How much pressure is required to make somebody more productive?

Michael has written another great post here. I don’t want to steal his thunder, so please go read his post (it’s an excellent read), then read my thoughts below!

Earlier this year a good friend and colleague was discussing (with my boss) the idea of increasing workload and the pressure required to improve/increase productivity. Working out just how much more work an individual can cope with is difficult and is one that Michael covers in his post. Too much work and the individual goes in to shutdown mode, too little and they procrastinate.

Whilst I agree with increasing a person’s workload, it’s important to consider the unseen work they might be undertaking. For example, and I don’t wish to blow my own trumpet, I put in a lot of hours for my employer (more on this in a moment) and I put in a lot of voluntary hours writing/presenting for Scottish Developers, the Developers’ Group and Agile Scotland, amongst others.

I’ve recently seen my employer’s workload increase, particularly the amount of travel has increased. This has meant sacrifices elsewhere: writing takes time and inclination, without both, writer’s block is very common. After a working week involving a lot of travel and 6-8 hours of working time each day too, one doesn’t really feel up to firing up the laptop to start work on articles and presentations!

Earlier in this post I mentioned that I put in a lot of hours for my employer. I put the hours in just to get the job done: and I try my best to make sure it’s a “good job, well done” too. I’m sure that I procrastinate, who doesn’t? I’m sure that I sometimes take longer to complete a task than the next person, again who doesn’t? What I have noticed however, and this is a general observation, not specific to any organisation, is that there are folks out there who take a long time completing what should be a simple task. Of course, there are similar folks who can complete the same simple task in a much shorter time-scale than was ever expected.

Productivity comes through “getting on with it”, it comes with the realisation of “task completion”: the more tasks that an individual completes, the more productive they should become. Ultimately, the individual will set their own threshold. For productive individuals, this will be easy and should require no outside involvement, which, IMHO, is a bad thing: outsiders shouldn’t try and alter individuals thresholds unless the individual concerned is the worst kind of procrastinator, the kind who never finishes anything.