Extreme Productivity Experiment: Observations from a Human Lab Rat

What’s the secret to working as efficiently as possible? It might not be what you think. Find out what a leading “Productivity Ninja” discovered in her company’s recent work experiment.

Guest Post by Dawn O’Connor
Productivity Ninja, Think Productive Canada

Does your company’s vision support your ability to make daily decisions?

Do you even know what your company’s vision is?
These questions, among others became crucially important for me this March. My name is Dawn O’Connor and I work for a UK-based personal productivity training company called Think Productive. While I have visited our head office in the lovely seaside town of Brighton, most of the time I run Think Productive Canada from Calgary — a nine hour flight from the majority of my co-workers.
Communication with head office is mostly through email and Skype during the small window of our overlapping business hours. If we were a ‘normal’ company, this might not be extraordinary or even challenging. But we are not a ‘normal’ company, and we do not behave in a typical way.

Graham’s Experiments

Graham Allcott, the founder of Think Productive and my boss, is conducting a year of extreme productivity experiments in which he is the primary lab rat and his team are the unwitting (yet mostly willing) participants. Each month brings a new experiment.
Here is the schedule for the first quarter:
Email access ONLY on Fridays.
Decisions made by the roll of dice.
Working ONLY 60 minutes per day, seven days per week.
March also marks my first official month on the job as Canadian Director and Productivity Ninja (trainer).  As you can imagine, this experiment creates a whole new list of challenges on top of starting a new job, recreating a company from the ground up and working in a separate country from the rest of the team.
While I have independently run my own business for many years, I joined Think Productive when I realized my strengths were more operational than strategic. I wanted to be part of something bigger than I could create on my own. This propelled me to seek a company with clear direction, solid values, a great product and cool branding. And, who wouldn’t want the job title of Productivity Ninja?!
Graham’s excellent leadership and strategic thinking balances my attention to detail and innate focus. He provides the vision and direction; I make stuff happen. I thought (maybe naïvely so) that our working relationship was compatible enough to get us through March’s experiment with ease.
Do you ever feel like you’re imposing when you ask for help from a manager or co-worker? Especially when you’re new in a role? That’s how I felt for the first two weeks of March. I second guessed every email to Graham and wondered if I was demanding too much time and attention. I didn’t want to be the squeaky wheel. I was in a perpetual state of low-grade worry knowing Graham had only one hour a day to respond to all of the demands on his time.
I struggled with a number of decisions ranging from developing content for a speaking engagement to customizing a workshop for a client. In retrospect, these worries seem fairly minor — both events went just fine — but in the moment I fretted about doing the right thing and pleasing my manager.
As the month progressed and I gained confidence in my role, I had a revelation. My focus had been misplaced. Instead of worrying over every decision and its ramifications for the head office, I realized all I needed to do was to look at the company vision: “to improve working life for people and replace ‘information stress’ with playful, productive momentum & control.”
Once I had aligned my purpose with the company’s vision, I shifted my perspective to consider ‘what is best for the client? and how can I make that happen?’  This shift was instrumental in reducing my stress, helping me become autonomous and giving my decisions the authority they needed. It also worked really well for my client and for my boss. Check; Kroger Weekly Ad, ALDI Weekly Ad, ALDI Catalogue, IGA Catalogue, Meijer Weekly Ad, Publix Weekly Ad, Coles Catalogue, Supercheap Auto Catalogue.
The lack of access to my boss also forced me to prioritize what I needed ‘permission’ for.  As we entered week three with a number of milestones accomplished, I realized the world was not going to end if I didn’t get a stamp of approval from management on every little thing. This was quite empowering and gave me the confidence to make a larger decision to hire an assistant without asking or agonizing. Not surprisingly, this decision was greeted with positive feedback and support from the team.
So despite the restricted access to Graham in my first month of operation, we fared pretty well. Having a clear vision statement served as a guidepost for both daily actions and for larger decisions, and it helped to support productive outcomes. Knowing and understanding the company’s vision and their willingness for me to make autonomous decisions was crucial to the overall success of March’s experiment.
And while I was a little bit tortured in this process, Graham had the worst of it. For the other side of the story, check out http://www.thinkproductive.co.uk/tag/60-minutes/ to see what Graham learned about pushing the boundaries between work and life.
Dawn O’Connor
Productivity Ninja, Think Productive Canada
Think Productive
Dawn O’Connor
For eleven years Dawn has trained and coached thousands of people to help them maximize their productivity at work. Recently she joined forces with Graham Allcott, the founder of UK’s leading productivity training company Think Productive. Together they share a vision to deliver practical solutions and a fresh perspective on personal productivity to companies of all shapes and sizes across Canada.

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