Productivity has been defined as “a measure of the efficiency of a person, machine, factory, system, etc. in converting inputs into useful outputs.” 

One of the challenges I face as a lecturer is the “productivity” of my students in converting the inputs from the lectures into useful outputs, which are an assessment of their assignments.

During one of my first classes, I asked the students — who were working adults — how they took down lecture notes. Most of them had a stack of printed material which they would highlight or write notes on.

It dawned on me that they probably adopted the same method of taking notes during meetings and at discussions in their workplace. There was no conversion of inputs into useful outputs under such circumstances.

Productivity thus requires a change of inputs. Furthermore, the outputs must be useful. One way to increase productivity is to change the system. In this case, the way working adults take notes when learning a subject or a skill. People must break away from the insanity of expecting different results by doing the same thing over and over again.

Personal  effective skills

All learners need to be organised and focused. The following skills are important for personal effectiveness: time management; memory; critical and creative thinking; and goal setting.

In a dynamic environment, the working adult is responsible for continually acquiring new knowledge and skills. Lectures and workshops will provide the learner with information and knowledge. The use of productivity tools will help in the acquisition of knowledge and skills.

Productivity tools

Here are several tools that I personally find to be effective and efficient:

* Critical and creative thinking tools

These tools provide the structure for drawing the “big picture”. For example, I prepare a page overview for each of my lectures. This captures the fundamental concepts I want to discuss in the lecture, the connections between them or other ideas and the flow.  Most of my time is spent on identifying key ideas and organising them in a logical flow.

This “big picture” approach has helped my students to acquire a strong foundation for each topic before going into the details.

* Pen and unlined paper

These days, people are so used to copying information and documents that it is no surprise that pen and paper are used less frequently.

But searching for such information — which is often stored in multiple folders on the computer’s desktop or in its hard disk — can be challenging. The humble and reliable pen and unlined paper are always “on” and with them, you can capture ideas and information instantaneously with ease and simplicity.

According to the article “Doodling for Dollars”, which appeared in The Wall Street Journal on April 24, employees were trained in the basics of visual note taking. The article also referred to a 2009 study published in the journal, Applied Cognitive Psychology, which found that doodlers retained and remembered information more than non-doodlers.

The latest gadget that is gaining a strong following is a smartphone that uses a stylus with full touchscreen capabilities to sketch, write and draw notes and ideas. The “Draw Something” app was downloaded more than 50 million times just 50 days after its release. The “virtual” version of pen and paper is resurfacing in the IT world.

* Software and apps

You can increase your productivity by selecting software and apps to help in your thinking process. The use of shapes and connectors in Powerpoint helps the learner to organise and re-organise key ideas and make connections and associations. Some apps to consider include SketchBook, OmniGraffle and other similar native applications of the smartphone or tablet.

The range of productivity tools is ever increasing. New apps are being developed daily. Acquiring skills together with selecting and implementing appropriate productivity tools will ensure effectiveness in your work.