Jobs and the Future of Work

A lesson from golf to make you more productive

A woman uses her Apple iPhone while waiting to cross 5th Avenue in New York, September 20, 2012.  Apple's iPhone 5 goes on sale tomorrow as Apple works to increase it's market share in the mobile phone market. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY TELECOMS SOCIETY) - RTR387LK

Companies should focus on skills before software Image: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Emma Luxton
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Have you ever downloaded an app or software that promises to help you become more organized? Maybe you gave it a go for a few days, then ditched it because it didn’t make you any more productive.

If that was the case, then you’re certainly not alone, says Maura Thomas, an international speaker and trainer on productivity, attention and effectiveness. In an article for Harvard Business Review, she writes that individuals and companies often overlook workflow management when trying out new productivity tools.

“A workflow management process keeps the focus on the big picture while offering a structure in which to organize and manage the details,” she writes.

“So when people ask me for advice about choosing software to improve productivity for themselves or their organizations, I ask them this question: ‘How will the software fit into the existing workflow management process?’ And often, we quickly uncover the real problem: there is no workflow management process.”

To illustrate the point, she uses a sports analogy: “Learning to use the tool is a by-product. The real goal is to learn to play the game. I don’t play golf, but I understand how to swing a club: I know that I am supposed to hold the grip end and swing the flat end. But this doesn’t mean I’m a great golfer.”

She adds: “What’s necessary is both the skill, and the right set of tools.”

The same applies to applications designed to improve how much you deliver during the workday. If you haven’t got the necessary skills to make best use of the software, you won’t perform as well, or be able to take full advantage of the tool.

Technology’s impact

Advances in technology have brought dramatic changes to the workplace, but in many advanced economies they haven’t resulted in the hoped-for surge in productivity. In fact, productivity has been falling in most OECD countries in sectors such as IT, communication, finance and insurance.

Bain & Company analysed data on how people spend their time at work, and calculated what the impact of technology was on productivity.

 The impact technology has on productivity
Image: Bain & Company

It found that managers have less than seven hours of uninterrupted work time in a 47-hour working week. They devote 21 hours a week to meetings, and 11 to reading, sending and replying to emails.

So, investing in new technology or software to improve the productivity of employees might not always yield the desired results.

Thomas writes that, regardless of the types of software companies offer their employees, “those tools aren’t going to make the employees more productive unless they are also taught a solid methodology with which to use those tools”.

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Jobs and the Future of WorkFourth Industrial Revolution
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