How did my Productivity Soar?

I stopped making to-do lists.

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My working mom friends often commiserate about how to keep all the “balls in the air”.  It is a daily juggle trying to manage all the balls, and some days it feels like there are thousands.  We race through our days and then collapse in bed, hoping we didn’t drop a ball that day.  We chase the fantasy of “having-it-all” while at the same time seeking “balance”.  These concepts are in conflict with each other but more importantly they are delusions.

Research has shown that since the financial crisis of 2008 the world has become less productive.   Coincidentally the global sales of smart phones have risen exponentially. We are in a perpetual state of attention crisis.  I try to blame my IPhone when I find myself procrastinating and wasting time.  We justify our addiction by saying we can stay on top of urgent work, be there for our kids, be available to bosses/clients, but it is proven to be the greatest source of all distractions and inability to focus.  It is also the single biggest way to feel bad about yourself (I’m only partially joking, but those women on Pinterest who make 365 days of perfect, organic and colourful bento box lunches for their Latin speaking 6-year-old twins makes me want to poke my eyes out.)

Having a business, school aged children, a husband, a home and all the sub categories underneath these major “consumers of energy” forces us to have a strict program to keep the balls in the air.  I don’t have a sad story about lack of me-time, simply because all of these “consumers of energy” are my choices and therefore my priorities.  I feel so blessed to be doing what I love, wonderful boys, inspiring extended family, extraordinary girlfriends and a life full of adventure. 

I was exposed to Kaizen, the Japanese philosophy of productivity, 15 years ago while touring a manufacturing facility overseas.  Kaizen is translated to mean “good change” and is most often talked about in industrialized processes like production and logistics yet I have found meaningful application in my work and personal life.

Kaizen offers an approach to organizing and thinking of things differently.  It is not an app or a big idea to revolutionize your life but small thoughtful changes to bring about continual improvements.  It has been proven that small incremental adjustments have a bigger payback over time.

The first step is to do an audit of your entire life for 2 weeks and document everything you are doing in your waking hours.  It was helpful for me when I did the audit to also note my feelings around stress, my to do lists and my sense of accomplishment each day.  I learned I was a slave to others schedules and meeting requests.  Whenever I faced a task at work that I didn’t enjoy, I would do any of the following to avoid doing it (find a great dinner recipe for that evening’s dinner, text a friend, organize my desk etc.).  I learned I was doing similar tasks everyday (i.e. I did a little book keeping each day so it would not be monumental at month end).  I tried to convince myself that I was a master multitasker, but there is no such thing.  Much of the day I was distracted and not doing many things well albeit checking off tasks from my list.  I was not able to find time to work thoughtfully and strategically on the projects most important to the growth of my business.  It was a messy scramble every week with a cycle of procrastination and then very late-night catch ups to meet deadlines.

An important aspect of Kaizen philosophy is to acknowledge mistakes as they go hand in hand with major innovation and improvement.  I learned so much in these 2 weeks and it was ugly, but I was ready for change.  Through the audit I learned where I was wasting time and that I was trying to do too much.  There were so many “leaks” that infused every day and I was left at the end of most nights exhausted and feeling like a failure.

I started small to break habits, and step one was to organize my calendar very differently.  Initially I allocated only 3 mornings a week for calls and meetings.  I also grouped my least favourite tasks (i.e.; bookkeeping) and blocked off 2 hours, once per week after my guiltiest indulgence (semi private art class).  Art is like meditation and a creative release.  I am always ready to tackle the world after every class.  These small changes were liberating and I eased into this new weekly routine already feeling less stress.  Afternoons were kept open to have strategic thought, planning and research around the 3 most important operating principles.  Chunking out blocks of time to group like tasks together freed up hours each week and I was so much more productive.

After my audit was the perfect time to reflect on my “Why”.  Why was I doing this (my company Lusomé) and it came back to wanting to help women.  Giving them comfort in a beautiful way still feels so purposeful, so I recalibrated my efforts around 3 principles that drive my priorities.  The new hierarchy is in me and doesn’t require a list.

1. The customer experience was most important and would take precedence over anything. If there was an upset customer I would call them personally and fix it, whatever it took. Involving the customer in our process in evaluating product design for future seasons is weaved into our process.

2. Product. Continually looking for innovative ways to make it better and lovelier or exploring new categories of business.

3. Sales and earnings. The company can only exist and grow if we are profitable so I spend time every week on sales driving activities, margins and expenses.

The outcome of these changes is that I no longer have a daunting to do list.  There are actions that come from my meetings and strategy time.  These are all measurable and detailed in a log which is organized by the 3 fundamentals; Customer, Product and Revenue.  We check in and add and delete action items as the ebb and flow of the business dictates

The weekly calendar is basically set and the above 3 principles guide my thoughts and activities.  No lists mean no chance for failure at the end of each day.  I now lay in bed before I close my eyes in a more peaceful state and marvel in the funny moments with my children, wins from the day and have more enthusiasm for tomorrow.

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