Productivity improvement advice is everywhere. But an author and consultant Seth Godin offered one theory on why it doesn’t work. I disagree.
Seth’s post has a fantastic title: “The reason productivity improvements don’t work (as well as they could).” That makes you think he’s going to have some kind of insight about the difference between an idle suggestion and a useful productivity tip. But instead, he just offers a harebrained hypothesis:
The reason is simple: you don’t want to get more done.
You’re afraid. Getting more done would mean exposing yourself to considerable risk, to crossing bridges, to putting things into the world. Which means failure.
Come on, Seth. You really think that people are afraid of being more productive? That’s silly.
Of course people aren’t fearful of getting more done. In fact, people are constantly looking for ways to increase productivity. They try to hire assistants, they buy more technology, they cut things out of their life, and they are endlessly buying into new programs to increase productivity.
If anything, the success of the productivity improvement industry is proof that people are not fearful of being more productive!
So why don’t these tools work all that well? Why is that you read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People or go to a motivational seminar, and nothing really changes?
It turns out that there is a simple reason why most productivity improvement techniques don’t work very well: Lack of ownership. David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) is a fantastic method for David Allen, but unless you invent your own systems you are not going to internalize them.
Improvement in workplace productivity requires personal engagement. If we believe in our capacity to do more and we take ownership over our own systems and patterns, we can get more done.
Think of productivity improvement as any other resolution. Why do people fail to exercise every day? Well, after a while they miss a day. And they realize that wasn’t the end of the world. So then they miss another day. And then it gets a lot easier to continue skipping days. Eventually they’re back on the couch with a pint of ice cream and a bag of Dorito’s. But compare that with an elite athlete training for competition. That athlete isn’t going to find it easier to stay at home, since they know that they can do more. They know that staying in shape is their livelihood. Most of all, they own the process. That’s a far different situation than someone who’s merely trying to lose 3 pounds.
In the workplace, the same can be true. It’s easy for someone to say they want to be more productive, but if being more productive doesn’t lead to more money or shorter hours, if it doesn’t lead to a greater sense of ownership within the company, or worst of all, if those changes aren’t allowed to be implemented, then really what is the point? But if people feel like their improvements actually will have a major positive impact on their working experience, then of course they’re going to stick to it and innovate ways to continue to improve. In your work, be sure you’re putting yourself in a position where you can truly own the process and where you can reap the benefits of the work you’re putting in. Only then will you see the results you desire and continue to move forward.
That’s it. You don’t fail to improve your productivity because you’re afraid. You fail because you haven’t been truly empowered with the authority and responsibility to get more done.