Productivity and the manager in the mind

I’ve been mulling the subject of productivity over the past couple of weeks. As I love boiling things down to simple formulae or mental models, I think productivity = focus x intensity x time.

Since time isn’t unique to us, our individual productivity is a function of focus and intensity. Focus, as I define it, is our ability to do the right things. It is the leadership aspect of productivity and ensures we’re doing things that actually matter. Intensity, on the other hand, is our ability to get the most of the hours we spend. This is the management aspect of productivity and ensures we’re doing things right.

There’s always a tension between the act of leading and the act of managing. Leading is, by definition, focused on a vision or true north. It is characterized by purpose and generally is inspiring.

Management, on the other hand, is all about operationalizing that vision or true north in the best possible way. It requires processes and systems and deals with trade offs. Trade offs are what we need to make when the rubber hits the road.

We see this tension play out in every organization. Leadership owns the grand vision while management owns the execution. When the tension is managed well, the result can be magical. When it isn’t (and it isn’t most of the time), the results are pretty poor.

A key skill in managing this tension is the ability of a manager to set the right expectations. When expectations are set right, targets are set right and the amount of work to get there involves the right amount of stretch. When we engage people with the right amount of stretch, learning, growth and a whole host of powerful things happen.

Of course, when it comes to personal productivity, there is no massive organization with layers of management and leadership.

There is just… you.

The interesting thing here is that this dynamic plays out the exact same way in our own minds. We play leader and manager every day and decide how this conflict plays out. The leader within probably woke up this new year set an inspiring agenda of the many projects to take on and the many areas of personal change absolutely necessary. It is now on the manager to set the right expectations and set us up for success.

Unrealistic expectations on how much we can get done are a perfect recipe for unhappiness and an ensuing lack of focus given the dissatisfaction.

This is why productivity transcends any great hack out there. It is a very personal quest to finding systems and processes that work for the leader and manager within. I came across a quote once that said – “The essence of zen is the ability to focus on one thing at a time.” That is hard to do because productivity is a mental game.

You either learn to master your mind to get what you want done or let it master you.