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The New Lifehacking #2 – How to Understand Your Current System

The New Lifehacking #2 – How to Understand Your Current System

My prior article ended with the biggest tip from the New Lifehacking: gain a unique understanding of your current system of habits, practices and rituals, before looking for new stuff. I looked at time management / self management as an example of one area in which we need to gain some insights into how we do what we do, before being seduced by the latest advertisement for a new gadget, or a catchy headline on a blog post.

Not that this is easy to do. If you have ever walked into an auto-supply store with nothing more than a vague idea of what you need, you might know what it’s like to walk out with a list of information you need to return with, plus a cute little thingy to hang from the rearview mirror. The initial trip is a failure because you haven’t applied even the most basic diagnostic tools at your disposal – your eyes and ears.

The problem in time and self management (versus car repair) is that there are very few diagnostic tools available, and we don’t even know what to look for.

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One reason is that the system you use currently didn’t come from a manufacturer with all the specs fully laid out. The fact is, like most people, you started to put together your own time management system in your teens and completed the process in your early twenties. You may have tweaked it since then, but most people don’t – they stick with what works for them, and they forget the fact that they ever put it together; it sinks deep into the world of their unconscious competence.

This amnesia is the reason why people don’t throw down books and walk out of seminars when they realize that they are being spoken to as beginners in time and self management.

To help fill the gap, over the past few years, I have assembled an online 84 point assessment that looks at different aspects of one’s time management system. It’s based entirely on individual habits and practices and offers users a way to assess their skills by answering each question to the best of their ability.

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Here’s an expanded example of the kind of question I included:

If you were to decide to run an errand a week from now outside the home or office, what are the steps you would take more often than not to complete the task?

1. Try to remember the errand later, after first committing it to memory
2. Ask someone to remind me
3. Write it down on a loose piece of paper
4. Make a note of it in my little black book
5. Enter it in my paper calendar
6. Add it to my electronic schedule
7. Add it to my electronic schedule that is automatically backed up

In the assessment I created, I tried to imagine which actions are the ones that are most likely to be successful, versus those which are most likely to fail. The quality of the action taken ranges from 1 to 6, with a level 6 being the highest.

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Your opinion may differ from mine as to the exact placement of each action in this hierarcy, but the point is that it’s not hard to use best practices to build such assessments. Once they are built, creating a ladder from low skills to high, it’s possible to measure your own progress against these standards and lifehack your way to better performance.

In part, this approach is inspired by Benjamin Franklin and his quest to become a better writer. He made a series of continuous comparisons against the best authors of the day and tackled each of the gaps that emerged. Over time, he made dramatic improvements in his writing skill.

At the end of a complete assessment, what emerges is a personal profile. Most of the profiles I have seen have emerged from in-depth live training and they reveal something that you’d expect – systems that vary a great deal from each other, given the fact that they were self-created without much guidance.

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Lifehacks that are driven by this kind of knowledge set the stage for delicately crafted improvements. Instead of trying to force-fit one-size-fits-all prescriptions, you save time and energy by making strategic changes that you want, at a speed of your choosing. You begin to understand why the iPhone that helped one person become productive, destroyed the productivity of another, and did nothing for yet another, and why the same applies to books, programs, web services, etc.

How you start to implement the results of your assessment will be the subject of my next post here at Lifehack.org.

To view a sample assesment, click here to access the first sample quiz I ever put together that instantly provides you with some feedback on one critical skill while teaching a couple of new concepts.

More by this author

Francis Wade

Author, Management Consultant

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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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