Dont confuse task completion with productivity

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Sep 21 2020 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

Whenever I talk to people who work from remotely, I often hear them say, I am so much more productive at home. I get all my work done without interruption. Thats great, and its important. But when I ask them if theyre more productive, they look at me like I have three heads. Of course, I am. I get more done. But thats not the same thing as true productivity.

Some time ago, Harvard Business School did a study on productivity and found that people who work from home, or at least remotely, tend to get more tasks finished in a given period than people who work in the office surrounded by co-workers and (more importantly) their boss. They tend to get interrupted, sucked into discussions and other activities that distract from finishing whats on their to-do list. However, people who worked co-located with others tended to score higher in things like seeing obstacles before they arise, troubleshooting problems, and more.

The fact is, you can complete a task uninterrupted, but without feedback and input from others you may find yourself working hard on something that may need to be fixed immediately upon completion, or doesnt meet the full requirements of your customers (internal or external). If you finish a task quickly, but then have to engage in rework, or stop completely to overhaul your work when youre half-finished, youve lost some of that productivity.

If youre working remotely, take the time to check in with your boss and co-workers. If you have a question or concern, dont be shy about using any or all of the tools at your disposal to check assumptions and answer questions.

If your boss asks you, hows it going?, Fine is not the best answer. Be specific about what is going well, and what questions you might have. Check in with her about what she thinks any challenges might be. Sometimes we act like there are extra points for getting off the phone quickly. There arent.

If you are in the office, but working with someone remotely, be proactive when reaching out. It only takes a few seconds to answer a question or offer an opinion. If you hear hesitation or a question in someones voice on a conference call, check in. Active listening, paraphrasing and effective questioning can uncover problems that often result in frustration and rework. Video conferencing is your friend - youd be surprised how much more honest people are when theyre looking each other in the eyes.

Productivity is a long-term measurement that involves the completion of tasks, but also the ultimate success of a project or piece of work. Completing a task quickly, only to have to do it again or fix it, isnt really productive.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel is a speaker, writer and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. He's passionate about helping people present, sell and lead people and projects using today's virtual communication technology. His books include The Long-Distance Team - Designing Your Team for Everyone's Success. Wayne is based in Chicago, IL.