How to use the ‘rule of three’ to improve productivity
Whether you are struggling to manage remote working under the threat of Covid-19 or failing to get the most out of your employees; efficient, effective productivity is everything. Often seen as an intangible goal, improving your staff output without inducing burnout is a concrete process that can be applied to every business – with the ‘Rule of 3’ leading the pack when it comes to implementing improvements to businesses of any size.
So, how can the ‘Rule of 3’ improve productivity and what are some quick and clean ways to bring it in through your place of work?
What is productivity?
Put simply, productivity is the optimisation of output per units of input. In engineering, this can be keeping the level of electrical energy entering a machine consistent while increasing the amount of output. However, when it comes to dealing with human employees, things get a little more complex.
In the same way as every individual is different, there are several factors or elements that can affect an individual’s productivity. While some of these can be simple fixes like improving their access to equipment or correct training, understanding the unique reasons why teams or key employees are not hitting their potential can be challenging in the extreme.
Many businesses can not only find themselves struggling with employees that display low productivity, but also being unable to find out what ‘productivity’ truly is. And without this insight, companies can find themselves missing out on opportunities that could have a profound impact on their work and daily practice.
Why is it so important?
Without a focus on productivity, your business will never reach its true, projected potential.
This means that for every employee you will be potentially wasting time, energy, and resources to complete a task. This quickly affects your margins, growth plans, and adds an element of uncertainty to the mix.
Without a real-world overview of your targets, approach, and deliverables, it is simply impossible to gauge the current level of productivity and take steps to adjust your practice and introduce incentives to help improve their efforts and the end-result of their graft.
Although improving individual productivity can help, advancements in technology make it easier than ever before to capture information about productivity. This can range from tracking deliverables that have been produced, client issues that have been resolved, and keeping an eye on key project management tasks. Finding the right system can let you view these statistics through a live dashboard, set up triggers and alerts to help you respond to high-priority incidents, or just help crunch your data to aid future projections.
Without a solid digital backbone, the amount of hands-on oversight will increase as your company scales. And, eventually, prove to be an obstacle that will require too much effort to cost-effectively unpick.
While it may be impossible to do an employee’s work for them, most of the responsibility for driving productivity rests at the feet of the employer. This means it is important for your business and line managers to understand the nature of how your teams work and put in place best practice approaches to make sure that your teams are up to the job.
What is the ‘Rule of 3’?
While taking a look at your overall productivity can be challenging – as there are a wealth of digitization platforms and approaches available – it is often the first step that is the most important.
For many businesses, this means implementing the ‘Rule of 3’ – a productivity approach that can yield significant results in the most disorganised or disciplined workplace.
Part of agile business practice, the rule asks employees to focus on accomplishing three concrete things each day, each week, each month, and each year.
And that’s it.
Simple and straightforward, this approach is useful for two key reasons-
Practical Approach: The three-step approach allows your teams and employees to start planning at the highest possible level. This allows for targets to be segmented and reporting to take place that is broken down effectively. Explainable in a minute, this minimises time spent on unnecessary planning work and makes conversations or meetings easier to hold.
Mindset Adjustment: Arguably the most useful aspect of the approach, following the rule allows employees to adopt a new view of approaching work. This allows them to ask the question if what they are currently working on is contributing to one of those goals or even actively preventing them from accomplishing what they are set out to do.
One of the biggest reasons why productivity fails is that, for many of us, our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. We may assume a task can be accomplished with ease, get derailed in office conversations, or run into obstacles that we may feel compelled to finish but pull us away from achieving targets and goals.
How can I implement it?
While the approach is relatively straightforward, implementing it within groups of different compositions can be challenging. In order to help the process ‘stick’ it can be helpful to talk through the process and ‘trial’ the approach with employees for a week. This helps them gather practical experience about what works (and what doesn’t) and apply future learning to what they’ve gathered first-hand. And as one of the biggest obstacles to learning is picking things up in the abstract, this can help make future sessions more accessible and relevant.
Once your teams have trialled the approach, it can be helpful to apply some additional lessons. These can include, but not be limited to-
Changing Your Approach: One key thing to realise with the rule is that…it’s just a rule. They are not important in and of themselves and failing to meet them should not be punished. The system helps test the water to see how teams are doing. If they are not hitting these targets regularly, it is worth taking a closer look and seeing what obstacles stand in their way and which ones can be removed.
Prioritization: The rules dictate the results that are to be achieved, not how they are meant to be accomplished. For example, if one task is to adjust data in an excel spreadsheet, in-house tools can be used to review the data. However, if a new external tool becomes available in half the time, use that instead! This allows teams to think constructively and not blindly carry out their tasks without optimisation.
Anchoring: Even the most professional of office environments are full of distractions. Unnecessary conversations, unexpected emails, overlong meetings, or high-priority client problems can quickly derail a workday and leave employees distracted. Before long, a ten-minute delay can spiral out of control and – in extreme cases – claim days of working time as they review the issue. Choosing to follow the rule of 3 means that employees are always able to look back to their list of three key items and check if it’s helping or hindering the accomplishment of their goals. And, if it isn’t, it’s potentially time to put it aside.
Embedding: An essential strength of the rule of 3 is its ability to combine with existing lists or plans that you have. This allows you to ‘map’ between the two and attach key tasks to daily, weekly, or monthly criteria. And if a task cannot be ‘filed’ under one of your established rule of three headers, it may be worth abandoning it or redetermining its priority.
Refocusing: If there is one lesson to be taken away from the rule of 3 it’s that employees and their managers need to be aware of their key tasks but also their capacity to complete them. Working with clear targets in mind makes it much easier for employees to keep awareness of their workload and ring-fence actions that prevent them from completing their work.
Of course, following this approach is only the first step on the way to optimising your productivity. Once in place, embedding the right apps, software platforms, and collaborative tools can help your teams optimise their output and – most importantly – capture vital digital data that can then be reported on.
If you want to learn more about how improvements to your business can raise productivity, our team at Practical Software is here to help. With many years’ experience working with a range of clients, we are more than happy to provide the help and practical support that you need.