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Productivity Hack: Write Mini Process Flows

Productivity Hack: Write Mini Process Flows

Creativity is one thing, but capturing it into a form that’s useful (to your needs) is another. I’ve got an idea that I plan to implement for myself: mini process flows. Now, your jobs that you’ll need done are different than mine. I’ll just show you mine as examples, okay?

Process Flow Basics

Here are the basics of getting something done by way of a process flow:

Input – Work Performed – Output.

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You start by taking _____ from someone or something. You do what you’re going to do to it. You give it out to wherever it’s going. The trick, of course, is mostly within the “work performed” section. You have to lay that out in such a way that it’s repeatable, and that you can follow along without much attention to the process after you get it working right. Let’s take a task I’m doing these days: producing a podcast.

More Than One Flow

First off, producing a podcast has lots of steps that deserve their own flows. Let me think:

  • Collect Information
  • Interview Someone
  • Record My Parts
  • Edit Audio
  • Mix audio
  • Write Show Notes
  • Produce the files
  • Upload Files to Host
  • Build Corresponding Show Notes Post

(Don’t worry. I won’t make a flow for each of those.)

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Build the Flow

For my example, I’ll do “Produce the Files.”

Here’s an example of how a flow might work out-

  • Input– audio mix from GarageBand 3 still in Garage Band and Show Notes in Text Editor.
  • Work– Play through audio once, listening for big mistakes.
  • Send the file to iTunes.
  • Inside iTunes, select the file, choose Get Info.
  • Edit info, inserting show notes and links into Lyrics tab. Doublecheck art. Etc.
  • Choose “Convert File to MP3.”
  • Play the new MP3 file once it’s converted.
  • Move MP3 file to upload area.
  • Output– Upload Files to Host flow

That’s how that process flow works. I use GarageBand 3 to mix down the podcast (all the music tracks, the interview bit, my bumpers, my promos, etc), and then I use iTunes to convert the file from Apple’s proprietary file format into the easier-to-distribute and consume MP3 format.

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The Benefit of Process Flows

So, if I had a small notebook with printed pages that said, “Podcast Production,” and that contained all the flows for the various steps listed above, I’d have a fairly easy set of Next Actions to follow to get my job done.

The BENEFIT of that is simple. I can choose to scale any part of my efforts that I can explain so easily in those process flows. For instance, what if I wanted to pay someone to do my editing, my mixing, my file production, and pretty much everything after the creative efforts? I could re-write the flow such that the entire “Produce the Files” flow could be sent off to someone else, and they could do pretty much everything else for the rest of the process.

Being able to disaggregate parts of the value chain means that I can choose to focus on different parts of the process, such as recording more audio, improving my techniques, etc. There are far better audio editors than me, but maybe I want my own style to show through in the interview process. Or maybe I don’t. I could give the flows for getting the recordings made to others, and then do the back-end work for them.

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See how this can be useful?

Flows as Next Actions

Because flows have inputs and outputs, they act as somewhat larger Next Action moments within the project. You could choose to overlay contexts to the flows such that each Input section could show the contexts necessary. For instance, I can’t produce the files for a podcast while out at a coffee shop (not yet, at least). So, some consideration to that could be overlayed to deal with those concerns.

Further, because my work requires some amount of creativity, there are times when I’m not as ready to produce as others (no, really!). I can use those times to work other flows that are just as important, but aren’t as heavy on the brain power.

What’s your take? How would you add to this? Do you use anything like process flows in your day now?

–Chris Brogan is working on executing larger scale projects with increasing complexity using these types of process flows. His blog is [chrisbrogan.com], but don’t go there today. His new media company is Grasshopper New Media, where he just brought on Kevin Kennedy-Spaien as Executive Producer for Health Programming.

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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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