The new year gives us an opportunity for a fresh start — resolutions, intentions, and maybe even establishing a new habit or two. It only made sense that our first PNG meetup of the year centered around the topic of increasing productivity, something we can all improve on as we kick off 2020 bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
What is PNG Anyway?
In case you missed it, PNG (the Podcast Networking Group) brings smart professionals from all industries together to discuss podcast episodes centering around a selected theme. There’s good company, guided discussion and, of course, snacks.
We select podcast episodes that provide unique perspectives and inspire us to evolve our processes for the better. Beyond productivity, we’ve also focused on accepting and managing feedback, and are planning future topics around concepts like agility, culture, and community.
Last week’s discussion on increasing productivity was too good to keep to ourselves. Here’s what we learned.
The first episode on our listening list was “Being Indistractable,” from the Love Your Work podcast. Love Your Work is hosted by David Kadavy, who interviews entrepreneurs and founders about how they found success.
This episode found guest Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, challenging the societal implications behind distractions, giving us tools to help redesign triggers, tasks, and temperament.
Kadavy and Eyal discuss how living in the technology age gives us access to distraction like no other — email, social scrolling, Baby Yoda memes, Twitter politics — you get the picture. Eyal challenges the blame on technology, stating that distraction isn’t caused by technology, technology is simply a symptom of the distracted mind. We use technology to find relief from uncomfortability. Mind blowing, right? How many times do you find yourself reaching for your phone to check social media when you’re tasked with something you don’t want to do? We all do it. All. Of. The. Time.
So what do we do about it? Here are Eyal’s steps for coping with distractions triggers:
- Step 1: Identify the sensation that makes you want to escape. (Example: mowing the lawn)
- Step 2: Write down the trigger and the feeling it gives you. (Writes lawn mowing because it’s annoying to have to go outside and push blades across grass that I pay good money to make grow.)
- Step 3: Explore the negative sensation with curiosity instead of contempt. (Researches the best fertilizer to use, direction to mow, and learns to take pride in having the best lawn in the neighborhood.)
- Step 4: Be cautious of the time in between tasks. (Go home from work and mow immediately. No sitting on the couch scrolling through which Netflix show to watch. Keep your eye on the ball, self!)
Eyal and Kadavy also tackle the topic of multitasking. Is it a myth that we can do multiple things at once? It depends on how you’re doing it.
Eyal discusses multichannel multitasking, or the use of different sensory channels to complete more than one task at a time. Building on that concept, we’re introduced to the Temptation Bundling Technique, a technique that bundles doing something that brings you joy with something that you may be avoiding (AKA a trigger). For example, listening to a podcast while running. Genius!
- Steps for dealing with distraction triggers and uncomfortability
- Temptation Bundling Technique
Rethinking Performance Measurement
Next in the queue was “What Gets Measured, Get Managed” on the Hurry Slowly podcast, hosted by Jocelyn K. Glei with special guest Tami Forman. This listen had great takeaways for people in managing roles as it digs into the outdated concept that time is the best and only way to track performance.
Forman begins the podcast by describing society’s ideal employee: someone (usually a male) who comes in early, works late, has limited distractions and is unencumbered by anything outside of the office. Sound familiar?
This episode was most valuable for showing us how underqualified time is as a tracker for productivity, why we should dig deeper to find metrics that actually matter and ways to do it. Forman shares that studies show after 55 hours of work, employee performance goes down substantially. With that noted, it's found that in the United States, 40% of people work more than 50 hours, and 20% work more than 60 hours per week. This calls for a much needed shift in workplace culture.
Here are what we found to be the biggest takeaways for managers:
- Don’t disincentivize risk. Allowing workers room to fail promotes innovation.
- Implementing “core hours” can create more work/life flexibility and limit time spent in meetings. Bonus: it instills responsibility and trust.
- Look at people who “overwork” with a critical eye and make adjustments to better accommodate their workload and fit within your organization.
- We collectively hate the answer that things take longer than expected, and that time is required to produce things. Schedule adequate time to allow people to get things done. (We’re looking at you every creative ever.)
On the flip side, if you are working on showing your manager your value and productivity at work, it’s important to have a clear idea of what you’re working on so you can articulate it back.
- Build in time for failure.
- Relook at how you’re measuring performance.
- Create lists of projects, what to accomplish, deadlines, and associated actions with measurable outcomes.
Building Productive Teams
Though it was hard to choose a favorite, most of the PNG attendees agreed that our last selection, “How to Be More Productive,” from the longstanding Freakonomics podcast, was the favorite. This episode covered qualities and tools of productive teams, balancing the meaning of productivity in specific settings, and why we need to rethink our to-do lists.
Episode guest Charles Duhigg, reporter and editor for The New York Times and author of Smarter Faster Better and The Power of Habit, found through extensive research that there are eight key tools and skills for making people feel more productive. They include:
- Motivation: self-motivation is triggered by making choices that make us feel in control.
- Focus: train ourselves to pay attention to the right things and ignore distractions by building mental models (which means that we essentially narrate to ourselves what’s going on as it goes on around us).
- Goal setting: Set two goals for yourself – a stretch goal paired with a specific plan on how to get started tomorrow morning.
- Decision making: think probabilistically by envisioning multiple outcomes and choosing the best fate.
- Innovation: allow people to take clichés and mix them together in new ways. People who have their feet in many worlds tend to be more productive.
- Absorbing data: the harder we have to work to understand something, the stickier it is in our brains.
- Managing others: the best managers put responsibility for solving a problem with the person who’s closest to that problem.
- Teams: who is on a team matters much less than how a team interacts.
Speaking of teams, Google spent millions in research dollars figuring out how to build the perfect team, which Duhigg used to create a set of group norms of the most productive teams. Those include:
- Psychological safety: everyone at the table feels like they have the opportunity to speak up, feel listened to, and feel that they can fail openly.
- Dependability: instilling trust and accountability to get things done.
- Structure and clarity: people should know what others are responsible for.
- Meaning: team members need to think and believe that their work matters and actually creates change.
A key element for incorporating this is the idea that sometimes you have to sacrifice efficiency for the long term goal of productivity. Sometimes before a meeting you have to talk about what you did over the weekend or how many levels of Legend of Zelda you beat. You have to schedule time to make sure everyone on the team is heard and listened to. It’s just as important as the task focus work that needs to get done.
- Create a culture that builds teams based on high performance norms (Google spent millions on it so you don’t have to — take advantage of it!)
- Pay attention to the tasks that matter and build your to-do lists and schedule around them.
- Make decisions based on thought-through outcomes. This is easier said than done.
- Foster an environment that allows people to try new things and freedom to fail.
Did you get all of that? This summary only scrapes the surface of what was covered in the selected podcast episodes and what we discussed at last week’s event. We encourage you to listen for yourself and share your thoughts with us over in the PNG Facebook Group.
If you’re interested in attending a future PNG meetup, join our group and follow along. We’ll be asking what topic we should cover next and event details there, as well as over on the BlendPRESENTS website.