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How to Actually Take Action on All That Reading

How to Actually Take Action on All That Reading

Reading is good for the soul (and your mind), butway too many people get caught in the trap of consistently reading and never taking action on anything they read. Sometimes, it’s just sheer laziness, but most of the time it’s because these readers don’t have a system set up for pulling out the pieces of information from their reading that they can take action about, and then actually taking action on them.

Lucky for you, it’s fairly easy to get such a system set up!

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Have a way to mark out actionable information

You can do this one of two ways: keeping track of the action items as you come across them in a notebook, or just marking the information in the book to come back to later. It’ll really just depend on how you prefer to process information and what interrupts your reading flow less.

If you’re a natural note-taker, it makes sense to write down the action items as you come across them or as the book gives you ideas—just be sure to separate things you can actually do from things that are just bits of interesting information you might need for reference later. I do this by putting a star at the beginning of lines that have tasks in them, so that after I’m done with my notes, I can skim back through them and easily pull out the action items.

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If you’re not a natural note-taker and trying to take notes just interrupts the flow of your reading, then you might prefer to go through all the action items in the book or article at once. If that’s the case, you’ll just want to mark the places you’re going to come back to—you can use good old slips of paper for this. Another handy trick is to use index cards as bookmarks, and note down which page & line the relevant information is at; this way, you don’t come back to a page later without the memory of what it was you wanted to mark down.

Go back to & store that actionable information

Once you’re done reading, you’ll want to go back and pull out all of the actionable items, and get them in one spot. You can use anything from a plain old notebook or checklist to an online task or project management tool, depending on how your preferences run. The idea is just that you need to separate the actionable tasks from the rest of the information, and get it all in one spot so that you can sort through it. 

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Give it a deadline or put it on your backburner

Once you’ve got all of your tasks in one spot, you need to go through each task and ask yourself whether it’s something you can do right now.

If it is something you can do immediately, then you need to make sure it’ll get done. This is going to depend on your individual productivity systems—that might mean putting it in your weekly planner, or it might mean putting in your online task management tool. (I use and love Flow, myself.) Make sure to give it a deadline; the deadline is going to depend on what other projects you have going at the moment, how urgent they are, and how urgent or important the task is. You don’t want to pile all of your new tasks on one day and overwhelm yourself, but you don’t want to space them out so much that you lose motivation or momentum, either. You can start with the highest leverage tasks first—ask yourself which tasks will have the greatest payoff with the least amount of effort, and do those sooner.

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If it’s not something you can do right now, then you need to make sure you won’t forget it. This is what a “backburner” is for, a concept I picked up from Making Ideas Happen (an excellent book by Scott Belsky, founder of 99u and Behance). In my Flow account, I have a whole folder for backburner projects and tasks. I have a task list for each backburner project, and I also have two catch-all backburner lists for administrative and business development tasks. Then, what I do is schedule a recurring task to remind me to do 1-3 administrative tasks (or have my VA do them) once a week, and 1-3 business development tasks once a week, and I have a monthly task reminding me to review my backburner projects and see if anything can be moved to a front burner, so to speak.

This means that I’m making sure to complete those tasks that add up one by one and add up to progress in my business, by doing what I can when I can, and it also makes sure that I actually take action on the useful material that I read: I pull out the action items, put them in the appropriate place, and then voila! They get done (whether immediately or eventually). Even if it takes a while to get to them, it’s certainly better than leaving them to be forgotten or waste in the ether. So, how do you make sure you take action on your useful reading?

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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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