Most of us chase productivity like a crack addict after his next hit. We’re compelled to buy books, attend workshops and listen to podcasts so we can become more productive. But why? That’s not a silly question. Asking it may stop you from chasing productivity like a dog chasing his tail.
What’s wrong with doing more with less?
Nothing. The unarguable obviousness of this is why we keep sending troops onto the productivity battlefield and accept the costs of the workplace stress it creates—burnout, high turnover, lost creativity and poor leadership—like society sends soldiers off to needless wars and accepts the costs of returning war vets with post-traumatic stress disorder
Productivity gains is good strategy for machines not humans
The problem is we think pursuing productivity gains is an effective strategy to job security and even career advancement.
Career advancement will depend on your leadership skills and your success at getting other people and teams to be more productive. Unless you’re clear on why you are chasing productivity gains and how you’re going to use them, all you’re going to get by your personal productivity increases is tired.
Your productivity gain will quickly become the new expected normal, and you’ll soon have to find ways to exceed that as well.
We don’t run machines at 100%
We try to compete with machines that never normally operate near to 100% of their capacity, by using productivity gains to routinely run at 110% of ours.
Engines are never routinely run at full capacity because doing so would cause an early breakdown of the machinery, and reduce their lifetime productivity. Why then do we ask our bodies to?
Our belief about work
Our beliefs about work is responsible for the relentless pressure we place on ourselves and each other to grow, compete and stay on top. Nothing is ever good enough because we all believe it’s necessary to compete, to win, to even survive. If you’re not producing more and more, with less and less they’ll just get someone younger who can, and for less pay. So you work longer and longer to stay in the same place. This creates tremendous pressure and paranoia in people who only want to do meaningful work that provides enough to take care of their families, and allows them to enjoy life.
Is that too much to ask?
It’s not. It’s a choice we’ve been trained not to make.
Keeping up with the machine
We’ve been trying to keep up with machines ever since they were just a capitalist tease at industrialization’s dawn. As I said in Why giving 100% is a faulty ideal, the possibility of 24-7 always on, standard quality, no vacations/sick days/maternity leaves/law-suits/strikes/training has always been a capitalist’s wet dream, and now with robotics and AI, that fantasy is slowly coming off their Fortune magazine centerfolds into their factories and workplaces.
Productivity won’t save you
If your job does not involve large doses of creativity, leadership or customer/client relationships it will die on the vine, and you may not even make it to retirement. You may be shielded by unions, or some peculiar low competitive environment, but your kids won’t be. Productivity gains won’t save you. Retraining won’t future proof you either—things are moving way too fast now.
they’ll always want more
Psychology might explanation why chasing productivity is a fruitless strategy. It’s called the hedonic treadmill and it describes the human tendency to quickly get used to things or events that increase our happiness and return us to a sort of preset level of happiness. We, and our bosses, appreciate the new benefit greatly at first, but it quickly becomes expected as the new normal. You must now find some way to improve upon your last improvement to gain that extra boost of appreciation, or to make you stand out to your bosses.
It’s like that old Janet Jackson song “what have you done for me lately.”
What should you do?
Of course not. But don’t chase productivity for its own sake; use productivity gains to create space to develop the capacities more likely to help you keep your job and move up—your capacities to create, innovate, lead, sell and build relationships.
bring something else to the workplace
Don’t be tricked into playing the productivity game—even if you’re good at it—because you will eventually lose. Bring what productivity cannot: Your creativity, enthusiasm and authenticity; and don’t forget this last.
Do not underestimate your power of YOU.
Despite any of your real shortcomings we all crave people who are unabashedly themselves. Donald Trump is proof that authenticity may be the best vehicle to success and career advancement. Be you and help make your colleagues, bosses and customers look forward to working with you.