PRODUCTIVITY IN THE DIGITAL AGE

December 8, 2021

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All of today’s amazing technology was supposed to make us all smarter, healthier, and more productive. What happened?

Compared to what I grew up with, the tech in our pockets is pretty mind boggling. Today’s smartphones are far more powerful than the world’s best supercomputers from the 80s. Instant communications, spreadsheets with complex financial models, cloud storage, data analytics . . . the things we can do now are simply amazing.

Along with all the productivity boosters, we’ve also invented infinite new ways to screw around and waste time. Sure, that laptop is a powerful tool. But if you’re using it for browsing Facebook, watching Youtube, or playing games, it’s actually reducing productivity, rather than enhancing it.

That’s one big reason that personal productivity has risen only modestly in recent decades. I don’t know if technology is making us smarter or healthier, but it’s definitely under performing in the productive category. The tools are great, but people aren’t keeping up.

Distractions aren’t the only problem. The size, rate of change, and complexity of today’s economy make it a lot harder to know what to do. Faced with ambiguity at work, most people end up wasting a lot of effort on things that don’t really matter. Cutting this kind of workflow clutter might be the biggest secret for productivity.

Of course, eliminating the unnecessary is a lot easier said than done. We have to start with goals. If you don’t know where you’re going, then you could end up anywhere. Chances are, it’s not going to be on the summit of your personal ambitions.

Once we know what we want, then it’s time to prioritize.

For a professional who feels overwhelmed by too many demands on his time, placing to-dos in this matrix can be a huge step forward in productivity. After setting goals and prioritizing among many possible tasks, just doing the work might feel like the easy part.

I sometimes feel like getting older is a process of discovering what doesn’t matter. So my advice to young professionals is this: figure out what you want from your career and your life as quickly as you can. Once you know, then you’ll be ready to harness the awesome tech tools of the modern age.

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