Oakley RadarI first became interested in productivity when I worked with a number of service businesses. These businesses provided some form of service; autobody repair, mechanical repair, landscaping, towing and recovery, CNC machining, etc. The basic idea was a unit of service cost so much and could be sold for so much. The more units that were produced within a given time period, the higher the percentage of productivity. Those service businesses that were more productive were more profitable, successful and often had good growth potential. Those businesses that were not productive were always having slow sales, cash flow crunches and employee problems. In the past 10 years productivity has become the mantra of business theorists; productive is the one word that best describes the successful company. In time I began to look at superior productivity and performance and just what factors separated the superior from the mediocre. As it turns out the line was much thinner than I thought.
This is because the current emphasis on productivity centers on ways of leveraging knowledge and technology to produce more with less and repeat the process. Those that are highly productive are often the same ones that innovate and create new methods and procedures. This is true of computer programming as well as auto repair. But little attention, if any, is paid to those factors that have a direct negative effect on performance and productivity. Could simply addressing these negative factors instantly increase performance and production? The answer was, surprisingly in most cases, yes. The reason is individuals and companies develop precedent and habit over a period of time. Many of these hastily arranged processes have flaws; the most glaring is a constant barrage of workplace interruptions. An automobile technician, for instance, is five times more likely to make a mistake after an interruption than at any other time. Loss of focus translates directly into an increased error rate.
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Later I was to see the effects in the younger Silicon Valley executives and managers on Technology Drive. Wired usually with several cell phones, they were constantly monitoring their incoming calls and calling back. In one sense they were no longer software engineers but phone talkers. The 'net net' as it is called in Silicon Valley, was the focus and eventually psyches of those employees was to fracture and sometimes break. Constant interruptions cause good, competent managers to become bundles of nerves and creative employees feel helpless as their creativity is constantly interrupted and stymied. The problem with phones is phone tag. To get two people free at the same moment and connected is problematic in today's speed warped business world. So when one looks at her cell and sees it's a call from a fellow phone tagger, the temptation is just too much to resist. The recipient excuses herself and takes the call. Welcome to the fragmented world. The phone tag problem is eased somewhat by scheduled phone appointments but it adds a whole layer of complexity to the process.
At times it is necessary to speak directly in real time and a scheduled phone appointment works great. But to be on call is a productivity nightmare. And that is where it's headed. If you answer the phone at 11:00 at night, you will continue to get calls at 11:00 at night. If your boss demands you do business at 11:00 at night hopefully it is in your job description or contract. By fragmenting your workday you fragment your productivity and you fragment your life.So, go ahead and kill the goose that is laying golden eggs for you: your productivity. Take all those meaningless calls and then explain to your boss why you didn't do such a good job because you had to take all those meaningless calls. Or something like that. Maybe she will understand.Or perhaps it's better to just be productive and have the boss say 'great job!'?