Needy productivity: the cost of working on the wrong things

Productivity can be such a fuzzy word.
Most people associate it with doing more of what they already do, without ever questioning what that is in the first place.
No matter whether it’s an effective method, or even the right direction, just do more of it.
Cram your day with more work that has zero impact.

Instead of teaching how to run, traditional productivity advice just tells you to crawl faster.

I remember when I worked in a big corporate office. Productivity meant being the last to leave the office.
In the startup world, too often productivity means being the last to go to bed.
Other times, productivity is just saying yes and pleasing everyone.
In all these cases, productivity is just a fancy word to hide peacocky behaviour: spreading out drafts and showing off colourful spreadsheets to catch other’s approval.
It’s not productivity, it’s neediness.
It’s being seen as the hardest working.
It’s being accepted as a useful cog in the machine.

This kind of “productivity” focuses on perceived output, rather than…the actual output. Much to your health’s detriment, your perceived output is actually based on your input. So you’ll have to keep (appearing) doing more.

Needy productivity brings all sorts of dysfunctional behaviours.

Doing more vs doing the right thing

We all add a few extra todos to our list that have zero impact but take up all of our time.
Usually, it’s a fear response called procrastination.
Needy productivity goes one step further. It celebrates and rewards the very thing that procrastination is made of: useless work.

Doing more makes you feel good in the moment, like you matter.
Doing the right thing requires patience, like what you create matters.
Doing more is easy: all it takes is saying yes to anything.
Doing the right thing is hard: you must dance with your fears.

Crawling faster vs learning to run

The focus on doing more ignores an important tool in your arsenal: learning.
Taking time off to improve your processes and learn new skills is critical to doing better. It also allows you to be more efficient with your processes, and be enriched by external experiences.

Again, this requires long-term thinking. The trust that, if I invest time in myself, it will come back manyfold in the form of extra time and extra impact. It requires embracing your fears.

After all, would you rather be a slow runner or a faster crawler?

Quantity work vs quality work

Quantity work is the lovechild of the two points above.
When you don’t focus on doing what really matters but just doing more, and you don’t invest in your own skills, you are commoditising your output.

If you do what many others can do, the same way other do it, the only differentiation is the quantity of your output. Since we all have 24 hours a day, we all have the same, natural cap to how much we can produce per day. This means that, unless you have a time machine or a cloning lab, doing more is a losing strategy by definition.

Instead of creating something meaningful and learning unique skills, you max out your 24 hours, just like everyone else. Average strategy, average results.
Not only this translate in less meaningful work, it also has a monetary consequence: the more commoditised your output, the less you will be able to charge for it.

The paradox is that, by focusing on quantity, you’re actually putting a cap (24 hours) on your impact AND how much you can charge. It’s a losing strategy short and long term.

Productive productivity

The other day, I was having a chat with a friend.
Over the fizzy noise of sparkling water and the jazzy sound of music in the background, we ended up talking about…work that matters. (We are that cool).

Maybe it was all the bubbles in the water, but as soon as the word “productivity” was spoken, I had a sudden epiphany: the familiar bond with the word “product”, “to produce” echoed in my head like the sweet words of a nerdy angel.

Too often productivity is seen as “doing”, not producing.
As doing more, regardless of the output.
But the word is staring in our faces all along.
Produce. Make. Ship.

Real productivity is selfless: the focus shifts away from the maker and onto the creation.
We ask how much did I do?
How many hours did I work?
How long is my todo list?

Focus on the final product instead.

Not how much time you put in, but how much value you push out.
Not how long have you spent on it, but how much closer to completion your product is.
It’s not the quantity of your input, it’s the quality of your output.

Productivity is making, not doing.

– Matt

PS: stop sweating the small stuff by learning the ancient principle of sailing through life.

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