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Reaching Your Goals – Dutch Style

Reaching Your Goals – Dutch Style

    The famous ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ are upon us again, and those of us jaded enough to realize all our previous year’s failures may not even bother anymore. This is not a good strategy either, as it promotes fewer goals and dreams. It’s good to know the difference between a reasonable new year’s resolution – which is more like a goal – and one that is just plain silly: if you are 100 pounds overweight, you should probably not decide to run the marathon this year.

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    When you look at history, the Dutch have come quite far. Among them we have world famous painters, artists, explorers, and scientists. Can we learn a little something from the Dutch when it comes to reaching our goals? I think so…

    “Don’t Think, But Do”

    In Dutch there is a saying that goes: “Niet denken maar doen”, it means “Don’t think, but do.” Although it can be hard, it is this simple phrase that can get me through my most unmotivated moments. Whenever I have a long to-do list, and for some reason even the simplest task seems too daunting to tackle, I just try to stop thinking all together and start doing.

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    Easier said than done, you may think? Sure, but just give it a try. Often we are so busy finding reasons why we can’t (or don’t) do something, we spend more energy and time than we would just doing it.

    “He who isn’t fast, has to be smart”

    This is another famous Dutch saying. Because I grew up in Holland, I know all these little no-nonsense tricks in Dutch. This one is originally: “Wie niet snel is moet slim zijn.”

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    I’m sure a similar saying exists in English and most other languages, but few people really realize how true it is. If you know you have a weakness, you have to find a hack to get around it. Compensation, if you will, would be a good way to describe putting this old truth into action. If you know you are poor at organizing, go shopping for the easiest filing tools that will force you to be more organized. People who don’t have time to read books can listen to audiobooks while commuting. There are endless examples for this concept, and all it takes is just a tiny bit of creativity.

    “Procrastination leads to cancellation”

    Although this phrase is very loosely translated from “van uitstel komt afstel” in Dutch, the meaning is entirely preserved. It is one of my favorites, because it also happens to be true. How many times did you delay a task, just to basically fail to finish it altogether? Usually, I procrastinate with tasks that are important. This has come back to bite me more than once, often leading to missing a deadline to sign up for something.

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    The only way to reach your goals is to set reasonable sub-goals and tackle those as soon as you can. This goes back to the first saying. When we allow ourselves too much time to think about an unpleasant task, we are less and less inclined to actually get ourselves into gear and just do it.

    Why learn from the Dutch?

    Aside from the fact I am Dutch, and this is my first post on Lifehack (so you might as well find out a little bit about me), the Dutch are a very no-nonsense and unforgiving society that will always tell you things just the way they are. If a Dutch person thinks you are a bit lazy, you’re more than likely to hear it out loud. Is it a bad thing? Not always… we definitely get the job done.

    Most importantly, and many people can learn from this, the Dutch have a “can-do” attitude and don’t easily make excuses. If you don’t reach a goal, you shouldn’t blame the weather, your job, or your health. Just do it, you are the only one responsible for your success.

    On this note: Happy new year, and good luck reaching all your hopes and dreams for 2009!

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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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