Productivity has become an industry. Like beauty.
Productivity has become a commodity and I think that's flat-out weird.
Productivity isn't tips and tricks or expensive systems. True productivity is about honesty, clarity, commitment and focus. The truth is that like happiness, and money, real productivity is the consequence of doing other things right.
Steve Jobs never seemed to worry about productivity. I don't know if Bach or Leonardo da Vinci or Einstein or Miles Davis or Martha Graham or Emily Dickinson worried a lot about productivity.
So why do we?
We do because any time you turn something into a commodity and an industry, you need customers. And to have customers there must be a need or you have to create one.
I think a lot of consultants created the productivity industry and in turn created a need for their industry.
Here are 9 myths that industry has created or perpetuated to keep us buying the books, systems, and workshops. And keep us from dealing with the truth: there is no secret.
- Productivity is a discipline. No it's not. Even in manufacturing, with formalized Lean approaches, it is a stretch to treat productivity as an independent discipline. On the personal, professional, and management level 'productivit-as-discipline' is simply a myth. What do the names of the artists and scientists I used have to teach us? That being productive is the consequence of being clear about what matters, getting that job done, and being unafraid to stop doing or delegate everything else.
- Time can be managed. That is what the phrase "Time Management", the unlucky child of the productivity industry, implies. It is both nonsense and dangerous. It is nonsense because time cannot be managed. The word manage is related to the words 'hand', 'manufacture', and 'manipulate'. You can't get your hands on time to make it, save it, buy yourself more of it, or manipulate it. Time flows through your life as a relentless river. This deception is also the danger of this myth: focusing our language and our minds on "time" rather than "priorities" or "responsibilities" allows us to duck those responsibilities. It justifies the fact we are sitting in a time management course rather than getting something important done! No, you can't manage time. The only things you can manage are your priorities. As each moment inexorably ticks by you can choose to do one thing, or do another.
- You don't have time. Of course you do. You have precisely the same amount of time as everyone else on this earth: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week... This is another one of those verbal slights-of-hand that allow us to duck the much tougher truth: that something is not a priority. "I don't have time for dinner with you tonight," is a social nicety. "Dinner with you tonight is not my top priority" is the truth. Want to be successful? Start thinking, if not speaking, the truth.
- We'll find the time. That one really gets me spinning. As I write in my book, "Find it? What, under a seat cushion? In a desk drawer? Lying around in someone else's toolbox unused? There is no finding time! All of it that we have is right here, right now. Do one thing while that hour ticks by, or do something else, but you are not going to find another hour." What you are really telling the world when you repeat this myth, is that you don't have the courage or insight to decide that one thing really is more important than another; the courage to stop doing less important things. Starting stuff is easy. Stopping is sometimes harder.
- Productive = busy. If true productivity means being clear about what matters and acting on those priorities, then it is impossible to be productive and busy at the same time. Reflection, assessment, conversation, and planning are required for true productivity. You will only hit your real productivity stride when you slow down. To address the obvious objections: no, this is not reality for every level in an organization, and at every phase of an organization's life. There will be times that will be crazy busy because that is simply the appropriate rhythm for that moment. Like any nuanced performance the secret is to know when it is time for loud and fast, and when it is time for quiet and slow.
- Productivity is about being more efficient at doing. No it's not. It's about getting things done. And the difference between the two is like the the light and dark sides of the moon.
- I need to be inspired to be productive. That is a hangover from the most philosophically destructive century of Western Culture: the 19th. The age of Romanticism taught that creative productivity is a fickle nymph that has us pouring forth a 9th Symphony one moment and then leaving us wallowing in a state of creative despond the next. Back to the list of great thinkers and creatives listed in this article: not one of those people sat around waiting for inspiration to 'strike' them. They created inspiration and the flow of relentless creativity by sitting down and getting to work. Every truly professional artist and entrepreneur knows that creative productivity doesn't wait for inspiration. They know inspiration is consequence of getting to work.
- Multi-tasking is productive. Actually, multi-tasking is a sign that you can't commit. Decades of cognitive research has been very clear: every shift in direction, every switch in tasks, every visual and auditory distraction, costs. Slow down, pay attention to your cycles of productive time (everyone has a different attention span for different tasks) and commit to focusing on one priority at a time.
- Some people work well under pressure. No they don't. What is really going on is that some people dislike doing some things so much that only fear of failure or other negative consequences generate enough adrenaline to get them going. But they are not working well! Performance, accuracy, productivity, anything positive you want to measure, degrades when we are under pressure or stress. Every task done right requires a certain amount of time and a certain rhythm. Pressure allows neither of those. Relying on deadlines and other pressures is just a way of avoiding what really needs to be done: reflecting on what is important or on what you do best, and coming to tough decisions about your priorities.
The 'modern' concept of productivity, like 'time management' is a cheap magician's shiny curtain. It draws our focus away from the tricks going on behind it. Focusing on productivity systems always comes at the cost of focusing on the real job: slowing down, deciding what matters more (the true meaning of a priority), having the courage and the discipline to stop doing some things, and delegating others.
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