I’m currently taking an Operations Management module on the University of Cambridge Executive MBA course and our list of recommended readings includes a book call The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. It’s described as a “business novel that introduced the theory of constraints and changed how America does business”.
It’s a surprisingly addictive read about a factory manager named Alex who faces closure of the factory unless he can improve profits. A key lesson that Alex learns is to find the bottlenecks and work with these. This necessarily entails decreasing productivity in some parts of the factory to align speed across inter-dependent processes. At first glance, this appears to be counterintuitive. How could decreasing productivity in one part of a system actually increase productivity overall? Basically, the bottleneck is a bottleneck no matter how much we do in the other parts of a system. And by overworking one part of a system - we’re simply expending energy that we don’t need to.
It’s such a common misconception that we assume more work will result in higher productivity. But it’s just not true. And, in fact, it can often be counterproductive - working more can actually decrease productivity! This is the central thesis of Cal Newport’s book Deep Work as well. Cal points out that over-working our brains results in not being able to filter the relevant from the irrelevant. So we end up doing more of the irrelevant work and are less focused on the relevant work.
Eliyahu describes this from a factory perspective in a very accessible way and one that made me think about the activities in my work and how I can improve our productivity. The exciting lesson for me is that it is often a rearrangement of work flows and a decrease in work in specific areas that leads to increases in productivity. So I can get more done by working less!
This is a hugely important lesson - and one that we need to learn and implement in the environment sector. We have so much to do and yet we have a limited amount of resources. More often than not, we get into a vicious cycle of working harder and harder without stopping to question whether this is actually moving us towards our goal. So our challenge for you this week is to look for the bottlenecks in your work. And when you find them, think about how you can improve these bottlenecks and whether the work you are doing on non-bottlenecks is effective and consider reducing your time on them.
We Are All Wonder Women Co-founder Eugenie is currently studying for an Executive MBA at the University of Cambridge. This is one is a series of blogs she is writing giving insight into some of her learning from the course which she hopes will help other Wonder Women at work.
Have you seen our new online career coaching course for women in the environment sector? Find out more here.
We Are All Wonder Women is an international movement for female conservation professionals to be inspired, connected, and empowered to create an authentic, fulfilling and happy career.