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The One Mind Shift To Rule Them All: Everything is a Deliverable

The One Mind Shift To Rule Them All: Everything is a Deliverable

One my first weeks on the job as a consultant, I was on a conference call with my boss and a client and spontaneously recommended a program that would add a significant amount of work for my company. Since we billed clients at a flat rate, it seemed I had just added a bunch of work that we wouldn’t be getting paid for.

“Nonsense,” said the director I was working under. All I did was add a deliverable, which was a good thing. It helped justify our fee.

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Years later, that lesson in consulting has infiltrated my entire approach to work and productivity. Treating all your work as a series of deliverables will shift the way you think about getting things done. Instead of task lists, you will have lists of deliverables. Instead of priorities, you will have your top one or two deliverables. At the end of every meeting, instead of action items, you will have generated a list of deliverables.

The power of thinking in deliverables

Why is thinking in terms of deliverables so powerful? Because it forces you to spend your time working toward concrete goals and in the service of getting stuff done. This holds true whether you’re a consultant or an employee.

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As a PR consultant or an employee in charge of media relations, for example, you may be tempted to spend time reading the news, monitoring twitter, or searching for new media targets. This is a good way to let four hours pass without actually getting anything done. What would you say to your client to justify the time you spent doing that? The answer is to think in terms of a deliverable: compile list of ten top media targets or engage five key industry influencers on Twitter. Thinking in these terms not only ensures you have something to show for time spent at your desk, but it justifies in writing the money your client is spending on you.

As an employee, being sure to always work off a list of deliverables will help justify your pay check, besides giving you ample fodder for reporting. You’ll never walk into another department meeting or employee review and struggle to explain what you’ve been doing with your time. More than anything, getting into the habit of thinking in terms of deliverables will focus your mind on tasks rather than on busywork.

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Turning busywork into important work

And yet, even busywork like replying to email can morph itself into concrete a deliverable if you become practiced at it. By one estimate, your average office worker spends 650 hours a year on email. That’s more than 16 work weeks worth of email checking. Of course it’s become common practice to admonish workers that constantly checking email will sabotage your productivity, but what if instead of checking email, you gave yourself a deliverable: send feedback and edits back to designer. All of a sudden you’ve turned what is probably a little bit of back and forth email into a concrete deliverable, something you can report on and check off as accomplished.

To put this mind shift into action, start a spreadsheet. If you’re a consultant, put all your clients on one page, and underneath each one brainstorm the deliverables you need to get done for the week. If you’re an employee, the process is the same, but perhaps instead of dividing deliverables by client, you’ll want to divide them by area of responsibility. Add a column for due-dates if your deliverables are time sensitive. As the week progresses, you will likely add to-dos to the list, such as action items captured after a meeting. Put checks next to the deliverables as you complete them. At the end of the week, you should be able to scan through the spreadsheet and get a good sense of what you got done. Things left undone get carried over to the next week.

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And always remember: if it’s not something you can write down as a deliverable and feel comfortable including on a monthly report to your client or boss, then maybe it’s probably not as important as you think.

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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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