If you’re like most people, you’ve probably tried several different tricks to improve productivity in the workplace. And If you’re like me, many of the tricks you’ve tried haven’t worked very well. Maybe that new to-do list application makes you feel motivated for a week or so, but pretty soon you find you’re not using it, it’s becoming more trouble than it’s worth or you just plain forget about it.
At RescueTime, we think a lot about managing distractions and improving productivity. We’ve noticed a common theme in a lot of successful tools — A tight feedback loop.
What’s a feedback loop?
Basically, it’s a simple idea, but a really powerful one. To improve your productivity, you need feedback. You need someone or something to measure some aspect of your performance and then follow up with suggestions on how to improve. You make the suggested improvements and the process starts over again – the feedback loop. Along the way, there’s a tidy record of the progress to show you how you are doing.
This is a pretty well-worn path in personal fitness. Coaches of elite athletes have used a system like this for years to improve the abilities of their athletes. Recently, products like the Nike+ and Fitbit have brought it down to the more casual level. But did you know you can also use feedback loops to increase your productivity in the workplace? Pretty much anything that can be measured can become a part of a feedback loop. And that’s one of the great things about workplaces today. Almost everything can be measured. From the number of emails sent and phone calls made, to the amount of time spent in meetings. All of these activities can be quantified and logged, giving you the feedback you need to make a productive change without too much effort.
Why do feedback loops work?
A strong feedback loop is an effective tool for improving your productivity in the workplace. But to be effective, it must be:
Simple: Recording data shouldn’t be time consuming, otherwise the system is creating more work than it’s saving.
Personal: Unlike hard and fast, one-size-fits-all goals that may feel totally unattainable, a good feedback loop tells YOU where you are right now, and allows you to make small changes that lead to big improvements over time.
Forgiving: If you have a couple bad weeks, the feedback loop will adapt by adjusting to your new baseline and suggesting an easy path that will lead back to where you want to go. This not only helps you make meaningful, incremental improvements to your productivity, it also does it in a way that keeps you sane!
And have a good memory: If you make yourself 3% more productive each week, that might not seem like a whole lot, but after a month the difference will be fairly dramatic. Being able to see your progress over time is extremely important.
So, the next time you’re looking for ways to improve productivity, manage distractions, and be more balanced around the office, think about skipping the solution that promises an overnight transformation, and instead go with the one that offers a steady, measurable path.