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Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today Magazine

Getting personal about productivity

It’s a bottom-up approach, but improving individual productivity will ultimately result in achieving superior organisational productivity, says Dr David Keane. He outlines a framework for being the architect of the life you want.

For the past 25 years, I’ve been working with organisations of all kinds helping them achieve productivity by upskilling their people through effective training and management development activities.

I’ve come to the conclusion that improving organisational performance is not so much achieved directly by organisations as such, but by individuals taking personal responsibility for their own performance first and foremost. It’s the additive effect of high-performing individuals which leads to team success—which, in turn, results in superior organisational productivity.

Looking at productivity in this way—what might be considered a bottom-up approach—encourages us to think of specific ways of improving individual productivity with the ultimate objective of achieving organisational results.

While there are a plethora of books, websites and courses available on how to improve your everyday productivity, there is a big difference between what we know and what we put into practice. It’s as if we have too much information at our fingertips, and most of us simply don’t know where to begin when it comes to improving our personal productivity.


To help resolve this issue, I’ve developed a framework—or way of thinking—about how to be more effective in our everyday lives. A framework is akin to scaffolding on which to hang various ideas while we try them out, see if they will work for us, and then link them with the ideas that already operate well for us. Frameworks are invaluable because they help us wrap our minds around complex subjects and they give us a way to organise our thoughts in a way that makes sense.

If you want to become more productive, a good place to begin is to see how deliberate you are about your professional and personal life. Being deliberate is about how intentional you are and how awake you are to the everyday decisions you make. Most of us, in fact, are not deliberate, but live our lives unaware of the choices we are constantly making. If we were to become aware of the options we have available to us, we would likely make different choices, and end up with better results.

To further explain deliberate living, I have developed a 10-part framework by taking each letter of the word DELIBERATE and expanded on what this could mean for someone seeking to be more productive and therefore more successful in all aspects of their life.

D—Decide. Successful people take the time to sit down and articulate exactly what they want their lives to be about. For them, success is no accident or matter of being “lucky”—no, they focus on exactly what it is they want to achieve.

While successful people are realistic enough to know that things never exactly work out as planned, they understand that it is better to be moving in some direction rather than simply living day-to-day opportunistic lives. They know that having decided on a direction, they are more likely to seize opportunities which move them closer to their goal.

E—Eliminate. Our lives are often far too complex. Successful people know that less is indeed more. By removing all kinds of clutter and excess from their lives, successful people are able to concentrate on what is truly important. Unnecessary “stuff” in our lives takes many forms: too many material possessions, untidy work environments, and committing too much of our time to the wrong things.

Successful people are masters of managing their network of friends, colleagues and associates so that their relationships are high value and closely aligned to their goals and aspirations. This may involve actively eliminating some relationships and fostering others.

L—Language. You can tell a lot about a person from the words and language they use. If you listen to successful people, you will notice that they use positive language and “can do” words. In fact, they realise that by seeing the glass as half-full, they will attract other positive people into their lives. Positive people can help successful people achieve their goals quicker than negative people.

Successful people also have a habit of using positive language in their self-talk. This powerful tool allows them to recover quickly from apparent setbacks or problems and keep moving toward their goals. In contrast, people who are prone to negative self-talk are easily discouraged and give up far too quickly.

I—Information. Everyone has a unique way of working with information. For example, some of us prefer to read and reflect while other like to discuss, debate and decide quickly. While our unique style is not important, what matters is that we know our own preferences and organise our lives to reflect what works best for us.

By being deliberate about how we work with information, we can organise our lives and use technology appropriately. This impacts on how well our filing systems serve us, how well we organise our computer data, and ultimately how effective we are at identifying key issues and acting on what is most important.

B—Beliefs. When we take the time and care to deliberately articulate what we believe in and what we want our lives to be about, we greatly simplify our daily living. You will notice that successful people have an inner stability and calm that comes from knowing what they are truly about. As a result, successful people are less influenced by temporary setbacks. They know—and indeed expect—setbacks. They see setbacks as starting blocks, not stumbling blocks.

Less successful people, on the other hand, tend to be driven by what other people think of them and continually seek external approval. Such uncertainty leads to fickle behaviour, unreliability, and a life without direction.

E—Energy. Being able to effectively manage our energy levels is critical. Without energy, we simply do not have the strength to perform what needs to be done. Successful people foster their energy in four key areas: body, mind, emotions and spirit.

Taking good care of your body is the most fundamental way of boosting your energy levels. With a plan of care covering nutrition, regular and appropriate exercise and proper rest you have laid the foundation for having sufficient energy.

Developing your mind allows you to really focus your attention. Through various mental exercises and techniques it is possible to expand your mental capacity enormously.

With practice, you can also learn to manage your emotions so that you control your feelings, not the other way around. The successful people I have worked with have mastered this skill and, as a result, they handle pressure better and are much more adept at dealing with stress.

At the end of the day, it is having a strong spirit which gives meaning to our lives. When someone has spirit, they feel a connection between what they are doing and what they consider to be the purpose of their life. Without this connection, life is just a series of disconnected events that do not have any real meaning.

R—Responsibility. Successful people accept full responsibility for their lives. They clearly see that the situation they find themselves is not an accident, but the result of choices they have made in the past. For many people, this is hard medicine to take. Many of us live our lives blaming others (or the government) and see ourselves as victims of circumstance.

When you deliberately choose to accept total responsibility, your life begins to change in a most fundamental way. By realising that your current life is the result of past decisions, it follows that the shape of your future will be determined by the decisions of today. It is liberating to realise that choice is always available to you and that the consequences of your choices—not the actions of others—determine your future.

A—Action. Without action, nothing happens. The successful people I have worked with are experts at directing their energy to make things happen. They know that all the planning and goal setting in the world is wasted without action.

The first step in working effectively is making a direct connection between what needs to be done and your unique purpose and goals. If that connection is crystal clear, procrastination is easily overcome, motivation is high, and energy flows to get the task done.

Successful people give one hundred percent of their attention to the task in front of them without being distracted by other priorities. In my experience, this is a skill that can be learned.

T—Time. We do not manage time, we manage the use of our time. Because each of us has exactly the same amount of time available—168 hours a week—the choices we make about the use of these hours determines the outcomes we get in life.

Successful people plan ahead to ensure that their time is spent on what matters most to them. They work in a focused way to make the time available really count and then they stop when it’s time to stop.

E—Evaluate. By finding practical ways to evaluate your performance, you can measure your progress towards what matters most. This feedback will really fuel your motivation and help you to periodically refine your goals and aspirations in the light of your progress.

Successful people actively seek out feedback because they are constantly looking for ways of improving their performance.


By being DELIBERATE, a person can be the architect of the life they want. And in doing so, they achieve extra-ordinary productivity. Because they are focused and have taken the time to develop their personal productivity skills, what they do matters, and the results they get are in alignment with their aspirations.

From an organisational point of view, it is critically important that employees are encouraged to take this journey. An organisation comprising individuals who are DELIBERATE—both professionally and personally—has developed a unique business capability that underpins productivity at all corporate levels. In addition, employees who are truly deliberate are more innovative and much more open to change.

We could say that achieving organisational productivity is indeed the task of enabling each one of your people to be the absolute best they can be. If we can take care of our people in this way, we’ll build great teams, which ultimately will deliver for the organisation. Perhaps achieving organisational productivity and strategic advantage is more personal than we might think.

DR DAVID KEANE runs workshops, seminars and conference presentations based on his extensive research and coaching with successful people. This article is abstracted from his best-selling book, The Art of Deliberate Success: The 10 Behaviours of Successful People.

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