Everything You’ve Learned About Productivity Is Wrong

Hustle, hustle, hustle!

“Sleep is for the weak.”

“You sleep when you’re dead.”

Productivity and grind are two of the most accepted dogmas in the modern world’s rat-racing hustle culture. And they’re echoed as gospel truth by business gurus, management consultants and TikTok influencers.

Unfortunately, “productivity” is more nuanced than we think. It goes beyond a simple measure of output per unit of input and implies an understanding of human nature and psychology.

Often, instead of reaping its benefits, our grinding backfires to our detriment.

In this post, we talk about some of the myths around the idea of productivity and learn the better things to do instead.

#1 The Myth of Multitasking

Putting on makeup while driving? “Multitasking” at its finest.

People often pride themselves on being able to do two (or more) things at the same time. It’s like a life hack that saves people countless hours.

But here’s the thing. There’s no such thing as multitasking. Psychology has exposed the phenomenon and what we often think of as “multitasking” is actually rapidly switching from one task to another.

Studies show that this sort of thing, instead of padding productivity, is actually very inefficient because it forces the brain to switch from one goal to another.

As a result, the tasks receive inferior attention—often leading to things like traffic accidents, errors and lapses.

You’re actually not being productive when you are doing two things at the same time. You’re not really “multiplying” yourself. You’re simply dividing and distributing your attention and effort across different tasks.

Instead of “multitasking,” you should instead allot chunks of time per task. Say, you do task# 1 for 30 minutes. Then, when you’re spent or experiencing diminishing returns on that task, you switch to task#2, which your brain is still excited about.

This way, you are giving ample attention to each task, and are efficient across tasks.

#2 Rest Is A Must, Not Luxury

The dough rises when you let it rest.

Rest, in all its different forms and durations, is a very important phase of any goal-oriented effort.

Even machines need rest! Maintenance engineers know this. Without equipment having a breather, you run the risk of:

  • equipment breakdown
  • safety compromises
  • reduced equipment lifespan
  • expensive repairs
  • unscheduled stoppages
  • decreased efficiency

In short, machines break down, overheat, or malfunction when you abuse them. In the long run, it is much more efficient to idle the machine for a while than risk losing it.

The human body is more fragile and more complex than any machine that we know. It cannot perpetually work without rest. Eventually, it’ll burn out, commit errors and lose creativity. There comes a point when an overworked employee is simply going through the motions and not really being productive and creative.

Then comes illness or disease.

In the long run, you’re losing so much more by not taking time to rest.

Have a break from work…or work will break you.

#3 Quality Is Not More Important Than Quantity

The problem with a “quality vs. quantity” mindset is that it takes an either-or stance. It makes the thing a zero-sum game and assumes that if you pick one, then you’re forgiven if you fail on the other.

But it’s not like that in the real world. Both are important in business. You can’t just choose one.

If you focus too much on quality, you will significantly lower the number of widgets you can produce, and therefore also lower the number of clients or customers you serve. This is not a sustainable strategy in the long run. Even if you jack up your prices, you will be too dependent on the whimsy of a small customer base (often the segment that’s hardest to please).

If you focus too much on quantity, your shoddy products will ultimately result in customer dissatisfaction, leading to reputational damage, and increased costs in the long run. It’s like trading short-term gains for long-term pains.

You really cannot choose between the two and win in the long run. You have to take care of both quality and quantity.

So the better mindset is optimization: How much quality-quantity mix is needed for a business to have both robust profits and customer satisfaction?

Optimization is the process of making a product or service as effective and functional as possible…without overdoing it.

Different industries and different businesses have different “sweet spots” where both enterprise resources and customer satisfaction happily meet.

Companies find this sweet intersection through continuous experimentation, feedback and iteration of their systems and processes. The key word here is “continuous.” With the rapid changes that are consistently taking place at all levels, businesses find themselves continuously reinventing and reimagining their competitive strategies.

But in the long run, the efforts are worth it. Optimization results in more productivity, time savings and cost efficiency.

#4 There’s Something More Important Than Productivity

That said, there is then something more important than “productivity.”

It’s the virtue “X.”

This is what allows companies to appropriately respond to the quick and permanent changes brought about by technology, society, policy and the global economy.

Value “X” can also be called “Flexibility.”

More important than being productive per se is being productive on the right things, the relevant things and the things that become a competitive advantage.

And the things that matter for an industry, change. And the players that remain relevant in the space are those that can consistently “shapeshift” with the times.

What happens for example, when a raw material is suddenly found harmful and banned, or when your cash cow suddenly becomes obsolete because a manifestly better alternative has burst into the scene?

(This is what happened to makers of physical goods and products when things went digital.)

“Flexibility,” as a value, is becoming more and more important for companies, not every year, but every quarter, and will be reflected in their bottom lines.

Companies are not just demanding this of themselves, their systems and operations. Customers are asking for flexibility. Their employees are making it a requisite for employment.

Moving ahead, flexibility will be a big reason why some companies are relevant while others cease to exist.

So if we are talking about productivity, we should remember to be productive about the right things. And in today’s rapidly changing world, that requires flexibility.

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