Simply, in a word, NO, I’m not productive.
Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.
― Stephen R. Covey
A big part of productivity is doing something worthwhile and meaningful. It means attacking something important and creating innovative solutions. I do a lot of things every day, but very little of it is either worthwhile or meaningful. At the same time I’m doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing! This means that my employer (or masters) are asking me to spend all of my valuable time doing meaningless, time wasting things as part of my conditions of employment. This includes trips to stupid, meaningless meetings with little or no content of value, compliance training, project planning, project reports, e-mails, jumping through hoops to get a technical paper, and a smorgasbord of other paperwork. Much of this is hoisted upon us by our governing agency, coupled with rampant institutional over-compliance, or managerially driven ass covering. All of this equals no time or focus on anything that actually matters squeezing out all the potential for innovation. Many of the direct actions result in creating an environment where risk and failure are not tolerated thus killing innovation before it can attempt to appear.
Worse yet, the environment designed to provide “accountability” is destroying the very conditions innovative research depends upon. Thus we are completely accountable for producing nothing of value.
Every single time I do what I supposed to do at work my productivity is reduced. The only thing not required of me at work is actual productivity. All my training, compliance, and other work activities are focused on things that produce nothing of value. At some level we fail to respect our employees and end up wasting our lives by having us invest time in activities devoid of content and value. Basically the entire apparatus of my work is focused on forcing me to do things that produce nothing worthwhile other than providing a wage to support my family. Real productivity and innovation is all on me and increasingly a pro bono activity. The fact that actual productivity isn’t a concern for my employer is really fucked up. The bottom line is that we aren’t funded to do anything valuable, and the expectations on me are all bullshit and no substance. Its been getting steadily worse with each passing year too. When my employer talks about efficiency, it is all about saving money, not producing anything for the money we spend. Instead of focusing on producing more or better with the funding and unleashing the creative energy of people, we focus on penny pinching and making the workplace more unpleasant and genuinely terrible. None of the changes make for a better, more engaging workplace and simply continually reduce the empowerment of employees.
One of the big things to get to is what is productive in the first place?
There is nothing quite so useless, as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.
― Peter F. Drucker
Productivity is creating ideas and things whether it is science or art. Done properly science is art. I need to be unleashed to provide value for my time. Creativity requires focus and inspiration making the best of opportunities provided by low hanging fruit. Science can be inspired by good mission focus producing clear and well-defined problems to solve. None of these wonderful things is the focus of efficiency or productivity initiatives today. Every single thing my employer does put a leash on me, and undermines productivity at every turn. This leash is put into a seemingly positive form of accountability, but never asks or even allows me to be productive in the slightest.
Poorly designed and motivated projects are not productive. Putting research projects into a project management straightjacket makes everything worse. We make everything myopic and narrow in focus. This kills one of the biggest sources of innovation. Most breakthroughs aren’t totally original, but rather the adaptation of a mature idea from one field into another. It is almost never a completely original thing. Our focused and myopic management destroys the possibility of these innovations. Increasingly our projects and proposals are all written to illicit funding, not produce the best results. We produce a system that focuses on doing things that are low risk and nearly guaranteed payoff, which results in terrible outcomes where progress is incremental at best. The result is a system where I am almost definitively not productive if I do exactly what I’m supposed to do. The entire apparatus of accountability is absurd and an insult to productive work. It sounds good, but its completely destructive, and we keep adding more and more of it.
Why am I wasting my time, I could produce so much with a few hours of actual work. I read article after article that says I should be able to produce incredible results working only four hours a day. The truth is that we are creating systems at work that keep us from doing anything productive at all. The truth is that I have to go to incredible lengths to get anything close to four hours of actual scientific focus time. We are destroying the ability for us to work effectively all in the name of accountability. We destroy work in the process of assuring that work is getting done. Its ironic, its tragic, and its totally unnecessary.
If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old
― Peter F. Drucker
The key is how do we get the point of not wasting my time with this shit? Accountability sounds good, but underneath its execution is a deep lack of trust. The key to allowing me to be productive is to trust me. We need to realize that our systems at work are structured to deal with a lack of trust. Implicit in all the systems is a feeling that people need to be constantly being checked up on. If people aren’t constantly being checked up on they are fucking off. The result is an almost complete lack of empowerment, and a labyrinth of micromanagement. To be productive we need to be trusted, and we need to be empowered. We need to be chasing big important goals that we are committed to achieving. Once we accept the goals, we need to be unleashed to accomplish them. In the process we need to solve all sorts of problems, and in the process we can provide innovative solutions that enrich the knowledge of humanity and enrich society at large. This is a tried and true formula for progress that we have lost faith in, and with this lack of faith we have lost trust in our fellow citizens.
The whole system needs to be oriented toward the positive and away from the underlying premise that people cannot be trusted. This goes hand in hand with the cult of the manager today. If one looks at the current organizational philosophy, the manager is king and apex of importance. Work is to be managed and controlled. The workers are just cogs in the machine, interchangeable and utterly replicable. To be productive, the work itself needs to be celebrated and enabled. The people doing this work need to be the focus of the organization and getting wonderful work done enabled by its actions. The organization needs to enable and support productive work, and create an environment that fosters the best in people. Today’s organizations are centered on expecting and controlling the worst in people with the assumption that they can’t be trusted. If people are treated like they can’t be trusted, you can’t expect them to be productive. To be better and productive, we need to start with a different premise. To be productive we need to center and focus our work on the producers, not the managers. We need to trust and put faith in each other to solve problems, innovate and create a better future.
To be happy we need something to solve. Happiness is therefore a form of action;
― Mark Manson