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Battle of Thermopylae and 7 productivity tips

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Remember King Leonidas and his 300 brave Spartans? We too, hope to rally employee productivity, in the midst of the worsening economy and escalating competition. We present some ideas for a more productive team at the workplace.

Having worked in business environments large and small, I finally settled down in running a tiny knowledge business since the 1990s, and never looked back.

Yes, I harbor an occasional thought on working for a large business, but frankly, the freedom to create, to innovate, to invent, and to execute, in a small nimble business, working with diverse and wonderful clients, proved far too engaging for me to give up easily.

When I was working for large businesses way back, productivity was already something we employees then were measured by. And decades on, productivity still plays a pivotal role in measuring the performance of employees. Credentials may be important to some organizations, but a diligent, productive and positive employee will always be treasured by bosses more than one who merely has a string of papers to frame on the wall.

So, what are some suggestions I might present after decades of working on both sides of the fence?

1) Structured meetings. Meetings can sometimes be a terrible waste of time if mismanaged. In many meetings I have attended, the worst meetings are those without a well-defined agenda and a time limit. A good meeting is where every stakeholder is present on time, with a pre-defined agenda to follow, and a time limit dutifully adhered to. There should be a good meeting facilitator to ensure every item on the agenda is discussed promptly, efficiently, and closed properly. It would be ideal if all stakeholders turn up on time and attend till the end of their involvement with the meeting without leaving early. My typical question to those who would turn up late is, “Would you be late at the airport if you are catching a flight for a holiday?”

2) Laser focus on tasks. We never run out of tasks which form part of our jobs. The day we run out of tasks, we are out of a job. Therefore, we are always having more tasks than we can handle. This is expected. The trouble surfaces when we attempt to juggle our plate of tasks and lose sight of the tasks, or drops everything on the floor in shambles. We need to maintain a laser focus on the task at hand, and set a time limit to completion. Leaders have to define ultimate deadlines to tasks. For more driven employees, leaders can push the boundaries and such employees rise to the challenge and even surpass the expectations of their bosses. For others, a reasonable time limit should be established, and leaders track their progress and completion of tasks. A scheduling and project management system should be in place for complex tasks and projects.

3) Smart use of email. Email is an important business tool, but let us remind employees that email is not a file uploader nor a chat tool. Email should be used intelligently, with proper subject headers, succinctly written excerpts, and properly thought through replies and content, so that the recipients are not left bewildered at emails with no intelligent subject headers, messy email contents, or huge attachments. Large attachments beyond a megabyte or two should be presented as links within the email, so that the recipient, especially those on IMAP systems, won’t get frustrated trying to download huge email attachments. Educate employees never to send mails with large attachments, and especially never to large circulation lists with large attachments.

4) Judicious use of social media. Some companies, having been frustrated at the “burgeoning” use of social media at the workplace, have clamped down their use. Social media such as Facebook have built-in chat functions, while dedicated messaging apps such as Skype may also be potential time-wasters at the workplace if not managed. Although social media or dedicated chat clients can be useful in some instances, the temptation to overstep the boundaries and spend too much time chatting is very real. Plus, many companies are also wary of new media applications due to security threats, and the possibility of information or resource leakage without accountability. So, unless employees are dedicated social media community managers, bosses have good reason to limit the use of social media.

5) Engage stakeholders by phone. The office phone is not dead, despite the emergence of social media. Face-to-face meetings are great, but not always possible or productive, especially if quite a few people are involved. The phone can present a quick and productive means for two or more people to communicate together. Of course, we are not talking about chatting for hours, but using the office phone can help engage stakeholders together, and get to resolve challenges or queries quickly. A follow-through email or updates on a project management or collaboration platform or system would be important, so that the contents of the phone call are not forgotten, and remedial and follow-through actions can be tracked. Productive and disciplined employees are not glued to their own smartphones for chats, messages or games.

Productive employees make profitable businesses. Here are two additional suggestions I personally feel strongly about.

6) Adequate rest. No human being can go without rest or sleep. There are some who claim that they need little sleep, spending way too much time online or playing games. The reality is that our bodies require sleep to repair itself, after the daily wear-and-tear and the rigors of a good and hard day’s worth of work. Sleep deficit can cause a drop in productivity, as well as making a person more error-prone. You can’t force someone to get sufficient rest at home – it is really personal discipline.

7) Health and nutrition. Besides rest, employees stay productive when they are healthy. Most of us work long hours and can’t find sufficient opportunities to cook at home or exercise regularly. Inspire employees to keep vigil on their nutrition, vitamins and fitness, and perhaps motivate them to keep up a healthy lifestyle.

Just as we are inspired by the story of King Leonidas with his dedicated 300 Spartans fighting against the colossal Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae, we too, as business executives, would like to keep our team of “Spartans” at the pinnacle of productivity, fighting fit, against the onslaught of the marketplace.