365 Days of Productivity

The Only Metric That Will Make You Productive in 2020

Measuring success in the knowledge economy can be challenging

Murali Sunderraghavan
Jan 30 · 4 min read
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“Throughput” is an essential metric in the manufacturing sector.

It measures how long raw materials take to turn into finished goods.

The lower the throughput, the more efficient a machine is because it can produce more goods in a specific amount of time. Throughput also indicates how productive the workers who handle the machines are.

This tangible metric proved useful in the industrial age. So effective that when knowledge-era workers couldn’t find a reliable metric to measure their productivity, they resorted to a similar one: the quantum of work done.

Each week, we send hundreds of emails, attend dozens of meetings, and multitask. Doing visible work is still the in-thing.

But while throughput is excellent for the manufacturing sector, it has left most knowledge-age workers confused. No matter how many activities we perform, we feel like we’re stuck in quicksand. The harder we work, the more we get sucked into it.

Why Does This Happen?

It boils down to one thing — results.

Peter Drucker had said, “Stressing output is the key to increasing productivity.” In other words, results are the most reliable feedback for actions.

On an assembly line, it’s easy to see results. To be more productive, workers simply have to crank out more widgets.

But in the era when we get paid to think, things get trickier. Without clear feedback on the impact of our actions, we revert to doing what’s most comfortable at the moment and end up in what Drucker termed the “activity trap,” where an increase in activity causes a drop in productivity. Busyness becomes a proxy for productivity.

Busyness is primarily contributed by doing obvious things that not in all scenarios are aligned to overall objectives, but rather to the singular individual motto of feeling occupied with lack of professional and personal fulfilment at the end.

Imagine the results of business decisions taken in such a state of mind!

The compound effect of poor decisions doesn’t just affect us professionally but personally as well through meaningless and unhappy lives.

Nobody wants to live like this. But is there an alternative? Can you find an effective feedback mechanism to measure results?

Yes. It’s called progress.

What is Progress?

A task is meaningful when it moves towards an objective or goal. Without a goal, people could run a metre in ten different directions, wasting tremendous resources along the way.

Progress means taking action to get closer to your professional and personal goals.

Progress is taking the necessary steps to complete a project on time. For example, launching new features in an app or a marketing campaign to grow market share. Each action meets the objectives of the business and advances you on the road to success.

In other words, progress pushes things forward.

At the workplace, progress justifies your performance. But that’s just one external aspect. The amazing benefits of this metric are more intrinsic.

Progress is the ultimate motivator. The tiny results it yields motivate you to stick to a task and become better at it.

“People who commit to doing the work on every rung of the ladder… have the rare ability to understand their field from the top down. If you know how to work, you know how to win.” — Ayodeji Awosika

Progress refreshes your mind which feels exhilarated rather than exhausted, enabling you to invest in productive habits like reading, exercising, and learning new skills, increasing your self-confidence and no longer rely on external validation to feel happy and satisfied

Such a life demands a simple change in perspective.

Instead of doing more and doing only Visible tasks, identify essential goals and ask yourself, “How can I push these forward?” Take action and track your progress.

Rinse. Repeat.

Progress is Difficult

You’ll face plenty of obstacles.

Like struggling to find answers when you’re stuck. Like feeling distracted because the mind wants to rush to something more comfortable at the slightest hint of perspiration on the brow. Like feeling that you’re doing less thanks to the “activity trap.”

But the struggle improves your ability to solve problems and your cognitive flexibility because you understand things at a fundamental level. Suppressing the urge to get distracted improves your focus and grit — two aspects essential for success. Once you start allocating focussed time to critical activities aligned to professional and personal goals, the more visible progress you make towards them.

Embrace failure. Failure is a learning opportunity and an essential part of your journey to success.

Plus, the high you feel after overcoming a seemingly impossible obstacle is way better than any source of entertainment which otherwise is to escape the drudgery of daily life. Instead, it becomes a useful tool to recharge your batteries to return to what you enjoy doing.

Summing Up

Lao Tzu had said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” But the journey continues when you put one foot forward after the other.

This journey reveals the beauty and wonders of life beyond imagination. Set your eyes on the journey, not the destination.

Open yourself up to possibilities. Let life decide the path for you. You’ll find what you love doing and build a meaningful life around it. Then, finally, you can step away from the hamster wheel.

A version originally appeared on k:lib.


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