What Templates and Recipes Have to Do with Productivity

Creating a consistent quality is much easier with a template…much like a chef following a recipe to create yummy snacks like this one.  Photo courtesy: Unsplash

Creating a consistent quality is much easier with a template…much like a chef following a recipe to create yummy snacks like this one. Photo courtesy: Unsplash

4 Ways to Turbocharge Your Productivity – Part 2

Last week, we asked if there is a template to follow to become a highly productive person. Today, we get to talk about templates as a way to be hyper-productive. To recap, a successful model for productivity I have adopted and used for years goes roughly like this: 1) remove the fat from what you do; 2) reduce complexity; 3) create a repeatable way to do work; and (if possible); 4) use bots. The first two steps have already been discussed; our current focus is on how to “create a repeatable way to do work.”

We all ask the following questions: how can I do my work faster, easier and more accurately? How can I produce more without compromising safety? How can I achieve more without tipping the work-life scale to all work and no life? In short, how can I do more with less? There is no way to answer these questions without resorting to standardization. Standardization involves using standard processes to create standard products. A personal example should illustrate this.

The Food Timetable

When I asked my mum how she managed to always fix dinner despite working full time as a teacher and running a small (struggling) business. Her terse response was, “That’s what the food timetable is for.” The “food timetable” was a schedule of what to eat when. On Sundays, for instance, we had toast and egg for breakfast, rice and chicken for lunch and garri – a Nigerian delicacy – and nuts for dinner. What’s more? The timetable was visibly posted on the refrigerator so we all knew what to expect when. No one was surprised with what appeared on their plate. Over time we knew the timetable by heart.

The timetable helped my mum know what to buy as she passed the farmer’s market and what to cook when she got home. It helped her not waste time thinking of what to prepare for her large family. Indecision, not procrastination, is the thief of time. Having a food timetable killed indecision. What are we having for dinner became an irrelevant question. She knew. We knew. We could all move on to the next step of actually making dinner.

The food timetable not only saved time but also improved our health. By holistically looking at the week, she could see whether we were having essential nutrients in our diet. I didn’t care for fruits and veggies but I had no choice. I ate whatever was on the plate. My mum didn’t have to guess whether her kids were well nourished, she knew and could prove it. Our food timetable was a poster for balanced diet.

Border Top.png

By creating a standard product … and a standard process…everybody became a winner.

Border Bottom.png

The food timetable led to the creation of recipes. She wrote down how to prepare each food: fill the big black pot to a third, bring to boil, pour six cups of flour and continuously stir till paste is uniform, simmer for five minutes, serve while hot. With the printed recipe, she could delegate cooking to any of my sisters and the food came out just as good. She could afford to get home late without us getting hungry. In fact, after she created the recipes, it was rare for her to prepare dinner. Everyone wanted to do it because making a nice dinner no longer became a mystery revealed only to wise mama. We all knew what we were having, how to create it and eventually, why we were having it (cost, ease of preparation and nutritional value). By creating a standard product – the food timetable – and a standard process – the recipes – my mum made us all enlightened and empowered while she had more time to focus on other matters of value. Everybody became a winner.

Value of Standardization – Macro Scale

Civilization is impossible without standards. Standard products – USBs (flash drives), electric power outlets, to mention a few – enable us all to plug and play on a common platform. Standard processes – recipes, formulas, templates – help us do work faster, easier and accurately. E = mc2, Einstein’s famous equation, is a standard process. It tells you how to compute the amount of energy emitted by a given radioactive mass. Standards obviate the need to re-invent the wheel hence ensuring that effort is directed towards new creative endeavors. Standards enable improvement to happen at a large scale.

Value of Standardization – On an Individual Level

To turbocharge your productivity, look at what you do and think of how you can create a “food timetable” and “a recipe” out of it. Templates help you create quality at speed. It is the foundation of building a reputation as an employee that can be counted on when it counts. During standardization, you may discover that some of your job description requires further clarification; clarify and continue to standardize. In other words, there is feedback between each process from Eliminate to Simplify to Standardize. A pictorial representation is shown below:

The picture I created above is my attempt to capture the fact that the path to creating templates and recipes out of what you routinely do is not necessarily a straight line. - Michael Taiwo

The picture I created above is my attempt to capture the fact that the path to creating templates and recipes out of what you routinely do is not necessarily a straight line. - Michael Taiwo

A good example of a standard template at work is the ubiquitous spreadsheet. Spreadsheets enable repetitive tasks to be done with considerable ease. Consider creating a spreadsheet or template for every aspect of your job whenever possible. It will make you produce better faster and also enable others to replicate your work. It makes winners out of everybody. Standardization also has one more advantage: it can lead to automation, the subject of next week’s post.