How would your manufacturing business perform, if everybody in it could achieve—say—20% more? Make 20% more sales visits? Deal with 20% more customer service issues? And add 20% more value?
On the factory floor, we call it lean production, and focus relentlessly on stripping out waste. But within the ranks of management, lean principles have mostly yet to catch on. We love looking busy.
And—to be blunt—we’re not helped as much as we think we are by devices such as smartphones and tablets that let us check calendars and e-mail while on the move. They make us more mobile; they don’t necessarily make us more productive.
What to do? Try these seven life hacks that really do make a difference.
1. Avoid e-mail distractions
You’re hard at work on a spreadsheet or report, and—ping!—Microsoft Outlook announces the arrival of an e-mail. Naturally, you stop to read it, and maybe answer it. Now, where was I?
Try focusing on e-mail in batches. You’ll free-up time in two ways. One, no more distractions. And two, you’ll avoid those time-wasting real-time discussions as several people bounce e-mails around trying to decide something.
2. Create ‘to-do’ lists
Most of us start the day with a set of things that we’d like to achieve. By late afternoon, you realise that most of them haven’t happened.
Write them down, and try to avoid doing anything that isn’t on the list. Anything that hasn’t been done, put at the top of tomorrow’s list.
It’s the easiest way to prioritise what needs doing—for anybody, in any manufacturing business.
3. Focus on the real job
These days, we’re all bombarded with multiple sources of information, ranging from newsletters from industry trade magazines, to social media feeds such as LinkedIn.
We also receive business-related blog and website notifications. A decent-sized chunk of any typical e-mail in-box can be characterised as interesting, but not directly related to immediate job priorities.
And what makes it worse: in most cases, the e-mail subject lines will have been designed to be temptingly clickable.
So filter them out—either mentally, or literally, via e-mail filters.
4. Focus your meetings
It’s a fact: in many businesses, meetings are badly organised. No clear agenda, no clear conclusions, and no clear structure. Everybody talks, and decisions get made—somehow.
If you waste too much time in meetings like these, try putting in place agendas, and a system of agreeing written ‘meeting summaries’ to record what was agreed.
Apart from serving their intended purpose, they help to set the tone for meetings that are crisper, more business-like—and focused.
5. Learn to delegate
Most of us find ourselves doing something that we could have delegated. So why didn’t we? Because, deep down, one of two factors is at work.
One, we like doing it, and find it comfortable. Two, we think that we can do it better than the person to whom we could delegate it.
The blunt truth: neither excuse is acceptable. You’re paid to do what needs doing, not what you feel comfortable doing. And if you can’t delegate it, the reason is probably poor training or poor communication.
6. Be at your personal best
You won’t be productive if you’re not working at your personal best. And that’s true of any manager, in any manufacturing business.
Get enough sleep. Eat properly. Avoid heavy mid-day meals and (of course) alcohol. Improve your personal fitness.
It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But most of us aren’t operating at our personal best. So try it for a month, and see the difference that it makes.
7. Deal with your skill gaps
Most of us take longer at tasks that we’re not good at. A lot longer, sometimes. Complicated spreadsheets, perhaps. Or preparing presentations. Or writing reports.
On a manufacturing business’s factory floor, such skills gaps are treated with training. But managers? They’re supposed ‘pick things up’, somehow.
So ask for—and get—training. Or seek it out yourself, through on-line courses, books, or videos.
The time invested will be quickly paid back, as you rattle through tasks that previously wasted hours.