Why the Problem Lies within the System 

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In this post, Dan Markovitz identifies the weak spots in  productivity hacks and explains why they don’t work.

Leaders in organizations are always seeking to improve employee productivity (including their own). All too often, that quest goes no further than time management training provided by the HR department. Those classes cover the pros and cons of Inbox Zero, the Pomodoro technique, the Eisenhower matrix, Getting Things Done, and countless other approaches that tantalize us with visions of the promised land of peak productivity. Given that people are still overwhelmed by work, buried in email, and unable to focus on critical priorities, it’s safe to say that these productivity hacks don’t hack it. 

The problem isn’t with the intrinsic logic of any of these approaches. It’s that they fail to account for the simple fact that most people don’t work in isolation. They work in complex organizations defined by interdependencies among people—and it’s these interdependencies that have the greatest effect on personal productivity. You can be an email ninja, but with the explosion of email (not to mention instant messages, Twitter direct messages, Slack messages, and countless other communication tools), you’ll never be fast enough to deal with all the incoming communication. Similarly, your personal urgent/important Eisenhower categories fall apart when the CEO asks you to do stop what you’re doing and handle something right now. 

As legendary statistician and management consultant W. Edwards Deming argued in his book Out of the Crisis, 94% of most problems and possibilities for improvement belong to the system, not the individual. I would argue that most productivity improvements belong there as well. Personal productivity systems are certainly useful, but the most effective antidote to low productivity and inefficiency must be implemented at the system level, not the individual level.

 

Four countermeasures to systemic overload include:

  • Tackling tiered daily huddles
  • Enabling an equitable distribution of work
  • Defining the “bat signal”
  • Aligning responsibility with authority

 

Read the full article, Why Your Productivity Hacks Don’t Hack It, on MarkovitzConsulting.com.