How Productive Are You?

I subscribe to Fast Company magazine. The November 2015 issue features the secrets of productive people.  Since I always feel that there is ‘too much opportunity for the time I have,’ I wanted to explore what productivity means in context of our daily lives as early childhood professionals. 

While the folks interviewed in the magazine had resources, we do not (i.e. assistants and schedulers, there were some great nuggets that apply to our own lives.  In my blog post, How to find the Right Fit, I spoke about the importance of finding the place where ‘what you love to do’ and ‘what you are good at’ intersect.  This also seemed to be a central theme in the article.  It is a pointed reminder that we should be doing what we love.  The most productive people do not waste their time in work that is not central to how they want to be in the world. They choose work that is meaningful to them. It seems that when we choose work that is meaningful to us, success follows.

Success is measured in many ways other than money. It is measured in the quality of the work completed, rather than the quantity.  In early childhood, we will always have aspects of quantity because our work is focused on providing service based on time in a program.  So, how do we increase the quality of our work in our classrooms and programs when we are not with the children?

While we know many of the themes that emerged, this list serves as important reminders.  Productive people tend to….

  • Work undistracted for short busts of time on specific tasks or projects. I will work on this report for one hour.  I will not let myself become distracted from my work. I will minimize disruptions to urgent only.  When I had a team of forty talented folks working with me, I blocked out times on my schedule as work blocks. After some trial and error, our team came to understand that urgent did not mean that you couldn’t find xyz, it meant that a child or a parent needed support beyond what could be provided by our team.
  • Save email for limited durations at certain points of the day. I will check my email at the beginning, middle, and end of the day-or a schedule that works for me. I will not let email distract me from work with children, the team, or parents. I still work on practicing this rule because email creates a sense of urgency and need to respond. It can be a time waster, when you spend time answering them as they arrive in your inbox.  Better to respond at designated times for a specific amount of time.
  • Interacting with people daily. I will check in with each team members, co-educator daily for a few minutes. I will use this time productively to take care of the small daily tasks, questions, concerns that arise in our program or organization. I will remind myself that doing this, creates community and limits surprises or issues that clog my inbox or require longer meetings to unpack. I became master of the stand-up meeting, spending a few minutes in every classroom everyday, in addition to my longer observations. I also developed the habit of helping during my time in the classroom, picking up dishes, helping with coats or boots, or any of the hundreds of other tasks in the daily lives of early childhood educators.
  • Keep short-term, low-cognitive tasks to times of high disruption. I will save small tasks that don’t require high levels of mental energy or time to the busy parts of my day. I will stop what I am doing, when someone needs support in-person or by phone. I will remind myself to be fully present in the conversation putting aside my project with grace and patience.  There are always piles of small tasks to be done, from filing to checking documents.  I tried to keep an inbox with those tasks so I could tackle them as time allowed during the high traffic times of my day. Since I am one to listen with one ear, I made a point to always arrange my space, so I face away from my computer when I work with people.  It focused my attention and made the conversations highly productive. These times also served as a way re-enforce those protected blocks of work time that I set aside for high-cognitive activities.

Productivity is a muscle that we need to work to develop. It takes time and intentionality.

How are your developing your productivity muscle?