Let’s Rethink Productivity

Productivity in its basic form means to produce more. This is a misleading statement for any individual or business because the definition suggests that volume is the aim. Productivity could be better described as producing what is good, better. Matt Perman, author of What’s Best Next, describes it as a focus “not primarily on doing more things in less time but rather in doing the right things in a flexible way”

Right, good, these seem like high ideals: world peace, protecting the abused and marginalised; don’t these ideals often sit outside our remit of work? Matt Perman would like to suggest otherwise: that this is a focus on the right and the good of our own day-to-day work.

Everything can be done well, even the books, the housekeeping, the posting (both traditional and media based). Given infinite time we can do things better and better, normally there is an exact correlation between doing something well and the time we spend over it*. It doesn’t sound like very good productivity advice to say “do everything really well”, we’d never sleep if we genuinely took on this advice.

So here’s the tricky bit: deciding what things are worth doing really well and spending a lot of time over and what things are not worth it. Once we’ve picked the important things, we can focus on them, create a vision around them, and carve out time for them. The less important things can be attacked with an arsenal of productivity tools in order to reduce them: outsourcing, automating, delegating, reducing, action plans, and project support systems: kapow-boom-splat!

How do we decide what’s important? This is as individual as you, but here are a few pointers about things we all share in common:

1. We are people orientated.
Art Markman, author of Smart Thinking says “The interactions we have with other people affect the way we feel about life. Our close relationships keep us grounded and influence both happiness and the sense that we are part of a larger community. Interestingly, even our interactions with people we do not know that well give us a sense that we are part of that larger community”

2. We get a joy out of serving others
There’s a Chinese proverb that says “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.” Or put in a more scientific way by Jenny Santi in an article on time.com “Through fMRI technology, we now know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex.”

3. We cannot ever be truly motivated by money

“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A report published in the Harvard business review entitled “Does money really affect Motivation?” shows that “there is less than 2% overlap between pay and job satisfaction levels”

In business ‘your people’ are your customers, even if you don’t have direct contact with them. Orient your goals around serving them and the rest might just start to fall into place. Working with and for people is not efficient, it’s slow and hard work, but also fulfilling and there’s no bigger killer of efficiency than lack of fulfilment.

*Although it can be argued that too much time is also a killer of good work, especially in the realm of creativity.

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