Several years back, my brother Kirk started a Christmas tradition in our family. He gave my parents a jigsaw puzzle.
Now, before you take to social media and throw shade on him for such a weak gift, Kirk had noble intentions. He wanted to create family time around the dining room table during our Christmas week together.
For an accountant, it was a rare display of sentiment.
Here is a sampling of what we have accomplished over the years, and yes, if you look carefully you'll see that this picture is actually one of our puzzles . . . which is a picture of the grandkids holding many of the other puzzles we have completed. (I think Kirk got the idea for doing this particular one after watching the movie Inception. The movie and the puzzle blew my parents' mind.)
If you are reading this blog, you know that watching my family perform a task for many years provides me with a full cache of ammunition to write about group interactions.
So many topics, so little time . . .
I may return to this fertile ground in the future, but today I am going to discuss the art of being productive.
Let's start with the groups of people working on the puzzle.
There is a strong genetic representation in our family of analytical thinking. Analytical thinkers enjoy puzzles, games, and numbers. Somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas each year, Kirk teases the family with the number of pieces, the dimensions, and the degree of difficulty for the puzzle. You can practically hear the analyticals squeal with delight.
Slide rules sold separately.
As you might imagine, the fields of accounting, engineering, and IT are well represented by grandparents, parents, and grandchildren.
And then, there's Christy.
Christy has single-handedly destroyed our bloodline by grafting in her bohemian strain of DNA.
While the other grandkids play their reindeer puzzle games around the table, our kids sit in the corner with fat crayons and coloring books. Heck, I even laugh and call them names.
(She approved that paragraph.)
Christy likes the pretty colors of the puzzle, but rarely participates because, well, she has no interest. Committing to such a menial task might impede her desire to pursue fun. Ever the emphathetic one (or is it control freak?), Kirk worried that Christy might feel excluded, so one year he picked this one.
She ooohed and aaahed and held the box for a moment, and then asked if anyone wanted to go to Starbucks.
Remarkably, according to productivity experts, Christy is being productive.
LESS IS MORE
Productive people master SELECTIVITY. That is, they totally understand that they cannot and should not perform every task that comes across their desk.
In 2011 Boston Consulting Group surveyed 5,000 managers to discover who was most productive and what practices they demonstrated to increase their productivity. What they found surprised them.
It wasn't the ability to organize or delegate. It wasn't when, where, or how long they worked. In fact, the most productive managers did not work long hours.
Productive managers carefully select which priorities should receive their attention. This included:
(3) Customers to pursue
(4) Ideas/Concepts to develop
When the family opens the puzzle box each Christmas, Christy drifts off to another room. It is not because she doesn't like spending time with the nerds--far from it--she simply understands that she would rather listen to Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer on an endless loop instead of working on the puzzle.
Take home message: Select work that stirs you. You'll be more productive.
LASER, NOT SHOTGUN
Productive people master FOCUS.
Christy chooses not to work on the puzzle because it is not a priority to her. But what about those fun-loving analyticals in the family that DO?
Once a priority is selected, like the productive managers in study, our family nerds are on that puzzle like a big red rash. They apply intense and targeted effort until the task is complete.
The Puzzle Posse (as we call them) take over the dining room table and growl at anyone that suggests they move. (So much for family meals and spending time together.) The puzzle becomes all consuming. The Posse's mindset is that the puzzle MUST BE COMPLETED before the families disperse and go back to their homes.
Data from the study reveals that such a narrow focus improves productivity by 25 percentage points.
Take home message: Say no to competing tasks. Multi-tasking will put you on the naughty list.
VALUE OVER GOALS
Productive people worry about creating VALUE.
I am proud of our Analyticals. This year, they faced an interesting dilemma and made the right choice. My engineer niece Sydney (Analytical Perfectionist), thought it would be a good idea to combine my parents' 60th wedding anniversary with this year's puzzle.
(FYI: the gold tie clip is the one my dad actually wore at the wedding.)
There was just one problem with Sydney's selection. The puzzle had virtually zero reference points to get started. Other than a few black pieces, the entire puzzle was vintage 1957 sepia, so after much consternation, the puzzle was scrapped. (Obviously, the marriage has survived.)
The Analyticals made themselves laugh by joking that they could all work on the puzzle until they looked like this, and the still wouldn't get it done.
Those Analyticals . . . such jokers.
The Analyticals figured out this: what they were doing was not adding value to the Christmas experience. The decision NOT to complete a task did cause some in the Posse to develop a nervous tick, but in the end, time spent on the puzzle was like trying to tell my mother not to write thank you notes. Futile. (She actually wrote us all after Christmas and thanked us for trying.)
Take home message: If you aren't adding value to company or customers, rethink what you are doing.
So to recap:
(1) Select work carefully; say no (or delegate) to less interesting or less fun work.
(2) Focus-focus-focus on one task or priority at a time.
(3) Add value to those around you.
Being productive? Puzzle solved!