Productivity ninjas: 'work smarter' workshop a massive success

“As a knowledge worker, thinking is at the essence of what you do. The key to success in knowledge work (adding value to information) is good thinking, good decisions and good attention,” said Marcel van den Berg from Think Productive. Marcel was giving a two-day productivity workshop, ‘Work Smarter not Harder’, on 14 and 15 March in Johannesburg.

  • Marcel will be back later this year doing a second 'Work Smarter not Harder' workshop, on 21 and 22 September. Read more about the course here or register to join us for the event.

Over the two-day course, Marcel guided participants through modules such as nine characteristics of a Productivity Ninja (see sidebar at end of article), emailing like a ninja, meeting like a ninja, using your computer like a ninja, organising like a ninja and planning and acting like a ninja. He also worked through the CORD Productivity Model, CORD standing for capture and collect, organise, review, and do, before closing out the course with a session on surviving in the age of information.

Marcel spent time talking about the notion of the ‘second brain’; the premise around which the coursework was focused. He said:

“The second brain is the analogy we use for a 100-percent reliable system you have that keeps track of all your projects, tasks and deadlines – basically everything you need to worry about in life and work. The reason we need a second brain is because our actual brain is not very good at keeping track of all our actions and reminders. Our brain is a fantastic machine but it’s not meant to remind us of things, it’s meant to think of new things and creative solutions.”

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Fabian Naidoo, Right to Care Divisional CFO, who brought the group’s entire finance team (30 people) along to the workshop, said he was gleaning great value from the sessions. He said:

“After this, everybody will be in sync as far as organising and tasks are concerned, and everyone’s expectations will be the same. As much as I hate routine, some of my planning had become routine, in terms of how I deal with my emails or projects. That was one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt here, I’m a bit old school. I’ve learnt that there are more efficient ways to organise information, tasks and responsibilities, which will be useful in making better use of what time I have available.”

Marcel advised participants to “think in terms of impact”; especially if there is a need to be ruthless, as well as to think in terms of the next actions or practical steps that need to be taken. He suggested that the thinking be separated from the doing: “If you do the thinking as the first step, the doing becomes much easier. So, you need to think if there’s an action worth doing. Or, do you ask someone else to do it, or can it just not be done at all? You must also think in terms of next actions or practical steps then need to be taken, so, in other words, when you finish your thinking you should determine for yourself what’s the next action you need to take; the next physical action.”

The workshop included a course pack filled with useful information and notes, as well as practical exercises for participants to do and then unpack as a group afterwards; with some of the discussions becoming quite animated. At stages Marcel also asked participants to break up into pairs and discussion various topics, such as the structure of their work weeks, and how they allocated their time each day.

When the discussion turned to the ideal work week, several participants joked that their ideal week was one spent on leave, out of the office. Once the laughter faded, Marcel brought a slide up onto the screen with an example of an ideal work week, with dedicated slots for regular activities such as meetings, report writing, or project check ins. “You are deciding upfront how you are going to spend your week. So, you’ll know weeks in advance whether you are available for something.” There were murmurs of agreement, and smiles when the simplicity of it became evident.

“When you first start out your working career, the scope is small, and you can manage. But as your career progresses and you start to take on more responsibility, you can’t keep up. There’s no such thing as time management these days. I’m finding this workshop excellent as a way to recondition my brain,” said one of the participants.

Another added: “I’m old school. I’m far more comfortable with pen and paper systems of keeping to-do lists and making notes than with electronic means and apps. But I’m going to try. Starting now I’m going to do it. I’ll start small.” Yet a third quipped: “I’m going to bankrupt my email inbox. As Marcel suggested. I’m just going to delete all my unread emails – there are more than 2,000 of them – and start again from zero.”

Closing out the workshop, Marcel spoke about surviving in the age of information. “You need a process of storing important information that is entering your life, and you must be able to find it,” he said. His advice is to be proactive about dealing with information and to see it as part of your work. In doing so, you become intentional about looking up information, he said, and also avoid unnecessary information.

9 Characteristics of a Productivity Ninja

  1. Zen-like calm
  2. Ruthlessness
  3. Weapon-savvy
  4. Stealth and camouflage
  5. Unorthodoxy
  6. Agility
  7. Mindfulness
  8. Preparedness
  9. Human, not superhero

?See also the video footage below of the number one European productivity trainer, Marcel van den Berg at Finance Indaba Africa 2016.

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