Techniques to Improve Performance
Published: 12 May 2010 By Carol Mclachlan for CareersinAudit.com
‘You put better things into your time, you get better things’.
That’s where we were last month, exploring the foundation of time leverage, the importance of effectiveness over efficiency.
I have known many auditors who are very efficient, they are really good at clearing their inbox and returning their phone calls on time; they're on top of that, but being efficient is not necessarily being effective. It can be great to be efficient but it's completely useless if what you're doing isn't taking you in the direction you need to go - towards your goals.
It's even worse if all that efficiency is making you work long hours doing things that actually are not necessary for you to get to where you want to go.
So once you’ve identified those things that are going to make you most effective, what stops them piling up and putting as much pressure on your precious time?
You may well remember The Pareto Distribution from your studies. Also known as the 80/20 Principle, it states that roughly 80% of the effect comes from 20% of the cause. In other words:
- 80% of consequences flow from 20% of the source
- 80% of results come from 20% time or effort
- 80% of profits come from 20% of the products/customers
So, which 20% of your activities contribute to the 80% of your achievements?
Making sure that we focus on the 20% of our tasks that are actually generating 80% of our desired results is vital. Getting real control and direction is finding this 20%.
And you’ll also be familiar with 'Parkinson's Law' - that activity expands to fill the time you make available. You only have to think about the few days before you go on holiday to see how this works when most of us get far more done than we would otherwise do in the same time.
Let’s bring Pareto back in now. Together these two gentlemen present us with a phenomenon. Although both Pareto’s Principle and Parkinson’s Law are extremely viable methods to increase productivity, in theory they are actually an inversion of each other(1).
In other words, Pareto tells us to reduce tasks to the most important to limit work time while Parkinson tells us to reduce the work time to limit tasks to the most important!
Which is correct? The answer is to use both concepts in tandem. You need to identify those critical tasks that contribute the most to your goals and then set yourself clear deadlines for their completion.
So, let’s take stock. We have the bedrock of time leverage. We now know what our goals are. Thanks to Pareto we also know which of our activities generate optimum return on our investment and thanks to Parkinson we have set ourselves a time budget. So what else can help us leverage our time? Well, it’s time to look inwards and start to capitalise on our own inner resources.
Cognitive science has come a long way in the last 20 years. ‘Whole brain’ learning is the way our children learn; it’s time to play catch up. Most of us were never taught the art of learning styles and techniques at school or university – sadly for most of us it was a “one shoe fits all” approach. So, here’s a chance to bring your skills into the 21st Century.
You’ve heard of the left brain and the right brain? There’s a tendency to label ourselves one or the other. So the right brain deals with creativity, thinking in pictures, patterns, colours, and uses intuition. Whereas the ‘left brain dominant’ would be analytical, logical, numerical.
Research indicates that mental skills are actually evenly distributed throughout the cerebral cortex and we have the potential to develop all our skills. ‘Left or Right brain dominant’ just means you have not yet developed your full skill set. You are sitting on untapped resources.
And the scope to develop the ‘lazier’ side of the brain is infinite.
Engage the right brain and the whole can truly be greater than the sum of the parts. Unlock unknown talents, solve problems creatively and generally operate in a more effective and efficient way than you ever thought possible.
Try Mind Maps(2) to get the right brain enhancing the logical thinking of the left by bringing in a creative perspective. Mind Maps use graphics to express ideas – pictures, shapes, colours, patterns. And as a thinking tool, they mirror the way the mind stores and retrieves information, providing an efficient way of organising our thoughts using the contours that are already hard-wired therein. Use Mind Maps for anything and everything from strategic planning to problem solving and note taking.
Ask your kids about Mind maps; many schools are starting to introduce the concept. It's fascinating you know that children these days are taught about how to use their brain more effectively. In effect they are getting some experience about working ON their learning rather than just working IN it(3); when they learn what their preferred learning styles are they start to apply themselves to their education in a different way, and so learn faster and more easily.
What is your learning style? Are you a visual, audio or kinaesthetic learner? In other words to you like to get stuck in and make mistakes or do you read and plan around the subject first?
We each have a preference in our thinking and learning towards a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic style. Visual people learn from seeing and find it useful to use pictures and graphs. Auditory learners are at their best when listening – talks and lectures, ‘teach yourself’ CDs. And the kinaesthetic prefer the practical stuff and ‘just getting stuck in’. You can take the first step in identifying your own preferences by taking the test at theacountantscoach.com.
Identify your preferred style and exploit it, seeking new modes of learning, problem solving and remembering. And boost communications by adapting your style accordingly. Take the colleague who waives the written paper and retorts ‘just tell me what it says’. Well – just tell him!
No style is superior to another and each is only a preference. Just like the synergy of using the left and right brain together, we can improve further by developing styles other than our preferred. So even if you are a kinaesthetic or auditory person, Mind Mapping can help you building your visual muscle and give you a more rounded skill set.
Raising conscious awareness of preference allows us to really work our natural resources, unlock our potential and achieve that synergy.
Boosting learning, understanding and retention, this is leverage – making the assets we already have - work more smartly for us. If you’re not tapping in to this natural resource you’re quite literally leaving money on the table.
These Accelerated Learning techniques are all about exploiting our natural strengths, rather than investing time and effort in trying to fix our inherent weaknesses. Playing to our strengths is also an invaluable technique for getting the right career fit and optimizing your performance.
Now, I’m not suggesting that one should choose an undemanding role which embeds you cosily in your comfort zone without stretching you personally. But I am talking about aligning your personal strengths to the required competencies of your role. You need to ensure that your inherent strengths are fully exploited, while your ‘weaknesses’ (and we all have them) are not fundamental to you doing your job.
You may have been lucky enough to have fallen into a role where this all naturally and organically comes together by accident. But for the majority of people this is not the case and I work with a lot of clients who are square pegs in a particular career hole and their life is made so much harder because their personal weaknesses are actually fundamental to the success of their role.
So, how can we maximise our own personal role fit? The answer is take the time to work on your job and not just in your job(3). Take a step back. Look at your own personal preferences, inherent strengths and weakness. Do a personal SWOT. Which is also a great starting point for a really powerful CV.
And here’s another priceless technique.
This is what psychologists call “flow”. Flow is when you are so totally absorbed in an activity that it seems as if time stands still. Also known as “being in the zone”, flow is the mental state of function in which a person is fully immersed in what they are doing and that they are driven by energised focus.
Flow is an extremely productive state that feels effortless. It is also when you are at your most creative, sharpest, problem solving best and producing your highest performance. How do we find flow? Flow’s greatest foe is interruption; so bag some blocks of protected time. Anything from 30 minutes upwards. Switch off the phones, hide outlook and close the door. Particular tasks are more suited to achieving a flow state. Some stretch, some pressure but not so over-demanding that they cause anxiety.
And look around you to see how other people get into flow.
This is a process called modeling; watching carefully what someone else does that works, and then copying them. Modeling is a common technique used in Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Behavioural modeling in NLP is the study of how people get results. In other words what are their thoughts, behaviours, skills, beliefs, values and other attitudinal qualities that they use to do what they do?
Life is hard enough - you don’t need to re-invent the wheel.
Therefore, instead of relying on the old trial and error approach, go find yourself a role-model. Now, it’s not always easy to find one person who embodies all of your values, beliefs and aspirations so feel free to create an inspirational composite from a variety of people – in other words a role-model misfit or mongrel!
Of course self help books, courses, mentors and coaches can fit the bill. But there’s a lot you can glean just from looking around you – today for instance. Right now. Switch on your conscious awareness – start actively looking for potential role models.
Once you have identified or created your role-model or mentor - start modeling. How do they operate? How do they achieve their results? What are their patterns and behaviours? Emulate their organizational skills, borrow ideas on work-life balance or study their aspirations and goals. Analyse their strengths so that they become part of your own attributes and thereby integrate additional tools in your time leverage armour.
Look, learn and apply.
Time leverage involves some up-front costs such as investment of time and resources. While it’s natural to want to conserve these resources (i.e. I don’t have time to train him because it’s got to be done by Tuesday), if you don’t make these investments you’ll end up locking yourself into the old way of doing things and this will limit your achievements.
Using leverage is the art and science of getting much more done with the same or less effort. Not only can this free up your time so that you can focus on high priority matters but it also helps you achieve at a much high level overall. When you invest in leveraging your time, resources and knowledge, you have a recipe for unprecedented success.
Time Leverage boils down to 2 essential elements:
First up. The quality of what you put into your time. That is the tasks that really maximise your ROI. Or in other words, what you do is infinitely more important than how you do it. This all comes down to your core goals. So do a quick efficacy test on a moment by moment basis. Ask yourself: Is this task likely to take me closer to my goals? Does it have to be done by me? Does it have to be done at all? Once you’ve figured out your highest quality inputs – you can then move on to applying a more effective ‘how’ by leveraging your inner resources.
And the ‘how’ is where you bring in: capitalisng on your thinking and communication preferences, identifying and working your strengths (as opposed to your weaknesses), rationing your time on a task by task basis, getting into ‘flow’ and modeling the effective behaviours of friends and colleagues.
What is your action plan for leveraging your precious time? Not taking any action is like sitting in your car without starting the engine; it might feel comfortable but it ain’t gonna get you anywhere!
Good intentions are meaningless unless we actually tangibly implement them into our lives. So here is my challenge to you. I want you to think about what you can do in the next 24 hours as a small step to set you on your course for more effective time leverage and a more desirable life balance. You can request your Personal Time Leverage Planner to help you do this.
The current challenging economic climate makes this even more crucial and we must continually find ways to enhance our daily lives and ensure that we maximise every opportunity to operate at optimum productivity and efficiency. Go for it!
(1) The concepts of using together, Pareto and Parkinson, can be explored further in Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Work Week
(2) Read more about using Mind Maps in your auditing or accounting career in the full article at www.theaccountantscoach.com
(3) To understand more about ‘working on the job’, read Michael Gerber’s books The E-myth Revisited and The E-myth Manager
This special extended article was written by Carol McLachlan exclusively for CareersinAudit.com.