It’s easy to feel heavy these days, especially when logging on to LinkedIn. Like dominos, tech companies are announcing layoffs after layoffs. It’s a never-ending stream of depressing social posts, from “every story has an ending” to “my role has been impacted,” followed by well-meaning bystanders offering support and networking introductions.
When companies slash workers, they often place the blame on employees’ lower-than-expected productivity. But what exactly is productivity? How is it measured?
Wall Street and company CFOs have their own definition: Productivity is measured as the total output divided by total input, which includes labor. If revenue and profit drop below analysts’ expectations, especially if the company has gone on a hiring spree, productivity appears low.
Individuals, on the other hand, often think about productivity as it relates to their workflow. How fast are they completing the tasks on their to-do lists? What hacks can they use to improve their personal productivity, like the Pomodoro technique or zero-inbox?
As you can see, context matters.
According to the dictionary, productivity is defined as “the ability to generate, create, improve, or bring forth goods and services.”
Wall Street and individuals both use aspects of this definition, but they measure it differently. Wall Street looks at generating monetary wealth. Individuals, in contrast, focus on what they or their team can create: those to-do lists that ultimately lead to bringing forth goods and services.
“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” – Paul J. Meyer
Every Company Can Improve Productivity by Reducing “Work about Work”
Every company can improve its productivity. (And no, I don’t expect us all to turn into robots.)
Why am I so sure? There are always inputs (think labor, resources, and attention) that don’t generate meaningful outputs.
According to Asana’s Anatomy of Work report, employees spend an average of 60% of their time on non-value-add activities that are “work about work,” such as communicating about work, searching for information, switching between apps, managing shifting priorities, and chasing status updates. Only 40% of an employee’s time is spent on skilled or strategic work.
Looking at our definition of productivity, we can see that “work about work” is a bug in the system; it cuts into the time employees could be spending on generating skilled or strategic work. Indeed, Asana’s report concluded that nearly three months of an employee’s time per year could be eliminated without negatively impacting outputs.
Let me repeat: Based on current work patterns, most employees could take the entire summer off without affecting their productivity.
According to Asana’s research:
Every week, workers are losing an average of nearly three hours on unnecessary meetings. Every day, they are bombarded with 32 emails. Every hour, their attention is fractured between disconnected tools and having to constantly switch between them.
“Work about work” is an entrenched part of modern organizations and is still the biggest barrier to productivity—one that organizations shouldn’t take lightly. Too many workers are stuck in this black hole, sucked into a world of small tasks that add up to an enormous burden.
By reducing the time you spend on “work about work,” you can immediately improve your productivity equation.
3 Practical Ways to Reduce Your “Work about Work” and Increase Your Productivity
So how can you get started?
1. Conduct a meeting audit to reduce unnecessary work communication
Review all the meetings you and your team have held over the past two weeks (or a month, if you’d like a more accurate snapshot). For each meeting, note whether it was needed and how you could change the cadence, length, or attendees to reduce the meeting’s burden. Then, experiment with these changes in the upcoming weeks.
2. Do some spring cleaning to make it easier to search for information
We all have that “junk drawer” at home. You know, the one stuffed with old restaurant takeout menus and loose change. Similarly, there may be folders or random documentation scattered on your computer desktop or in your project management tool.
Carve out some time to clean up your knowledge base, or as we call it, your “digital house.” Consider scheduling a “cleaning day” quarterly, and make sure that your documentation is up to date, with everything in the right place and with a clear owner.
3. Use templates to reclaim time spent chasing status updates or recreating the wheel.
What type of work do you repeat week after week? Maybe it’s adding a contact into the Salesforce CRM or creating a quarterly review presentation for your client. Perhaps you’re a product manager and collect the same requirements sprint after sprint.
Whatever it is, if it’s repeatable, stop reinventing the wheel. Instead, develop a plug-and-play template—once and for all—and then move on. This might mean designing a standard presentation deck, a recurring Asana task, or programming a Zapier automation. Spending the time upfront to templatize can save you and your team time and energy down the road.