responsible for our own actions. There are no perfect work environments. As a result, the best productivity system in the world is not enough to make you go without the proper motivation and response. Think of a muscle car. You may own a car with 580-horsepower supercharged, 6.2-liter V8 engine with “barely street-legal” performance tires. If the car does not have fuel, it will not go.

Here are some tips on how I attempt to manage my inner work life:

  • Perception – I try to a make a habit of assuming that others have good intentions. Granted at times, this is hard to do. I also assume that in the end, everything will work out for good.
  • Emotion – I try to react appropriately to both negative and positive emotions. Often it is easy to over react to a situation when someone “throws a rock into our pond.” Like water, we should ripple in accordance with the size of the rock and return to a steady state. In addition, we should avoid becoming over confident when in a good mood.
  • Intrinsic Motivation – I believe that I am called to my role and responsibility. As a result, my work is significant and meaningful. When I act in accordance with what I believe, value, and speak, the next right action becomes clear. I believe my activity should be for the benefit of others and in harmony with all of my life. I am also motivated by challenging activities.

In the next post, we will look at the principles of personal productivity and the benefits. Question for you: How do you manage your inner work life?

* Since the Progress Principle was written to managers, the authors spend the majority of their time trying to help managers control the environment (the situation). The authors continue to explain that the single most powerful key event in the influence of an employee’s inner work life is progress in meaningful work. They also argue negative events such as setbacks, hinderances, and toxic environments significantly undermine an employee’s inner work life. I agree with the importance of making daily progress and removing setbacks. In fact, the system I use helps in this regard.
  • Charles Causey

    My productivity is hampered when I:
    a) lose perspective
    (i.e., allow my emotions to respond disproportionally to rocks thrown in the
    pond) 
    b) lose focus (allow myself to ‘major on the minors’).

    To effectively manage these potential barriers to personal
    productivity, I remind myself each morning of why I do what I do.  As I remember the sources of my intrinsic
    motivation, I am able to both gain perspective and also focus on the most
    important tasks (which are often not the most ‘urgent’ by situational
    standards).

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Charles. Very helpful.

  • Mark Deaton

    One of the tools in my mental productivity kit is a simple concept I picked up a number of years ago that goes like this:  ”Don’t start your day until you have it finished.”  That’s often difficult in an interrupt-driven world, but it’s a great way to start the day! 

    • Anonymous

      Very interesting.  Agreed. I haven’t heard that expression before.  (Knowing you) I assume that means planning each day out helps you stay focused and serves to help motivate you during the day.

      • Mark Deaton

        Yes, that’s true, and the other thing it does is help me stay focused on outcomes.  If I decide at the beginning of the day what will have occurred by the end of the day, it helps me keep distractions at bay and stay focused.  The idea is that the end of the day comes when what I decided to accomplish at the beginning of the day is realized, not at some time on the clock.  The more I hold myself accountable for this rule, the more likely I am to set realistic daily goals, too.  Those who are more skilled than I take it a notch up — “Don’t start the week until you have it finished.” And, of course, this can be applied across any time frame one wishes.  Some people set hourly goals, some weekly, others yearly, and some have a bucket list for their entire lives.  The basic precept, though, is to operate from a plan, instead of operating in a reactive mode to things that happen around you.  I find this a valuable mental model from which to run my internal work life (and my internal personal life).  The downside risk is trading off life in the moment for life in the future.  As John Maynard Keynes so eloquently put it, “in the long run we are all dead.”  True, but today… I stuff to accomplish!  :-)

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