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Bank Robbery!

Bank Robbery!

There’s been a robbery, and you’re involved!

Scene of the Crime

For those two hours last night that you watched television, someone else stole that time and applied it to writing a little bit more on their new, completely obvious, “I had that idea already” book, and they’re going to sell it for $200,000 up front.

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When you surfed RSS feeds an extra hour looking for the perfect productivity tip, someone snuck in and ran off with that time. They used it to read a chapter on Java scripting, and they took the practice tests in the back. Looks like they’re ready to turn that hour into a new career and a raise.

I’m sorry to report this: the time bank has been compromised.

In fact, the more I investigate, our protective measures are downright porous. We develop systems, and those pesky thieves come in and steal the time away anyhow. The nerve of them. That’s our time. We had plans for it. I’ve taken an informal audit of a lot of blogs, and I’ve found that time we’re regretting not having. Just a few blogs over from Lifehack.org, there’s a girl really lamenting having watched the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy again, BACK TO BACK, because she realized shortly thereafter that she was still $500 in the hole for the rent this month, and it’s already July 3rd.

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Time is Finite

I really don’t have to continue illustrating this point, do I? One of the greatest hacks you can pull off in your own life is to get real about the amount of time you take for leisure and frivolous consumption, and measure it against all the other things you intend to get done with your life. If you’re looking for that extra few hours to spend with the kids, I bet you I know right where it is. If you’re trying to get that novel written, I’ve got pages 45-100 right here.

You can save food. You can save money. You can save all kinds of things. But not time. Time is a running debit, forever in withdraw mode, and with no recharge method. The best you can do, and this is the goal of some of the hacks we present here, is to channel your energy into spending the currency of time more wisely. Again: there is no saving, only wise spending.

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And yet, the paradox is there: you can maximize time. You can multiply time. You can parallel time. Because time is already in motion, that’s the only way to get more out of time than what you’re already alotted.

5 Tips

Just in case this isn’t practical enough for you Life hackers, here are five better ways to spend time:

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  • Pay the $5 for someone else to delivery your groceries, and order them online (where available).
  • Buy cheap digital timers and stick them next to your TV and next to your main internet station. Set a budget, and stick to it.
  • Teach others to do parts of what you do and share. Force multiplication doesn’t make you less important. It doesn’t give away your job. It shows leaders at your organization that you’ve got a skill they need to better scale the enterprise.
  • Get up 1/2 hour early every day. Sure, get your 8 hours if you can, but if you’re going past that boundary, learn. It takes a while, but you can turn that 1/2 hour into plenty more gold.
  • Write this down: I can always earn more money. Time is finite. Post that liberally around the home, office, car, bathroom.

There are other hacks that I’m evolving that continue along the practical vein. I’ve started to muse about it in my post about time quilting, but the concept’s not fully evolved. Do feel free to add your thoughts. They’ll help me spend less time baking my own.

–Chris Brogan sleeps four hours a night and writes voraciously. He produces two podcasts (soon to be three), and will one day implode. He recently saw Superman (2 hours, 20 minutes) and wishes he could get his time back. Chris writes at [chrisbrogan.com] and does content stuff at Grasshopper Factory.

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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