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Is Task Outsourcing The Enemy of Personal Development?

Is Task Outsourcing The Enemy of Personal Development?

Every day you learn something new is a good day — that’s what my mother taught me.

As someone who grew up with ADHD (and still dealing with it), I was not overly successful at getting things done at school. My inability to sit in one place and do one action at a time prevented me from focusing.  Often, sitting at class led me to doodle in my notebook or, worse, being asked to leave the classroom all together.  For me the result was the same: missing a lot of classroom material.

For me, the gods of fortune smiled at me and sent me a persistent mother that knew a thing or two about how to raise a kid like me (she has ADHD too).  So I learned everything I needed to learn again at home, surrounded by my own favorite distractions in a protected environment.  It was one of the best things ever to happen to me.

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Why was it such a good thing?

Because someone who fails in one environment (i.e. class) needs to compensate with little victories in other environments (i.e. home) to remain stable and develop. I gained my little victories at home, studying both from encyclopedias and history books, gradually getting addicted to auto-didacticism and the ensuing benefits.

The passing years taught me to manage my time better and segment my work more effectively, ultimately helping me get more done. I have also learned to harness people around me.  Hey, if someone can do a job as well as you, why not let him do the job for you, right? …Ah, the hubris.

So, I started to manage more and do less, outsourcing most of my tasks: one after the other, small tasks, big tasks, short tasks, long tasks…you name it. I figured out that if I don’t work on mundane tasks, I’ll have more time to explore my more creative side and work on those things that matter to me the most.

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…Big mistake.

Why?

Sure, it worked at first; I was able to get more things done, but there were a few things that I didn’t take under consideration that hurt my ability to continue doing so effectively over time.

1.  All my life I made sure I learned something new each passing day.  When I began to outsource tasks, I experienced a steady decline in my motivation to learn because I thought to myself that someone else can do it for me… and probably better.  I was hiring people to do professional tasks for me instead of learning how to do them myself.

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This developed my managerial skills for sure, but prevented me from developing new capabilities. Today you can outsource just about anything, so why should I keep learning what to do when there’s a cheaper, faster option waiting a few clicks away?

2.  I started missing out on opportunities — not only learning opportunities, but also opportunities related to my projects and goals.  Being out there, doing things, experiencing them first hand — there’s no substitute for that. If someone else does that for you, you’re probably missing out on a lot of things without ever knowing.

3.  Outsourcing most of my tasks left a vacancy that I filled with leisure activities.  Instead of personal development, I spent more time on leisure activities.  Don’t get me wrong, leisure is great, but too much numbs your mind and makes you lazy.

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Outsourcing is a slippery slope; you don’t want the success of your project hanging on someone else’s shoulders.  Too much reliance on someone else is a sure way to fail.  If knowledge is power, you’re giving up that power, hanging your hopes on someone else and making yourself irrelevant.  You can remain in your managerial comfort zone for a while, but as I mentioned, something will eventually flush you out.  If you’re living an easy and comfortable life because someone else is slaving for you, when things will change (and they usually do), you’ll find yourself facing reality’s cold blank stare.

So learn how to outsource and manage your projects without losing touch.  Make sure that when you’re leading, you’re in the trenches and not shouting commands from afar.

Until next time.

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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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