A tweet from my friend Erik Deckers recently drew my attention to this blog post on the 8 habits of highly productive people. It’s written by a personal development coach named Celestine Chua and summarizes the issue of productivity very well:

The common notion of productivity is the ability to churn out a lot of work in a short span of time. True, but not complete. IMO, true productivity is the ability to create a lot of high impact work in a short span of time. This is the kind of productivity we should concern ourselves with, not other kinds of productivity which are more empty / busy work that create no impact in the long term. For example, let’s say Peter types very fast and can reply 1000 emails a day. That doesn’t make him/her productive, because there’s little output (product) to speak of (unless the emails contribute to tangible, high impact outcomes). However, if John completes just one task in a day that has more impact than the 1000 emails put together, then he’s more productive than Peter is.

Are you a Peter or a John?

Seth Godin’s newest book Linchpin posits that most knowledge workers today are Peters. This is due in large part to the fact that most of today’s companies seek to hire Peters. They write job descriptions for Peters and measure employees’ work the way Peter does. They set Peter-style goals and implement training programs for improving Peter-style productivity.

Godin calls these companies factories (whether they’re factories or not) because productivity is measured by tasks completed rather than value produced. Sadly, this has come to mean employees also measure themselves in terms of tasks completed, often regardless of the value they create.

Here’s Chua’s first habit for high productivity:

Habit 1: Ruthlessly cut away the unimportant (and focus on the important)

The important is always fighting against the urgent for your attention, and very rarely do they intersect. Godin and Chua agree that the most effective professionals invest their efforts toward the important, and the most effective companies reward that investment.

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3 Responses to Productivity

  1. I enjoyed your post. I like to think of a productive day as one in which I have made a difference. It can be making a difference to a client’s work or helping a colleague overcome something that’s holding them back or simply helping the kids with their homework. But the important thing is that at the end of the day something has changed for someone for the better.

  2. Erik Deckers says:

    Thanks for the shout out.

    I am constantly struggling with rule #1, mostly because while I think something may not be important, I don’t want to hurt the feelings of the person who DOES think it’s important. I’ve gotten better, but I still can’t say no to little projects or little favors.

  3. jkurth says:

    BeClear and Erik — you’ve both touched on the root of this issue. For someone to follow rule #1 (or to be effective in any way), they must be able to distinguish the important from the unimportant.

    BeClear, you’ve listed things that make a difference in the lives of others, defining what’s important about your work. Similarly Erik, going the extra mile for a friend or colleague is important to you.

    Many times the unimportant masquerades as important under the guise of urgency. Defining and parsing the important parts of your work from the rest is the first step to following rule #1.

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