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Why You Shouldn’t Care About Other People’s Productivity

Why You Shouldn’t Care About Other People’s Productivity

“You won’t believe this…Jeremy actually got to inbox zero!”

If the above phrases don’t make you want to narrow your eyes, shoot a darting glare at someone and/or grit your teeth with jealousy, then you’re probably in denial. Because yes, your desire to increase your productivity can produce a nasty green-eyed monster called jealousy.

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It sure can be annoying hearing about yet another work colleague getting to inbox zero or collating 200 copies of a complex marketing presentation in 30 minutes – better, stronger and faster than the Six Million Dollar Man himself (cue a rousing chorus of booing and hissing). While you might seek solace in loving to hate people who are more productive than yourself, the truth of the matter is that you really shouldn’t care about other people’s productivity. And the best way to increase your own productivity is to ignore what everyone else is doing, and follow the only guide or measurement over which you have control: how you work.

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Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t care about other people’s productivity and what you can do to increase your own productivity:

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Why You Shouldn’t Care About Other People’s Productivity

  • You are you. You are not other people. You are not “them.” You decide and are responsible for how you want to make the most out of your energy and time.
  • You waste more time and effort chatting, talking, gossiping and scheming about other people’s productivity. All of that energy could have been used to help you become more productive and get more work done in a shorter amount of time. Instead of putting in extra hours at work, you could be at home or at the beach relaxing!
  • Talking about other people’s accomplishments diminishes your own accomplishments. You can compare yourself to other people until you are blue in the face, but what good will that do? You’ll belittle what you just accomplished, or what you could potentially accomplish in future.

What You Can Do to Increase Your Own Productivity

  • Give yourself a passion-filled reason to improve your productivity and get stuff done. We all have different reasons for becoming more productive. Why do you want to finish processing your email inbox at a reasonable hour at work? Do you want to get home to spend more time with your family, or to go through that giant stack of DVDs of The Wire you’ve been meaning to watch?
  • Know what slows you down when working. Do you take a long 15 minutes (maybe one hour?) checking Facebook or Pinterest? Do you procrastinate at work when it comes to filling out your travel expenses? Do you get bored and fidgety after staring at the computer for 30 minutes straight? You know more about your own work habits than you think.
  • Specify and target your own goals. Do you want to process invoices faster, or perhaps get that ton of paper filing done in 30 minutes? You can set your own target, do research for tips, ideas and hacks on how to become more productive, and reach your goal…at your own comfortable pace!

The next time you hear of another feat of office productivity prowess that makes you want to run off and scream in the office supply closet, think kind and good thoughts towards the Suzannes and Jeremys in your life.

Remember, the only person whose productivity you should be concerned about is yourself.

Choose your target and blow it out of the proverbial productivity water!

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Rashelle Isip

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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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