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The Productivity Family Tree

The Productivity Family Tree

Famous families are all around us, from the Clinton dynasty to Mylie and Billy Ray Cyrus. They evoke in us so many things because we can relate, on some small level, to them. Not that many of our daughters are famous pop singers or that many of our parents are presidents. Sometimes we hate the very mention of family and at other times the thought warms our heart.

The Criteria
With family in mind, I decided to have some fun and sort through the top productivity bloggers on the Internet. To “make the grade”, each had to fulfill certain criterion:

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* Must have a full-fledged productivity website
* Must blog about productivity on a regular basis
* Must do work that relates that directly relates to or enhances productivity
* Must be known as an expert in her/his field

Right off the bat, this knocked several major contenders out of the park. David Allen is a genuine player, but is “too big” for our consideration. In addition, he blogs for Huffington Post (no small gig) but not for his own site. I wanted to create a family tree of folks who are on the front lines and may or may not have totally made big on their career goals. With this said, let me be clear in saying that there are plenty of folks who could arguably be on this list but for subjective reasons didn’t make the grade. As an example, I read 43 Folders regularly but find that there are occasionally posts that are too casual for my taste.

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The Tree

The Responsible Mom: Laura Stack, The Productivity Pro
Laura has written three fantastic books on productivity, travels the world as a productivity expert and has made a name for herself as a specialist in productivity. Her blog posts have a nice lean towards her published work and her newsletter is of top quality.

The Brainiac Dad: Matthew Cornell, Matthew Cornell
Matthew is a work-flow consultant and has made “the leap” from corporate life to self employment. His blog posts tend to be highly thought-provoking and he writes as a clinician rather than a hobbyist. Matthew also puts in the time to post on many other blogs, gaining a reputation as a genuine practitioner of productivity.

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The Go-Getter Daughter: Susan Sabo, Productivity Cafe
Susan has been featured on HGTV and is the Founder and President of Organizers Inc. Her e-book, Managing Email and Paper Mail is an excellent resource for those looking to streamline and get leaner when it comes to your productivity system.

The Up-and-Coming Son: Mark Shead, Productivity 501
Mark is the mastermind behind Productivity 501 and is excellent at meme-generation and community building within the productivity network. Productivity 501 is arguably the most stylish productivity website on the Internet and features a handy ‘store’ feature of Mark’s favorite products for getting more done in less time.

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The Fun Uncle: Leo Babauta, Zen Habits
Leo is perhaps the best example of what careful planning and creative writing can do — his Zen Habits blog climbed the Technorati top 100 list and currently sits at #43. With nearly 50,000 subscribers and his first book ready to hit bookstores, Zen Habits is a genuine source for practical advice on keeping lean and staying productive. He’s an avid runner, prolific writer and all around nice guy.

The Rich Uncle: Mark Sanborn, Sanborn & Associates
When Mark’s book The Fred Factor, hit the bookstores in 2005 it propelled Mark beyond other public speakers and married productivity with customer service. Mark is values-based and sets high standards for organizations and their interaction with customers.

There were two neighbors who live down the street from our productivity family. These are not full-time productivity ‘experts’ but nonetheless get some serious nods due to their budding prowess as effectiveness bloggers. These include Lisa Hendey of Productivity at Home and Stephen Smith of Productivity in Context. Both deserve some love and contribute to the productivity community in marvelous ways. I can picture Lisa hosting a neighborhood bar-b-cue and Stephen helping you move that heavy couch from one room to the next.

Whether you’re in the Productivity Family Tree or aspiring to make a name for yourself in the productivity world, all of us can learn a great deal from these fine professionals. From Laura Stack to Mark Sanborn, getting things done takes on new meaning for everyday life.

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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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