The Ringing Effect Could Be Killing Your Productivity

permanAs a follow up to the post I did on Wednesday about Hybels’ book Simplify, I also wanted to draw your attention to Matt Perman’s book What’s Best Next. Likely you’re already aware of the book, but if not it really is worth your investment.

The core of his book is that to be more productive we need to do four things:

  • D – define what it is you’re meant to do
  • A – architect a plan to make it happen
  • R – reduce all the stuff you shouldn’t be doing
  • E – execute the plan

It’s a handy little acronym to help you remember, and the principles are good and worth thinking through for your own situation. One of the ‘eureka’ moments in the book for me was when Perman talked about something called the ‘Ringing Effect.’ Understanding this simple idea is, I believe, really really important. Here’s the gist in Perman’s own words:

“Researchers have found that whenever most systems – such as airports, freeways, and other such things – exceed about 90 percent capacity, efficiency drops massively. Not just slightly, but massively.”

“That is why traffic slows down at rush hour . . . once capacity is past about 90 percent, small disturbances have a huge effect.” [one person’s sharp braking ripples out exponentially bringing everything a mile down the road to a halt]

“[This] applies to your projects and your organization as well . . . for example, when you are trying to schedule a meeting for ten people, and they all have to be there. It’s almost impossible to find a time that works for everyone, resulting in an untold number of emails going back and forth. And then, once everything is figured out, something unexpected comes up for someone and you need to reschedule the meeting again (and then reschedule the other stuff on your plate that is now interfering with the new time). That ‘rearranging’ is the ringing effect . . . And the effects continue cascading, for as you keep rescheduling, other people involved need to reschedule as well. And on it goes.”

“you need to reduce the number of projects that you are working on at once. . . To get more done, do less, not more.”    (pp. 223-225)

Did you hear that? If you want to be more productive, do less, not more. Perman is quick to clarify that ‘do less’ does not mean be lazy or work less hours, but rather that you need to have fewer projects on the go at the same time – fewer plates spinning. You can be far more productive focusing your attention on a few key things than trying to manage or oversee a dozen. Perman suggests working at around 75% capacity so that when the unexpected arises you can tackle it without it sending everything else into chaos. I suspect, if you’re anything like me, you’ll nod in agreement with all this, but do nothing about it. The challenge is in implementing a plan that really improves productivity. So perhaps on your own, or with your staff team spend some time with each person to define, architect, reduce, and execute.

PS. Perman’s book is a model of what he preaches and a joy to read thanks to his one page chapter summaries at the end of every chapter – what a man! What a book! Get it read.


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