Increasing your productivity means doing more than making a list or improving the way you answer your email. It requires making changes to as many as a dozen different aspects of your life. That, at least, is the theory of Casey Moore, a Virginia-based productivity coach who takes a holistic approach to improving output rates. Moore started her career in 2000 as a part-time professional organizer, helping Texans to organize their homes and businesses. She soon moved to full-time work and by the middle of the decade was focused on improving business efficiency rather than domestic organization.
“Although I love organizing ‘stuff,’ I realized that helping people work more effectively (and thereby live the lives they wanted) was more challenging, interesting and rewarding,” she said. “To me, ‘productivity’ means producing whatever you want — accomplishing more at work, feeling more restful at home, or navigating more successfully between the two.”
Taking a Holistic Approach to Productivity
What Moore found as she spent time with business clients was that there was never one simple solution to an inefficient process. Organizing a shoe rack might help someone who can’t decide which pumps to wear in the morning but revving up those days when work seems to move like molasses requires doing more than just renaming folders or creating workflow rules.
Clients might have been hoping for a quick fix that could have them completing their chores in half an hour, leaving them free to focus on the really important stuff, but a real, permanent solution demands more than a change in the technology. It requires changes to a number of different aspects of a freelancer or entrepreneur’s life: to their health, their attitude and their relationships, among others. And because each aspect impacts another, making just one change — using a new calendar tool or screening calls — can only have limited effect.
“Most people I encounter are overwhelmed at both work and home as a result of decades of chronic downsizing and our consumer culture,” says Moore. “The demands and expectations they face are enormous… [and they] don’t realize that the factors that affect their productivity are complex and inter-related. They hope a magic bullet—usually some email trick—will make everything better. Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet.”
One common problem, says Moore, is boundary-setting. People find it difficult to say “no” both to themselves and to others. When they take on too much though, their health suffers, as do their relationships. That, in turn, affects the ability to organize, plan, delegate and get things done. Their lack of productivity might be traced back to their willingness to please but it influences a number of different areas of their working life.
For Moore, the interrelation between different aspects of working life can be expressed as a series of twelve links that include: Boundary-setting/; Communication/Relationships; Decision-making; Delegation; Drive; Goal-setting/Prioritization; Health; Organization (of objects and data); Planning; Reinvention; Resources; and Task/Project Management.
These links, which relate to skills, knowledge and abilities, depend on each other, ensuring that a worker or a freelancer’s productivity is only as strong as the weakest link. A number of Moore’s clients, for example, come to her overwhelmed by email and believing that they need to learn to process it more quickly. That would be part of the Task/Project Management link but the ability to meet that challenge actually involves other parts of the chain too.
“When we dig deeper, however, it often turns out they really need to communicate more clearly themselves (Communication/Relationships link), resign from some list servs (Boundary-setting link), and/or train their team not to copy them on so many messages (Delegation link),” says Moore. “Strengthening these other links dramatically decreases the number of emails that arrive in their inboxes in the first place. The Productivity Chain guides you to address root causes.”
Understanding how the Chain works is relatively simple, and the changes that strengthen the links don’t have to be particularly complex, says Moore. A lack of drive might be linked to health which could be strengthened by spending more time in the gym, for example, or by eating lighter, healthier lunches. But identifying which links need strengthening first and how is a little less clear. Moore has a quick quiz that delivers a productivity assessment and which identifies the weakest links in The Productivity Chain (in return for contact details). Her book, Start Organizing, Start Producing contains more detail on each of the links and suggestions to strengthen them.
Get Some Sleep
For freelancers, raising productivity can begin by taking the test, then making small changes that strengthen each of the links in turn: delegating more tasks, for example, or setting career goals. The result should be a flow of work which the freelancer cranks out with ease — and maintaining that high productivity level should be simple because no link is at risk of cracking. The Productivity Chain can even work with David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” system. Moore is an advocate of Allen’s master list concept, and recommends listing the top three to five priorities each morning when the brain is rested and fed — and to put any tasks not accomplished back into the mix for the next day.
That “rested and fed” brain may actually be the most important factor of all in raising productivity. Asked to describe the one most important change that a freelancer needs to make to increase productivity, and Moore’s answer was clear:
“Get sufficient sleep. That means at least 7.5 hours a night, which allows for five 90-minute sleep cycles. Most Americans get far less—and it’s killing them and their productivity. They’ve been sleep-deprived for so long, they’ve forgotten how it feels to be fully rested. One tip: people who get enough sleep on a regular schedule don’t need alarms to wake up on time.”
But if they’re like most freelancers, they’ll still need coffee in the morning before they dive into their projects.