You’re Doing It Wrong: Four Examples of Iffy Productivity Advice

"You're Doing It Wrong is a catchphrase commonly associated with FAIL image macros and videos. The phrase can be used to suggest there is room for improvement in almost any context. " — Know Your Meme website. As with many things in life, when it comes to advice on productivity, there's so much open to interpretation. Some methods may work differently for different people, so sometimes, there is no right and wrong. Dilbert creator Scott Adams once joked that if a CEO found success while using a tongue depressor, he could write a best-selling book about it and make millions while other people made it work for them, too. So, I hesitate to call any productivity advice bad advance, unless it's something obvious like, "Try multitasking! It works wonders!" And even that may change as our … [Read more...]

A Serene Mind: Six Ways Meditation Can Make You More Productive

"If the ocean can calm itself, so can you. We are both salt water mixed with air. " — Nayyirah Waheed, enigmatic 21st century poet. Some workers believe the best way to maximize productivity is to stay busy all the time. Yes, of course you need to stay focused, even driven at times. But I'd hope any regular reader of this blog would have realized by now that truly effective productivity involves more than just busywork—rest and reflection are also vital components.  Now, I don't necessarily believe slow and steady wins the race (how many tortoises can really beat a hare in a footrace?), but just like quantity, hard work has a quality of its own. It's when you tweak hard work with smart work — and never doubt you require both! — that you win the productivity race. We all know that … [Read more...]

Returning to First Principles: Five Basics of Productivity

"I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is, we reason by analogy. [With analogy], we are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. [With first principles] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths… and then reason up from there. " — Elon Musk, American industrialist and inventor. It's easy to forget what productivity truly is, especially when it's cluttered with various initiatives, politics, and personal agendas. As I read this quote from Elon Musk, it led me to think, “What are the first principles of productivity?” I thought it would help to clarify the basics (both procedural and human) that must underlie productivity for it to really work. … [Read more...]

What Are Productivity Systems Really For? Five Elements to Include in Yours

"You can’t be productive unless you have a system, a method, a process, whatever you want to call it … Some people invent a system. Some people learn a system. But everyone has a system. " — Daniel Threlfall, American business writer. If there's one thing you can count on, it's that modern white-collar workers will almost always find new ways to be collectively productive. Despite all the hurdles we must leap—complacency, overwork, recession, disengagement—Western workers tend to push ahead on the productivity front. While productivity growth occasionally drops on a quarterly basis, that's uncommon; productivity has consistently risen since 1970. Why? Partly due to new technologies coming into play. Partly due to corporate restructuring. Partly due to the growth of productivity … [Read more...]

The 2019 American Time Use Survey: The Hits Keep Coming

“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” – American humorist Mark Twain.. Every June since 2003, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released the results of its American Time Use Survey for the previous year. The data for ATUS 2018, extrapolated from 9,600 individual interviews (down from 10,200 for 2017) was released on June 19, 2019. For the second straight year, ATUS's press release focused on the percentage of employed persons who worked on an average weekday (89% vs. 2017's 82%), as opposed to those who worked on average weekend days (31% vs. 2017's 33%). While the weekend workload has decreased slightly, significantly more of us are working on weekdays. (The total working percentages exceed 100% because some people work on weekdays and weekends.) Based on … [Read more...]

Productivity vs. Efficiency: Four Ways They Differ, and What Matters Most

"Profitability is coming from productivity, efficiency, management, austerity, and the way to manage the business. " — Carlos Slim, Mexican business magnate Most of us know the difference between effectiveness and efficiency. Effectiveness is doing the right things, while efficiency is doing things right. Their intersection yields high productivity. I even wrote a book about it: Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time. But many people remain confused about the difference between productivity and efficiency. Too often, the terms are viewed as synonyms. They're not. They're related but certainly not interchangeable. Indeed, in some cases, they couldn't be farther apart. Productivity is simply output per unit of time. Efficiency is the best possible output … [Read more...]

Attention Management vs. Time Management: Five Ways to Emphasize What Truly Matters

"I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day. " — E.B. White, American writer and co-author of ¬Elements of Style. When it comes to using modern English, E.B. White, along with his mentor William Strunk, have influenced the style, readability, and productivity of five generations of Americans. If such a towering literary presence had trouble focusing his productivity, then it's no surprise the rest of us do. Indeed, the entire industry of time management has grown up around our desire to use our most limited of resources effectively, so we can accomplish as much as possible in what time we have. Time management has become one of the more ingrained productivity toolkits of the … [Read more...]

Forgotten Productivity: Four Facts About Total Factor Productivity to Keep in Mind

"The standard growth theory tells us that economic growth in per capita basis comes from mainly two sources: capital deepening and total factor productivity growth, or TFP growth." —Toshihiko Fukui, Japanese civil servant. If you work in customer service, administration, human resources, or IT, you might sometimes wonder how your work contributes to the organization's bottom line. After all, you don't actively bring in income, so does it really matter whether you maximize your productivity? Of course, it does! Support jobs are crucial to a business's survival. Just because your job doesn’t generate revenue doesn't mean you don't move the organization forward. Every report efficiently produced, every product documented, every brilliant mind hired and retained—it all contributes to the … [Read more...]

Contrary to Popular Belief: Five Ways Social Media Can Boost Productivity

"If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell 6 friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends." —Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com. In most businesses, it's standard policy to restrict and discourage the use of social media during work hours. An average of just ten minutes of social media use daily, over the course of a year, adds up to over one week of work time (just under 42 hours). This may seem astonishing, but you can't argue with the math. Almost 90% of us sneak occasional peeks, but moderation remains key here: don't set out to break your organization's social media policy, and set some personal rules even if you do have permission to indulge. There's no doubt that when used irresponsibly, social media can … [Read more...]

Shutting It Down: Six Steps to Productively Closing a Project

"There's a light at the end of the tunnel/ Loooooord, I hope it ain't no train." —B.B. Watson, American singer All things, good or bad, must come to an end—even your projects, hallelujah. Whether you've nailed your goal perfectly, on time and under budget, or you just missed hitting your quota, you've hit the end of the line. Game over. But… even when you're done, you're not quite done. You still must put that project to bed. Even if closing the project isn't your primary task, or someone else acts as the primary, flexing those closing muscles contributes not just to your experience, but to your productivity. The quicker you put the project to bed, the quicker you start the next one. Here are six simple steps that contribute to effective, productive project closure: Check … [Read more...]