True productivity starts with being clear on what we truly want
Remember the scene from I Love Lucy where Lucy and Ethel get hired at a chocolate factory? Their job is to wrap truffles as they come down a conveyor belt. Their manager threatens to fire them if a single chocolate slips by unwrapped. The pair start out okay, but within seconds the sweets are racing by. Lucy and Ethel start shoving them in their mouths and filling their hats with the overflow. When the onslaught finally stops, their manager comes to inspect their work. She can’t see that Lucy and Ethel are hiding all the unwrapped candy, so it appears as if they’ve kept up and done a good job. Their reward? “Speed it up!” the manager shouts to the person driving the conveyor belt.
Where do we stuff all the extra to-dos, queries, and assignments we encounter on the job? Like Lucy and Ethel, when we successfully manage the overwhelm, our reward is often more work!
Almost everyone I know has felt like Lucy and Ethel at times, including me. Someof us feel like that most of the time. For us, it’s not chocolates racing toward us. It’s emails, texts, phone calls, reports, presentations, meetings, deadlines—an endless conveyor belt full of new things to do, fix, or think about. We’re being as productive as we possibly can, but we can only handle so much.
So we shove the extra tasks into our nights and fill our weekends with projects we can’t finish during the workweek. It all piles up on the assembly line in our minds, claiming our mental, emotional, and physical energy. That’s what drives us to explore productivity tips and hacks—to find ways to shave a few minutes off each of the million tasks demanding our attention. If we could wrap each chocolate just a split-second faster, maybe, just maybe, we’d be able to keep up.
Some of us can make that approach work for us. But it’s the wrong approach because it doesn’t get at the underlying problem. Either we’re too successful in coping with the relentless pace or we’re buried by it. Either way, we never stop to ask why we’re sub- jecting ourselves to it in the first place. So, let’s finally stop and ask. What do we want from our productivity? What’s the purpose? What are the objectives? True productivity starts with being clear on what we truly want.
Focus is saying no to 1,000 good ideas.
Every time I read a management or self-help book, I find myself saying, “That’s fine, but that wasn’t really the hard thing about the situation.” The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. The hard thing isn’t hiring great people. The hard thing is when those “great people” develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things. The hard thing isn’t setting up an organizational chart. The hard thing is getting people to communicate within the organization that you just designed. The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.
The last 10% is 90% of the work.