Human beings have an innate tendency towards efficiency. Achieving maximum gains with minimum effort is in our genes. Even children, as soon as they can verbalize their thoughts, begin to show entrepreneurial traits. Their behaviour progressively evolves from the passivity of babies to the search of short-term benefits typical of adolescence.
we reach adulthood, most of our attempts to increase productivity take
place in the realm of work. Industrial management researchers have been
studying successful companies during the last forty years, trying to
identify the keys to great performance. What conclusions have they
Universally valid recommendations
From the very beginning, the recommendations to be formulated
by those studies were intended to have general application. Otherwise,
it is clear that few would be willing to adopt them. Before accepting a
lesson as scientific truth, we must prove the universal validity of its
The problem with the main three
recommendations in the field of productivity is that, to a certain
extent, they are contradictory. What works in a certain environment
often delivers poor results when transplanted to a different industry.
In a sense, modern management has become the art of playing with these
First, continuous flow. Car manufacturers have made
this productivity approach their standard a long time ago. As long as
the demand for cars is stable, just-in-time production works
wonderfully. The trick is to keep the factory going at a steady pace.
Other industries, like package-holidays retailers, are trying to
implement similar techniques. The idea in that case is to use price
incentives to spread the demand for package-holidays more evenly
throughout the year. Continuous flow requires lots of preparation before
production starts, but then, it frequently leads to spectacular results
at enormous speed.
A questionable approach
Second, batch production. This method of
streamlining production is the one that comes most easily and naturally
to human beings. When children have to do homework consisting of several
A, B, and C activities, they soon figure out for themselves that the
fastest way to complete their assignment is to perform first all A
tasks, then all B tasks, and finally all C tasks. Cooks in
well-frequented restaurants usually keep a ready-made stock of the main
ingredients that they will be needing for soups, sauces, and the like.
Office cleaners tend empty all waste-baskets before they begin to vacuum
Third, multi-tasking. This approach seems to be part of
the image of the contemporary professional. Accountants, lawyers,
salesmen, or advertising executives speak on their headphones while they
read e-mails. They exercise while they watch the news on television.
They listen to audio-books while they commute to work. Indeed,
performing two tasks at once gives the impression of high efficiency,
but are the results in line with the image? High stress is, on many
occasions, the dark side of multi-tasking. This is a method to be used
Productivity experts agree on which is the worst
possible system of work. They call this method, or rather the lack of
it, "chasing." It simply means that you are performing your tasks on the
defensive, being forced to run from point A to B and then back to A in
order to comply with a certain deadline. This way of working can lead to
physical and business exhaustion.
Whether you employ continuous
flow, batch techniques, or multi-tasking will depend on your objectives
and on which resources you have available at a given time. Choose your
method wisely in accordance with the situation, but become conscious of
the advantages and limitations of each approach. By combining those
techniques and through trial and error, you can grow into a more effective person. If you become twice as productive, chances are that your self-confidence will be multiplied by a factor of ten.
For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living
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