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24 Jan 2024 • Tom Haley

Top three techniques to improve your impact

The focus of recent articles has been the measurement of productivity in the construction and some of the challenges we face.

I thought I would round off this mini-series with a more practical article in which I share some ideas about how I try and be as impactful as I can be in the workplace which, in turn, improves my productivity. I work in high pressure environments where deadlines are always tight, and quality must not be compromised, so there is learning I can share which might help you.

These are not hacks and I have left the intelligent use of technology to one side as it will be covered more extensively in future articles. Instead, the focus is on personal development and how practicing these three techniques will improve your impact and productivity.

1. Focus on the important

We have all been there. You head into work with an intention to do one thing and, before you know it, the day has passed and that one thing you intended to do got side lined by “urgent” tasks: head office wanted a cash flow forecast (yes, another one!); the site team need instructions issuing asap because the work needs to be done tomorrow (no time to explain why the request is only raised now!); or you have a stack of system approvals to do so that materials can be ordered.

It can be difficult to manage the urgent and it takes discipline, often learned over time, to remain focused on the important.

A technique I have developed to help me with this is, at the start of a week (or at the end of the week prior), I write down everything that I am likely to do that week. Sometimes the list is never ending but I get it all down. I review the list and identify those outputs that are critical (high impact to me or someone else if not done) and non-critical tasks.

For critical actions, I will dedicate time in my diary to focus on these and make sure that any other downtime that week is dedicated to making progress. For non-critical tasks, I will group these by category and, when they are stacked up, I will hit them in a 1–2-hour sprint and close as many as I can. The stacking helps because they are often repetitive and if I communicate that is my slot to do a particular thing, you often find people manage their requests to suit.

I am not always successful. Sometimes the week changes, things happen, and I fall short. When this happens, I have learnt not to be too hard on myself and, instead, reflect on why it didn’t happen. Maybe I targeted too much, maybe there was too much out of my control, or maybe a catastrophic event occurred that took over the week.

The key is to be disciplined and focused but, at the same time, balanced and realistic in your reflections. Over time, you will refine an approach that suits you and you will find your impact grows.

2. Meetings, meetings, meetings

A necessary evil of the business world: meetings.

You will experience good ones, not so good ones, and you might even experience some revolutionary ideas (check out standing meetings or starting the meeting with a 6-page memo reading like Jeff Bezos introduced at Amazon). The use of meetings is inescapable, and I can’t see their use changing any time soon, so the key question is how can you navigate meetings and be productive with your time?

I have learned to look at meetings as a marketplace where you go to trade ideas and thoughts, takeaway actions and, depending on your status or influence, give actions to others.

When I go shopping, I tend to know what I need, and I get in and out with minimal fuss. This is a technique that, when I think about it, is similar to my approach to meetings. When I go to meetings, I have a very clear idea of what I need, what my stakeholders need, and what other attendees need. If I’m not sure then, at the start of the meeting I will ask. In doing so, the collective desired outcomes are identified, an appropriate agenda is designed, and the discussion can be brought back to the actions required to make progress.

What I tend to find, when people don’t approach meetings in this way, is the discussion becomes ineffective because: it goes off on tangents; gets unnecessarily dragged into minutia detail; or everyone walks away with a slightly different understanding of what was discussed and agreed.

The preparation for multiple meetings per day can be relentless, but the cost of not preparing is sitting in poor quality meetings all day; I know which I would prefer. The initial investment is worth the return, so get ahead and stay ahead.

You will find that those who do this well are very influential.

3. Breaking down the plan

Whenever I enter a new situation, I watch, learn, observe, and listen. I survey documents, people, settings – pretty much everything available to me.

Sometimes the objective is very clear, sometimes I need to put some definition to the objective. For example, a client might need to recover time and money but whether this can be achieved, how much of it can be recovered, and what needs to be done, needs definition.

Through experience, I have learned to grasp a situation or problem quickly. I won’t underplay the importance of this; if you want to make an impact then this is something you must master because patience gets thinner and thinner the further up the career ladder you go.

The technique I have developed to help me with this is asking the right questions and working out which answers are helpful to what I need to achieve, and which aren’t. You sometimes come across very dominant opinions which, when tested, don’t stand up to scrutiny. It is very easy to be led down the wrong path so developing a good sense for this will stand you in good stead.

Once I have gathered enough information, I can diagnose the problem and develop the optimum route from where we are now to where we need to get to (the objective). This will include the steps we need to take, the support required, and a firmer view on what the output will look like.

When this plan is in place, and structure is brought to a very complex situation, it is incredible how powerful an aligned group of people can be. Particularly in the construction industry where we are hard-wired to achieve progress and every mini step forward is a success that creates unstoppable momentum. That momentum often leads to success.

This comes with experience but if you can identify people that are good at it, or you can practice doing it yourself, you will experience exponential improvements in your impact over time.

Final reflections

As I said at the outset, these are not hacks. The pursuit of maximising your impact takes time and persistence and, in reality, is a life-long goal. If you want to increase your impact, then you need to be committed to it and willing to learn and develop over time.

This brings a pause to my articles on productivity. I have a huge amount of passion for the subject, so I will return to it, but the next series of articles will be focused on issues relating to #thefutureofquantitysurveying.

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