Zoe Aitken18 July 2022

4 ways to free up time for innovation

“I don’t have time to innovate” is one of the most common frustrations that we hear from leaders when it comes to driving innovation.

2020 Harvard Business School study confirmed that the pandemic has wreaked havoc on our time. We are now working longer hours, receiving, and sending more emails and attending more meetings. In a nutshell, today’s workers are literally drowning in work!

Below are four simple strategies that you can implement to free up yours and your team’s time to innovate.

  1. Sharpen your focus

Research conducted by Swinburne University found that people who work flexibly are less likely to know what they need to do each day. Therefore, in a remote working world, leaders need to be even more pointed and transparent with goals.

One method for doing this is OKRs – Objectives and Key Results, popularised by Google. Key to the success of OKRs is that ‘Objectives’ are ambitious and designed to stretch the team. They are then supported by ‘Key Results’; a set of outcome-focused and measurable, value-based milestones.

OKRs chunk the business priorities into clear and specific outcomes for each employee, from the CEO through to entry-level employees. Therefore, everyone can see exactly how they contribute to the company goals, keeping them focused on what matters most. As John Doerr says in his book Measure What Matters “by clearing the line of sight to everyone’s objectives, OKRs expose redundant efforts and save time and money.”

  1. Kill some Zombies

Zombie projects loiter around, sucking up resources and fail to deliver any real value to the business. They exist in nearly every business because they are hard to kill. Often because organisation’s reward structures are based on delivering to commitments. And then there’s the sunk cost fallacy, which states that the more resources we invest in something the more inclined we are to persist with it.

The solution is to conduct a Zombie Slaying Campaign and identify your resource-rich, low impact initiatives and kill them. There are a few things to keep in mind for successful zombie slaying; firstly, get the whole team involved as they will have best visibility of zombies, secondly, set clear and transparent criteria for killing initiatives and, lastly, capture your learnings to avoid re-living the same mistakes.

As the team at Innosight said “Almost every company has more resources than it realises. Find and put the zombies down, reallocate resources to your most promising projects, and you will suddenly find your innovation efforts getting better and bigger faster.”

  1. Run better meetings

Research from work management platform Asana found that professionals spent 158 hours in unnecessary meetings in 2020. Meetings are one of the biggest productivity barriers and time wasters. While inefficient meetings have always existed, the explosion of meetings due to remote work has compounded their impact on our time.

One of the simplest and most effective tools to overhaul meetings is the PAO principle. Borrowed from Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of 1800-GOT-JUNK, Brian refuses to attend a meeting without a PAO – Purpose, Agenda, and Outcomes.

Developing a PAO forces meeting organisers to think about the intent of their meeting and inadvertently be more selective in who they invite. It also empowers invitees to decline meetings if they don’t feel they can add value to the outcomes.

  1. Focus on output not hours

Up until now, the yardstick for productivity has been ‘hours worked’. Andrew Barnes, who pioneered the 4-Day Week, said “we’ve all been conditioned that working longer is working harder”. Yet with flexible work practices, it is almost impossible for leaders to track how employees are spending their time each day.

In a world where we have been programmed to believe that ‘longer hours’ means delivering ‘more value’, there is little incentive for employees to work more productively. So, to overcome this ingrained mindset, shift the focus to ‘outputs’ rather than ‘hours’.

To do this, ensure that you set clear objectives, metrics and milestones for each team member and then empower them to achieve them. This shift will inherently encourage everyone to find more productive ways of working and therefore free up time for higher impact initiatives.

These four strategies will not only lead to happier (less burnt out) employees but will also help free up time that the team can reallocate back to innovation.

Zoe Aitken is the Head of Consulting at leading behavioural science and innovation consultancy Inventium and has over 20 years’ experience helping organisations develop customer-centric growth strategies and innovation.