True Productivity

How productive are you?   Really???

A recent post by Rees Morrison on the subject of productivity caught my eye. In it he described the “five-or-10-minute rule,” which recommends that you wait five or 10 minutes between the time you write an e-mail message and the time you send it. The theory is that this brief waiting time will give you an opportunity to think about the consequences of your message before you click send.

I suspect advice like this has saved many of us from acute embarrassment over the years. To my surprise, however, Rees Morrison characterized this advice in the following way:

Good advice, very lawyerly, impossible to criticize, but it will obviously hobble productivity. To advise in-house counsel to ponder the legal consequences of what they do with email – indeed, with everything they do – is to be on the side of the angels, but let productivity go to the devil.

His conclusion made me wonder about his definition of productivity.  If your definition of productivity is to get as much done as possible, a delay of even five minutes on each e-mail message could cost you valuable time for action.  However, what if that rushed e-mail proves to be wrong.  Then taking a few minutes to avert disaster suddenly seems like the most efficient course of action.

I’d suggest that the right definition of productivity is not “get as much done as possible” or even “get as much of the right things done as possible.”  Rather, a better definition of true productivity is:  Get as many of the right things done in the right way. Under this definition of productivity, the “five-or-10-minute rule” makes perfect sense.

[Photo Credit:  f_mafra]

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4 thoughts on “True Productivity

  • Pingback: Does Caution Prevent Productivity? | Above and Beyond KM

  • August 20, 2009 at 11:44 am
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    I think the question that needs answering is: what is the productivity that you are seeking? Doing the right things in the right way, as you describe here (and in your later post), requires a balance between a range of competing variables: the harm that a decision will prevent versus the harm that absence of action might cause; the need for speed versus time for consideration, and so on.

    I recently bookmarked a couple of interesting posts on this question, both of which mention marathon runners. One (Peter Bregman, “To Get More Done, Slow Down”) compares the need not to overtrain when preparing for a marathon with our apparent desire to fill a working day with continuous work. The other (Craig Roth, “Those Lazy Marathon Runners”) highlights the difference between the performance of a marathon runner and a sprinter, showing the need to strike the correct pace for the task in hand. We can learn from both of these insights.

  • August 20, 2009 at 11:11 pm
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    Mark –

    Thanks for your comment and for these terrific links. You're right in suggesting that the metaphor of the marathon runner is very apt.

    Finding and striking a balance is important at work and in life. Perhaps true personal productivity is finding the balance that allows one to achieve what's necessary over a lifetime, rather than merely in the course of a single hour or day. Sprinting, while useful from time to time, really isn't a practical approach to life.

    – Mary

  • August 21, 2009 at 3:11 am
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    Mark –

    Thanks for your comment and for these terrific links. You're right in suggesting that the metaphor of the marathon runner is very apt.

    Finding and striking a balance is important at work and in life. Perhaps true personal productivity is finding the balance that allows one to achieve what's necessary over a lifetime, rather than merely in the course of a single hour or day. Sprinting, while useful from time to time, really isn't a practical approach to life.

    – Mary

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