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.


Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee


A year ago I posted about my “word for the year”, and the word I chose was Stability. Pandemic aside, 2020 had been a pretty chaotic year for me in my regular work. The week I wrote that blog post I started a new role that has proven to be the most challenging one vocationally in all of my years of serving in my organization. But I’m pleased to report that despite many changes in my work, compared to 2020, this past year has been a moored ship. Stability.

I was contemplating this a little bit over the New Year’s Weekend while returning from a holiday trip to the sub-zero temps of Minnesota. The word that came to me, surprisingly, was Joy. I suppose in part that is because I have a lovely Christmas sign outside our front door:

As I reflected on this in the airport and on my flight, and since then, that one word has stuck with me so far. I don’t have a lot of margin right now, so I have to make quick decisions. I’m sticking with it.

My paperback dictionary defines Joy as, simply,

n. 1. A feeling of great pleasure or happiness. 2. A source of pleasure.

v. To rejoice. takes it a step further by emphasizing, “A feeling of extreme happiness or cheerfulness.” (italics mine).

Joy is an interesting word because it is so closely linked to happiness, cheerfulness, or pleasure. It plays a prominent role in the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22): The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…”. The ESV Study Bible says, “[In importance in the list,] Joy comes in at a close second, for in rejoicing in God’s salvation Christians show that their affections are rightly placed in God’s will and his purpose.”

Another commentary says, “‘Joy’ (chara) is the virtue in the Christian life corresponding to happiness in the secular world. On the surface they seem related. But happiness depends on circumstances, whereas joy does not. In the NT a form of the word ‘joy’ becomes a typical—and the most popular—Christian greeting. Joy is particularly full when what was lost spiritually is found.” [Referencing five separate stories in Luke 15 where Joy is expressed when the lost item, person, or soul, is found.]

How does this relate to my partnership development and TntConnect? In my communications with partners. When I see a Thank You task pop up, that often brings me joy because it indicates something special has happened. But can I return the favour? Can I change how I communicate so that when a partner sees my envelope, it brings them joy, even before opening the envelope? (That is, I want my communications to be sprinkled with joy, so that future communications will elicit joy in them just seeing a letter from me; they will want to open the envelope because they know it will be worth their time.)

In the Bible, joy is not reserved for me. In Esther 8:17, the king’s edict saving the Jews naturally elicited joy among them. In Nehemiah 8:10, the Lord is joyful: “Then he said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.’” And John shows that it can be shared: “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” (2 John 12)

It’s been a rough couple of years out there both from Covid and politics. Conversations are frequently littered with challenges and frustrations. Over the holidays I asked a relative about a trip he had taken, and after a few short highlights, he spent the rest of the conversation detailing all of the things that went wrong… all of which were minor. Ouch. I am becoming more conscious recently of when I go down a non-joyful bunny trail that does not “bring grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

As I am looking at writing newsletters and personal notes this year, it is my goal to ground them in a desire to spread joy. How can I write in such a way as to bring joy to the person reading? And maybe, even in my blog posts too…