It’s time to rethink your “productivity”
“Productivity” is the thing we’ve been chasing for years—more, better, faster. But is it really serving us? Or is it time for us to rethink how we measure the increments of our success?
Years ago, Saturday Night Live aired a spoof commercial of a new razor called the Gillette Mach 3. And then some years later, they did another spoof for the Schick Quattro which—as you may have surmised—had 4 blades, beating its predecessor, the Mach 3. The commercials were funny because in real life, the razor companies kept adding more blades to their products—because more was always better than less!
The commercials are goofy. But they served their purpose. They called out this mentality—this default drive for more—that no one seemed to be questioning. And I think about those ads sometimes today as I watch people around me—friends, colleagues, clients in all industries—continue to strive to get more things done. Often wondering how to be more productive.
Everyone around me is so bleeping busy all the time. Racing between meetings, shooting off just one more presentation or spreadsheet, all while browsing the productivity section in the App Store.
And as I watch this play out, my heart hurts. Because burnout and quiet quitting and great resignations and reconsiderations continue to dominate workplace headlines. And friends, something’s gotta give.
Continuing to chase “more, better, faster” is breaking us. But I don’t think the counterpoint to this has to be less, fewer, slower. I think it’s not about speed or quantity, but quality and impact.
Neil Pasricha is an author who created the 4S Framework for meaningful work, and I kinda think it holds the key. It shifts our thinking from how much work to how much good work we’re doing. And that’s the measure I think we all need to be chasing right now.
The first S is Story
As in, what’s the story, or the “why,” behind the work you’re doing? Like, who’s counting on you to deliver something, and how do you most enjoy making that happen? Having clarity here helps us be more productive in impact over output. Because getting one super important thing done matters so much more than doing a dozen busy things.
In the earliest years of running my business, I was often guilty of working all hours to churn out decks and meeting designs, do research, read business books, be active on social, write newsletters, stay in touch with my entire network… I felt exhaustion in my bones.
But in more recent years, I’ve stayed closer to my story—my impact. I’m here to help companies craft amazing employee experiences that empower and excite and to unleash the full potential of their teams. My work helps teams thrive and businesses achieve results. Keeping THIS top of mind helps me make better choices about what I create, what I learn, and who I give my time to.
So now your turn. What’s your why? Who’s counting on you to deliver what impact? And how can this clarity infuse more intention into what you do… and what you don’t?
Next up, we’ve got Structure
There’s a quote I love that goes something like this “Show me your calendar and I’ll tell you what your priorities are.”
In other words, you may know what impact you strive to deliver. But does the structure of your days reflect that?
Friends, this is about making and holding time for the things that move you forward. Be honest. How many times have you canceled a coffee date or skipped a workshop because another meeting hit your calendar?
No judgment—I’ve been guilty of it. But with very rare exceptions (because in real life there are always exceptions) I treat my networking, learning, and personal development time—as well as the start and end times of my day—as actual commitments, as worthy as meetings.
I appreciate that not everyone is fully empowered over their day. Your boss may simply tell you there’s a meeting at 3 and you’re expected to clear your calendar and attend.
But I also believe you have a responsibility to be proactive. Let your boss know what impact you’re striving to deliver, what skills you’re hoping to learn and how those will add value to the team. Then ask for permission to hold windows and set boundaries.
Assure your boss that your colleague will be in that meeting and can deliver an update on your behalf while you attend this workshop on how to maximize client revenue. Which of course, will serve the team.
S #3 is Stimulation
We all have to do things we find neither fun nor sexy. But dialing up the stuff we love—or at least finding slightly more engaging ways to do the stuff we don’t love—helps us maximize the quality of our output.
As a business owner, I get tons of emails from companies trying to sell me something. Almost always these emails are cut and paste jobs, and it shows. I can picture the sender falling asleep mid-email-blast.
Likely, these people are technically productive—churning out hundreds of emails a day. But doing what bores them to tears often fails to yield real results.
Every now and then though, I’ll get something cool—like a custom video someone made me introducing their service. Those always stop me in my tracks. It clearly takes longer to record a personalized video than to copy and paste and email. But the speaker is always engaged, they seem excited and charged. Their energy is contagious (but like, in a good way).
How stimulating is your work these days? Note how differently you show up when you’re engaged versus not. How can you turn up the dial on your stimulation?
Can you reimagine how you process or present data? Can you collaborate with a colleague who’s always intrigued you? Can you redesign the meeting agenda so it’s more brainstorming and less updating?
Commit to staying stimulated and the quality of your output will shine.
And finally, we are Social
Connection to others matters, full stop. How we choose to connect will differ person to person, but you need to find your way.
I often bring partners into client engagements with me—not because I can’t do the work solo, but because I know I’ll enjoy the work more, I’ll learn along the way, and my end product to the client will be enriched by my collaboration with another thinker.
When we blend right moments and right people for connection, our experience and our output are better every time.
So now, take a step back. The next time you feel inclined to hustle, grind, and get just one more rep out, take a look at your four S’s. Are they all dialed up where they should be? How can you amplify the quality of your results and your experience rather than just churning out more?
While we’re focusing on productivity, we have some addition must-listen episodes full of helpful work wisdom.
How to Combat Toxic Productivity
While questioning how to be more productive and working toward that end, is it possible you’ve fallen into the trap of toxic productivity? Modern Mentor’s episode 670 shows how to combat toxic productivity.
Productive, Happy, Focused—How Small Habits Bring Big Success
Can small habit changes really lead to a more productive, focused, and happy life? They can! Author and podcaster Jeff Sanders’s shares his secrets to forming habits that lead to success.
Join me every week on the Modern Mentor podcast for great episodes. Until then, visit my website at leadabovenoise.com if your organization is looking to dial up its Employee Experience or deliver some leadership development that activates change.