Before the 1950s, work – and its outputs – were self-evident. Fields were ploughed, machines tooled, clothing sewn, cows milked, boxes packed, and crates moved. Tasks were tangible and results, visible.

Working life was no idyllic utopia, but it was much clearer what had been done, and what (if anything) was still left to do at the end of any given day.  For the average person today, in our modern Western world, daily work has lost this clarity, and the boundaries that go with it.

In the second half of the 20th century, a large part of the global workforce made a shift from predominantly physical labour to jobs that required people to think more than do. The term ‘knowledge work’ was coined to describe this change by Austrian-American management consultant, educator, and author, Peter Drucker. Today, there are approximately 1 billion ‘knowledge workers,’ globally.

The ‘edges’ of work that existed in the early 20th century—those natural borders that told us when work was complete— do not exist in our modern office environment. Today, work is never ‘done,’ there is always more that we can do.  Businesses are made up of teams who have multiple (sometimes competing) goals, several things to improve, and many objectives to deliver. Even if these businesses had infinite years to deliver on these things, there is always more that could be done. I can imagine that your business is facing the same dilemmas:

  • How good can this business be?
  • How motivating am I making this meeting?
  • How close to perfect is what I am delivering?
  • How much better shape could I be in?
  • Would by team perform better if I …?
  • Is my department structured the best possible way?

Whilst these questions are aspirational, and may be motivating to a certain extent, the loss of ‘edges’ for our knowledge workers is a massive cause of stress for New Zealanders. It is not as clear to the knowledge worker what work has been done, nor is it clear what work there is still left to do. It’s certainly not clear if the result is good enough for us to leave for the day. How then, can we have hope for a world where our businesses are productive and meeting objectives, and at the same time, our precious leisure time a) exists, and b) is refreshing?

We can’t.

We can’t ‘hope’ this into existence.  Attention management, and human productivity, is something that our modern workforce needs to learn.

Peter Drucker says, “In knowledge work…the task is not given; it has to be determined."

'What are the expected results from this work?' is the key question in making knowledge workers productive and results have to be clearly specified, if productivity is to be achieved. Knowledge workers are required to integrate both big-picture planning and strategy, with the minutiae of detail, and an extraordinary volume of information coming at them via numerous sources (think inbox, Teams, text messages, voice notes, internal chats – it’s endless). Knowledge workers are navigating competing priorities, without a system for triaging or assigning tiers to the level of importance of any given project, or piece of work.  It’s chaotic, and it’s stressful.

However, in the information-age, this isn’t going to change any time soon. Doc Childre and Bruce Cryer, Authors of ‘From Chaos to Coherence’, a book that presents the findings of biomedical research on controlling stress, tell us that in fact ‘chaos isn’t the problem; how long it takes to find coherence is the real game.’ To stay sane, and be productive, we need a system that enables coherence, and calm. We need a system that takes significantly less time to maintain, than the time it saves us AND is an enabler of smooth workflow, on a daily or weekly basis.  Without this, it is little wonder we have a workforce who are exhausted and, unfortunately, here in NZ, not wildly productive.

As you’ve likely heard, New Zealand's Productivity Commission has stated that NZ has one of the worst levels of productivity when compared to other countries in the OECD. We need to improve productivity, for the health of our nation. The people and teams in our businesses need:

  • Clarity on the outputs that the business requires from them.
  • The skills to make wise choices about what does (and does not) take their time and attention.
  • A system of prioritisation that dictates what to work on & when, to deliver business outcomes, and an ability to say ‘no’ to those things that do not support this.
  • The skills to operate productively in today’s ‘knowledge work’ environment need to be taught.

This time last year, I was reflecting on what had been a particularly challenging time in business. When people asked how things were going, I often responded with ‘oh, good thanks’ despite being overwhelmed regularly, and far from thriving. I was managing my business, yes, while attempting to be a half-decent a mother/wife/friend/daughter, like many of us are. But honestly, I was stressed about my business, sleeping poorly, and unhappy with what I was achieving on any given week.

To others, I presented as someone who gets things done. I am ‘busy-body,’ and always have a project or three on the go. Yet I needed to learn how to be effective and productive.

Once I learned the Beminded methodology, it was like all the puzzle pieces of my working life fell into place. Fast forward six months, I now understand the toll that ‘knowledge work’ can have on individuals who are poorly trained to manage it. I understand that our brains reward our ‘activity’ – regardless of whether or not the activity is productive. I am so convinced of the efficacy of this programme, that has helped over 4,000 people in the last ten years, that I brought it all the way from Sweden, here to Aotearoa New Zealand. You can read more about my story on our sister company's website, but for now let me end by saying, Beminded NZ is for the knowledge workforce.

If you are looking for a way to support your New Zealand business to be more effective, more productive, and to enhance your performance, this training is the tool you need.

Feel free to give me a call if you’ve got any questions—you can reach me on +64 9 393 6331. I talk a little more about this challenge and our training on the Duncan Garner podcast where I was recently a guest—you can access this here.

Finally, if you'd like to go ahead and register your business, or yourself for our 2024 sessions, visit the Beminded NZ website.