While I travel for client work I have been catching up on my podcast backlog and scanning through my web feeds and other media. One topic that has come up is whether it is better to push more into the system or pull more out.
First off, my perspective is that you want to have more COMING OUT of the system, whether that is your own desk or your multi-million dollar company. The goal is not to "do more" it is to "finish more." That said, there are many perspectives on how to make it happen.
The Manager Tools podcast had a three-part series on Over-Assigning and Delegating Work: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. The essential part of this 'cast is the recommendation that good managers add more work to their people and expect them to get it all done. From their perspective, it is people's jobs to get the work done that has been assigned to them and that for many people, there is no such thing as being "too busy." They have the take that "too busy" really means that the employee (along with the manager) hasn't done a good job of getting that work flowing.
Another podcast was the HBR Ideacast with Tom Delong taking about The Hidden Demons of High Achievers. Which included a discussion of the personal nature of getting things done and how people motivate themselves to new levels of achievement. I took away some ideas about challenging myself to these new heights without also creating impossible-to-hit targets that swing me into inaction.
There have been other sources, of course, but I cannot recall them at the moment. I have written about this before, such as Push Me, Pull You two years ago.
The idea, as I say above, is to get more OUT. Finish more projects. Complete more tasks. Gain more business. Of course, if more work gets done, that means that more work comes into the system, right? The problem is that when people view the outward signs (more out correlated with more in) and assume that there is causation: if I push more into the system, I am sure to get more out. It just doesn't work this way. When there is no system for pulling work out (finishing work), simply pushing more into the system is going to push it to the breaking point. Everyone will be busy, yet everything will be late.
Whatever system you create must address the mechanism for PULLING work through the system quickly, so that you can get on to the next thing in your queue. The Manager Tools podcast talks about this as a discussion between manager and employee: find ways to do that five hour thing in one hour. (I wish they would talk about the topic a little differently, but I think their recommendations are essentially right.)
And I still haven't mentioned doing the right things. This has mostly been focused on doing things right. Doing the right things often creates another level of benefit to the system, as the wrong things are cast away.
[Photo: "push pull" by Robert S. Donovan]