Are you the Hamster or the Wheel?

13 Oct

The U.S. is experiencing the longest decrease in productivity since 1979.

In Canada where I’m writing this, productivity is also in decline.

But we work as hard, or harder, than ever.

Even though we have all this technology to help us work smarter.

Shouldn’t we be producing more and working less?

So why aren’t we more productive?

Imagine a hamster running round and round on a wheel.

It uses lots of energy with little to show for it.

The hamster is busy alright, but doesn’t achieve much.

But what if the wheel was hooked up to a generator?

And when the hamster runs, the generator powers a light bulb.

The hamster is doing exactly the same thing, with much more upside.

The outcome improves because with the addition of the generator, leverage is applied to the situation.

This leverage changes the context and makes a task that was previously meaninglessproductive.

So maybe context and not the actual task is the secret to productivity?

Essentially most business tasks are routine.

We go to meetings, write reports, hold conference calls, correspond via email, attend trade shows, and perform many other similar fairly predictable tasks.

What if the amount of productivity resulting from a given task has much less bearing on how the task is performed than we think?

And much more to do with the context it’s performed in.

A meeting can be a new business opportunity or the weekly team get together.

In either case the mechanics will be similar; people will sit round a table and talk (hopefully having listened first).

So why is one far more likely to produce a tangible outcome?

The answer is that one is important while the other is merely urgent.

And understanding this difference is the key to being more productive.

Urgent, is what people expect you to deliver, it’s process and routine constrained by time.

Urgent, keeps you looking busy and seemingly productive.

This month’s sales figures are (usually) urgent.

Important is more elusive and usually means thinking strategically.

The 3 year marketing plan is important.

Or put another way, it’s important to find the context that it’s worthwhile being urgent in.

It’s context that determines whether our urgency leads to productivity or busyness.

To be more productive, focus less on what’s urgent and more on what’s important.

It’s not easy.

The hamster does easy.

We get to choose.



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