The Alluring Fallacy of Improved Productivity

This is a Part 2 of a previous post on the efficiency I gained from eliminating customization in both my regular monthly newsletters as well as regular (one/two times per year) special ask letters. And, humorously, in one sense it actually says the exact opposite of the point I was making.

In brief, so you can stop reading here if you want to get the whole gist of this post: Any time-saving software, process, production, even ‘outsourcing’ will not actually free up time for you to relax more.

The classic cartoon of a world like the Jetsons where all labor was done by robots completely freeing up the owners to lounge in a life of leisure sounded great in the 1950s. But those shows / advertisements / promises were based on the assumption that each person had a finite amount of work to be done, so any time/labour-saving device or practice would naturally “free up” more time for leisure and “enjoying life”.

What burst my bubble on this was reading the incredibly helpful book I now [jokingly] hate, David Allen’s Getting Things Done. For much of the 1990s/2000s, I was working hard at improving my skills as a leader, and Getting Things Done was the capstone of a long list of very helpful books. My other “most helpful book”, by the way, was Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing from the Inside Out and its companion Time Management from the Inside Out; I regard them as a single book because it’s the same principle applied two different ways.

Why did these books both help and hinder me?

  • Morgenstern’s tips helped me eliminate—forever—a massive amount of disorganization that was endemic in my house. I hadn’t handled the transition from single/apartment to married/homeowner very efficiently, and her book helped me bring order to the chaos (and, 20+ years later, I am still grateful for!). The constraints of being single with little stuff in one room vs. multiple people in a house with garage required new skills.
  • Allen’s method, then, helped streamline tasks / email / day-to-day. The main downside of his book was that it was written in a 1990’s era of paperwork, filing cabinets, etc. Adapting it to an entirely virtual world is possible but not nearly as clean and neat.

The end result of both books was that they reduced a massive amount of mental clutter and wasted/redundant effort.

So I could have more free time.

Not hardly. So I could do more. David Allen helped me become so much more efficient that I could say YES to so many more things.

Don’t get me wrong… improved productivity resulting in more work is the goal of any company and any good manager/leader. I don’t want my staff wasting their time doing something the hard way when it could be done easier. Nor do I have an only finite amount of work for them. If they free up a full day thanks to new software or even new skills, that increases their value and ability to do more. A well-skilled and efficient employee is infinitely more valuable than a new employee who is just learning.

My point is that the premise of improved productivity resulting in more free time is usually based on a forward-looking ‘from this point in time’ perspective: “I have X amount of work to complete now; if I complete it in half the time, I free up that time permanently.” (There are countless cases where that is true, of course. If I’m in construction and I can complete the job faster with better tools, then I get paid the same for doing less work; or if I’m working at a summer camp and wrapping up the week requires X number of tasks, completing them faster starts the weekend off sooner.)

We have long taught a similar principle in financial stewardship: If a person does not decide IN ADVANCE what they are going to do with their next raise (or next debt payoff), those now-available funds will be absorbed into the spending with no long-term gain.

So what’s the connection with this concept and partnership development / TntConnect?

Ultimately, the value of TNT is to help me maintain better relationships with my partners. When I do that, the long-term benefits of those relationships are profound. I do NOT use TntConnect to help me “Get all that hard work done more quickly.” Partnership development is hard work, but it is good work. When I free up 4 hours a month by using a newsletter service, I [should] reinvest that 4 hours into a more valuable to me PD activity, such as handwriting notes or calling partners.

For me, the reality with PD is not that I have a finite amount of tasks to complete (thanks, newsletters, phone calls) but that I have a finite amount of time available to spend on PD, so any way I can be more efficient with that time makes the results of the finite time more beneficial.

Our attitude towards PD is often the driving factor in how often and how much we do. But the PD work itself is not the goal.


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