What is WIP? We are used to hear and talk about WIP, work in process, in production industry. It is monitored, measured and actions are taken on it. All good? Sorry, no! In contemporary world what really is costing a lot, is the time of specialist. People who work with knowledge. Those can be as well engineers making drawings of managers / leaders focusing on people productivity
This text has it’s roots in a discussion I had last week with the owner and CEO of an engineering company. We were talking about the needs (they have been growing quite a lot) for development in managing and leading the company. I learnt, that the roots of the company included one very special person. When they recruited this person, they were thinking what is going to happen. They person had almost no small talk behaviour. They gave this person a task, work for well over half a day. 2 hours later the person returned the work, with exceptionally high quality. It was not a show of, it is the standard behaviour of this person. Why am I sharing this discussion with you? Because it is all about WIP in knowledge work.
Our productivity is far from what it could be. The most successful people are not so much smarter or luckier than the rest of us. They just make sure, that they don’t waste time and energy in WIP. The lessons learnt from industries is, that what really impacts productivity is the change over time. Going from one product / service to the next one takes always time. That lead time is making WIP expensive. I can already hear some of you saying, but I am good at multitasking. That is never true! Multitasking means that you spend about 30 % more time on doing the things. Your quality drops down. There is one thing, that is even more expensive than what I just shared with you. That is the illusion we have created. Good at multitasking, so one can have a little side activity in social media, right?
What really happens here, is that we end up procrastinating the valuable things and doing something a bit lumpish. We have the valuable tasks on hold, they are the WIP. On the long run we find ourselves busy getting the work done. And as we have the habit of multitasking, we try to get several things done at the same time. You know now, what that means… The lesson to take from the successful people is to make choices and to live up to those choices. I have a personal feature, which has taught me the power of this. I am an early morning person. When I was running an organisation with over 100 people, I used to get to the office at about 0600 in the morning. Before people came to the office, I was able to complete most of the admin tasks I had for the day. Focused, no-disturbance time. Being in the flow every day. Getting to flow is not something that just happens. It is the outcome of choices. Your choices.
Your take away from this article is not stopping using social media, getting up in the early hours of the day or telling people not to disturb you. The solution is becoming more focused for a bit longer period of time. Not jumping all the time from task to task. Worst case scenario is, you end up being between the tasks all the time. Making a plan and following that plan is the starting point. I have a friend, who lives an enjoyable life. He has a brilliant rule for the week; Monday – marketing, Tuesday – orders, Wednesday – packaging, Thursday – delivery and Friday – invoicing. There is a clear focus for every day. Having the plan means that there is no distraction of the other tasks. You can do the same, have a plan for the day and the week. You will get more accomplished, in less time. The tasks waiting are not disturbing your actions nor are they causing stress. As they have a place and time to be taken care of! WIP, the amount of unfinished work that you think you should do now, will go down. There is less need to recover from the shift over. There is less shift overs. If you are a manager or a leader, you can improve your mental presence in discussions, hence improve your employees commitment, engagement and will to solve problems. Which all leave you more time for focused work.
The question you need to ask yourself is “Do I want to be successful, or am I happy just with being busy?”. At the end, we don’t get measured by how busy we have been, but by what we have accomplished. In Finland we have this old proverb “Lord won’t feed the lazy”. A cultural thing, but with wrong emphasis. You don’t need to be limited by that belief. You don’t need to be another person tomorrow. Start with one thing! Take on hour of the day, that you focus on something. Or just 30 minutes on Monday morning, for laying out the weeks important achievements list. No more than one task for each day. And one task for each day.
Once you’ve done that, take five minutes every day to review, how you did. Ask yourself the question “what really allowed the distractions to steal your time and to kill your productivity?” On Friday review how he week went, what is the one lesson to learn from that week. If you can improve your behaviour 0,1 % tomorrow, you’ll be about 25 % better at the end of the year.
Did I hear you say “right, sure”? I sure did say that when I was told about the behaviour change. Until I saw what it did to me days. Quite recently I saw a research about our productivity. Of the hours we work, we do really focus on work for about 60 % of the time. Your increase over the course of the year would mean going from 60 to 75. A huge difference between you and the average guy. And yet, every hour you could spend 15 minutes on socialising, checking social media and so on. As long as you remember to return to the important tasks after that.
Changing our behaviour is not that hard. It takes about 4 work weeks to get your brain wired to a new approach. Wired literally, as it is all about synapsis. Building the solution means daily repetition. That is the toughest part, to have to motivation and commitment to carry on living according to the new behaviour for the 4 weeks.
There are ways to ensure your success. One solution is a professional coach. One is taking a personality assessment and learning about the strength (and source for motivation) you have. Strength, which helps you to execute the daily routines needed for change. We have some other supportive, easy to have, solutions. If you want to ensure becoming free of the WIP killing your recovery and productivity, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our mission is to make you successful!
Your partner in making success happen, Kari I. Mattila, emotional intelligence advisor