In Defense of Hard Work: Four Reasons Why “Work Smarter, Not Harder” Is Poor Advice

“Work smarter, not harder.” – Allen F. Morgenstern, American Industrial engineer and work simplification program developer If there's one business aphorism I guarantee every single one of you has heard and/or read, probably too many times, it's "Work harder, not smarter." It's the kind of advice Dilbert's Pointy-Haired Boss loves to give, because it sounds good, and he doesn't have to know what it means. When Allen Morgenstern first formulated the idea in the 1930s, it was useful and valuable, especially in his field of industrial engineering. Manufacturing was in its heyday; Morgenstern and other efficiency experts were hard at work transforming the mess and horror of the Industrial Revolution, per Sinclair's The Jungle, into a workable system that maintained productivity while … [Read more...]

Shifting Foundations: What to Do When Your Company’s Core Values Change

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody's are the same, but you leave them all over everything you do.” – Attributed to Elvis Presley, King of Rock and Roll. In a healthy company, everything flows from core values; however, as the world changes, your organization’s core values may change to keep up. Consider Oneida, Ltd. Originally a commune-owned silversmith in 1850, it branched out to tableware, silk, chains, and steel leg-hold traps for the fur trade. As each line became less profitable, the company evolved, eventually producing first silverware, and then flatware of all kinds as it currently does. That clearly required multiple core-value shifts. In our current business world, you'll likely face similar shifts as the world changes, no matter what you do or provide. If your personal … [Read more...]

Coming Together: Five Touchstones of Productive Collaboration

“For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” – Old proverb, author unknown While too many cooks may spoil the broth, we all know two heads are better than one, especially at work. Aphorisms aside, collaboration forms the very foundation of the human experiment, which has raised us up from isolated clusters of nomads who grew old by 35, to a rich, high-tech, worldwide culture whose members can achieve a full four-score and ten. Beyond bare subsistence, most things require more than one person to do productively, especially in an age where our work … [Read more...]

Are We Evolving into Better Multitaskers? Reply Hazy, Ask Again Later

“Multitasking: the art of doing twice as much as you should half as well as you could.” – Anonymous Wouldn't it be great if you could multitask as well as a computer? If you could partition your brain to handle multiple tasks at once, you'd surely achieve peak productivity and get much more work done at the office. This idea became pervasive back in the 1980s and 1990s, as computers became ubiquitous and indispensable. But while computers made us more productive, today's experts will tell you there's a great deal wrong with the idea of multitasking. First, even most computers don't really multitask; they just switch from one task to another very, very fast. And we all know what happens when you ask a computer to do too much at once. Everything slows to a crawl, until the system either … [Read more...]

Dealing the Cards Wisely: Five Ways NOT to Delegate Tasks and Responsibilities

“Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” – George S. Patton, U.S. Army General during World War II. As business leaders, we've all had it pounded into us that we should delegate work to others, so we can more easily complete all our responsibilities. The advice is worth hearing repeatedly, since all high-level jobs come with too many responsibilities for just one person. Anyone who tries to use the old "if you want it done right, you've got to do it yourself" tactic or who micromanages everything under their control has made a terrible mistake. The C-Suite builds high-level jobs with delegation in mind. You're meant to delegate most of the responsibilities necessary to achieve your collective objectives. Typically, your … [Read more...]

Through a Mirror Darkly: Five Predictions About the Near-Future Workplace

"Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future. " — Niels Bohr, Danish physicist and Nobel Prize winner. Knowledge workers have experienced enormous change in the past 50 years. We've transitioned from typewriters, landlines, and snail mail to computers, cell phones, and email. These advances have profoundly changed both our personal and professional lives, skyrocketing productivity and capacity. Right up until the mid-1970s, few prognosticators anticipated the computer revolution; even science fiction writers who had people colonizing space by the 1990s had them using slide rules. (If you need to look up "slide rule," you must be a child of the Electronic Era.) Not until the mid-1980s did everyone realize home computers were the Next Big Thing, and only after Y2K … [Read more...]

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...]