When we are working on ways to become more productive, it behooves us not to create systems that make us individually more productive but makes it inherently more difficult for others to work with us. Individual productivity optimization is great - if you are Robinson Crusoe. Otherwise, you need to give a little thought to the rest of the people around you - your coworkers, business partners, customers and vendors.
I was thinking about this topic when visiting two fine academic institutions in North Carolina. Both state supported universities - hubs of academic knowledge. However, trying to find a place to park a car as a visitor is difficult and actively unhelpful. One university now makes a visitor pay to park. I know this seems like a small problem, but doesn't that fact fly in the face of what a university should be? Shouldn't we actively encourage people to come in, exchange ideas, interact? Another university requires a parking pass to park near one of the graduate schools. However, to get the pass, you have to park the car, go into the building, fill out a form and walk back out to your car. Mean time from initial parking to finally getting back into the building for your meeting? 15 minutes. Who thought this process up? Why not simply have a form on the website that I can print out and have validated in some fashion - or have someone outside who can check to see I am not a student using the visitor parking for last minute class attendance? Why make it hard for people to interact or visit you?
Sometimes we are all guilty of this. If I want to be personally productive, I can push work off on others, build systems and processes that make me more efficient, and reduce my workload or make myself more efficient and productive. But many times all that does is make more work or make work less efficient for others. We all need to think about the systems and processes we are a part of, and how and when we impact those systems and processes and the other people who interact with those systems. Only by thinking about how everyone is affected and building systems or processes which help everyone be more productive do we get ahead.
For example, I know it costs less to have an automated attendant answer the call at most business (in full disclosure we use one). However, I am usually presented with five standard options which almost never reflect what I actually need. Then I end up surfing through the voice activated commands to try to reach a real human being. While this is great for the firm I am calling, it leaves me feeling like my time and my needs don't matter. And please, please do not tell me how important my business is while keeping me on hold.
Another example? Document management. Most of us store documents that we create in obscure places on a shared drive or on our own machine. This makes it easy for us to find, but next to impossible for anyone else to find and use. Part of the rationale behind this is that many firms don't define a good document management strategy, instead they just leave document storage, maintenance and management to the end users. So, once again we are optimized locally and actively unhelpful across the organization.
To me, one of the most important things we can think about as we build processes or systems is to consider all the interconnecting people, processes and systems and how what we do will impact those other systems. Is what we are doing going to make it easier for everyone, or build walls for others while simplifying my tasks?