Do you ever wish you could get more done in a day? It’s a suitable topic for the frenetic world of post-press operations, where a multitude of things must be done with never enough time to do it.
I confess that I have a small library of books on productivity, most of which are gathering dust after being skimmed for the first few pages. I’m not very productive at reading books on productivity. With all the countless books, web sites, articles, and systems devoted to the subject, why do so many of us still struggle with getting more done?
For starters, it’s a lot of work to change our habits. And not every method suits every personality. Despite my sincere interest in getting more done, it was two simple words shared with me by a colleague that had the biggest impact on my productivity. The bonus was that I didn’t have to learn a system and the words will suit any personality.
These highly effective words are, “What’s next?” Think about the nature of becoming more productive. It’s all about action because it takes action to move things along. Whenever you’re finishing up a meeting, a sales call, a phone call, a discussion, or even a thought, ask yourself, “What’s next?” or more specifically, “What’s the next action?”
David Allen, in his best-seller, Getting Things Done, talks about “intelligently dumbing down your brain by figuring out the next action. You’ll invariably feel a relieving of pressure about anything you have a commitment to change or do, when you decide on the very next physical action required to move it forward. Nothing, essentially, will change in the world. But shifting your focus to something that your mind perceives as a doable, completeable task will create a real increase in positive energy, direction, and motivation.”
If you are a bindery manager or supervisor, implementing what’s-next as a personal habit is one of the most effective things you can do to keep that extensive list of tasks in forward motion. Every task on your to-do- list should from this moment forward have a specific next action. (This really applies to any profession.)
Let’s say you have “registration problems with folding machines” on your list because there was a rejected job due to folding problems. Most problems have some level of unpleasantness about them; after all, they are problems. Maybe you have a grouchy operator, or you don’t have time in the production schedule, so you procrastinate. The task becomes just one more item on a lengthy list.
Let’s phrase it in the next action format—“Talk to folder operators Wednesday to set a meeting time for Friday.” Now you have a specific next action. Perhaps you can’t schedule the meeting yet because the owner has to be present. In that case, the next action might be “Confirm Friday a.m. folder operators meeting with President.” Once that is OK, then you move on to the logical next action. The action doesn’t have to be complicated. It just has to be any small action that moves the task along. There could be ten next actions to get to that meeting on Friday.
Of course when there are other parties involved in a meeting or discussion, you have to get their agreement as to what’s next. At the very least, you’ll need agreement on who will be handling the next-action item. Otherwise it’s just a meeting or an idea without a plan for forward movement.
If you are a bindery equipment operator, then your job consists of doing tasks assigned to you. So how can you apply next-action when your tasks are out of your control?
You can take it to a personal level. Unlike a supervisor, you aren’t necessarily managing a slew of tasks to get things done. This means you have to manage your own productivity if you want to get more done. Like it or not, the pressure will always be on you to get more done with what you have.
For example, let’s say you have “become a better bindery operator” on your to-do list, whether it’s saddle stitchers, folding machines, or presses. So what’s next? Will I read a book? Will I enroll in a class? Will I call the manufacturer to ask for more info on the machines I run? Will I go to a trade show this weekend? Will I make it a point to speak with the mechanic or technician when he comes in next week?
The trick is to turn any item on your list into an action item. So “become a better bindery operator” becomes “research bindery books on the internet tonight and make a list of five I want to read.” Once that’s done, what’s next? Perhaps “Buy one book the first of every month.” What’s next? “Read one chapter every night before I turn on the television.”
You get the idea. “Become a better operator” just sits on your list, possibly for years. When you include “What’s next?” in your tasks, they move along, almost of their own accord.
As Allen says, when you start to make things happen with a next-action outlook, you start to believe you can make things happen…and that makes things happen. So give it a try. Add this simple but powerful question to everything you do, personal and professional. I promise you’ll see results.
Do you use this technique? Share your stories below. And feel free to share this with your colleagues using the social buttons above or at the left.