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Productivity can have a high cost

In the past, productivity was largely about driving efficiency, minimising wastage and lowering costs. Even in the age of automation and digitalisation, the emphasis has been on refining processes, systemising work and making things faster and more uniform. 

But when it comes to human work, squeezing out every last drop of efficiency often squeezes out the things we humans do best – our creativity, our compassion, our capacity for collaboration and change.  We are constantly trying to be more productive at work, but perhaps we are trying too hard?

I came across this quote recently in Brene Brown’s latest book Dare to Lead.

In the past, jobs were about muscles, now they’re about brains, but in the future they’ll be about the heart.
Minouche Shafik, director, London School of Economics

I think it’s particularly timely. especially as it pertains to our definition of productivity. 

Productivity in an age of hearts and minds looks very different from productivity in the industrial age.

It’s time for a new work ethic.

Three productivity myths we need to drop

Myth 1: She who works the hardest is the most productive

She who works the hardest sacrifices the most, stays the latest… you get the picture. It’s true, there are hard work and sacrifice involved in any worthwhile endeavour.

But throwing more hours at it was a tactic that is a throwback to the industrial age – when our jobs were about muscles.

And even then, Henry Ford recognised that exhaustion wasn’t good for productivity and as a result, introduced the 8-hour working day.

When our jobs are about brains – the quality of our thinking, our ideas and our decisions – the quality time we have is even more limited.

Studies suggest that we only have 2-3 hours of proactive attention a day.

What do you spend yours on?

What’s more, the longer you work, the worse your decisions get, so the quality of your work and your life diminishes. And the harder it is to discern between the real work that creates real impact, and the fake work that just keeps you busy.

And when we are using busy like a badge of honour, what we sacrifice becomes our undoing – rest, recharge, friendship, fun, wellbeing – the very things that keep our minds and our hearts in good shape. 

It’s time to stop working ourselves to death and start celebrating sustainable productivity, that is measured by impact, not input, and fuelled by a healthy work-life rhythm. 

Myth 2: Struggle means you can’t cope

Given the level of complexity, ambiguity and change in our world of work right now, the only places where we can avoid struggle are the well-worn paths.

Doing what we’ve always done before, sticking to what we know really well. 

For anyone who is pioneering change, innovation or creativity, struggle is actually to be expected and a really good sign that we’re in the right place.

Struggle is the place where we can make a difference.  It is the place where change is possible, where paradigms can be shifted, and the status quo challenged. 

Let’s stop beating ourselves up when we find ourselves in struggle. It’s time we start responding with curiosity and compassion, not fear – because this is precisely where the magic happens, where we do our best, most important work.

Myth 3: You have to do it all yourself. Depending on others is weakness. 

The myth of single-handed success is what puts us in competition with each other, and perpetuates the ‘dog eat dog’ world where success means being better than everyone else, or as someone once put it, being a “world-beater”. 

Personally, I’m far more interested in being a world-changer than a world-beater.

As one Forbes article on compassionate leadership put it, “as global competition and heightened uncertainty has driven organizations to outsource, flatten and cut back (often quite mindlessly and heartlessly – the two tend to go hand in hand), people have become increasingly hungry for a deeper sense of meaning in their work and a closer connection between what they do and how it serves a greater good.”

World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs study lists amongst the top 10 skills that will land you a high-paying job by 2020: emotional intelligence, coordinating with others, service orientation and people management.

What’s needed more than ever is compassion and collaboration. Productivity isn’t just about how you achieve, but how you enable others to achieve – and how they enable you. 

It’s time to focus on how we work together to make change – rather than who comes out on top.

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