The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

February 12, 2017

The Downsides of Productivity, Part 1

Efficiency. Productivity. Time Management. You can’t argue with the importance of a continuous focus on these in your organization. Or can you? There are downsides to efficiency, downsides to productivity.  Let’s talk about the “why.” And let’s also talk about the opportunity cost of being driven to get more done in less time.


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Voiceover: It’s a Northwest lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. Now, a show for anyone who is or has a boss. This is the boss show with Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.
Steve Motenko: Welcome to the Boss Show. Today on The Boss Show, productivity and efficiency. Who can argue with them? Right? Or maybe not so right. I am going to take a stance that they are two of the greatest unexamined assumptions of our time.
Hi, I’m Steve Motenko. I’m a Harvard educated executive coach helping leaders in the Seattle area and beyond to become more effective and more fulfilled. And for the purposes of the Boss Show, I am The Psychology Guy.
Jim Hessler: Yes, you are and I’m Jim Hessler. I’m The Business Guy. I’m founder of Path Forward Leadership Development. I have spent many years of my career trying to help people to run better businesses, and I think we’re doing a pretty darn good job, you and me, Steve.
Steve Motenko: It’s really rewarding work. I have to say that it’s the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. I was a newspaper reporter in my first career and music teacher, as you well know, in my second career. And this coaching and leadership development stuff is what I am cut out to do.
Jim Hessler: And in line with that mission, this is the show for anyone who is or has a boss. And we like to hear from you and have you engage in the conversation. We’ll tell you a bit more later about how to do that.
Steve Motenko: Jim, I just came across this quote, last week I think, that has been one of my favorite quotes for a long time, and it just hasn’t hit my radar in a while and I sent it to you among other people. It talks about leaders. And in case you, as you listen to this, are thinking . . . well I’m not a leader. Just in case you don’t have a high position of authority. Think about being a leader, as we often define it, as anyone who has any influence on another human being. And check out this. These words of wisdom from one of my favorite authors, Parker Palmer: “A leader is a person who has an unusual degree of power to project on other people his or her shadow or his or her light. An unusual degree of power to create the conditions under which other people must live. Conditions that can either be as illuminating as heaven or as shadowy as hell. A leader is person who must take a special responsibility for what’s going on inside him or herself, unless the act of leadership create more harm than good.”
Jim Hessler: Yeah, I think the longer I study this whole topic of leadership, and it’s about as interesting a topic as you could ever come up with, the more I realize the leader’s journey to making their organization healthy is in many ways exactly their journey to becoming a more full, rounded, healthy, capable person. And as you a grow as a human being, your ability to lead others grows with it.
Steve Motenko: Is there anything more important? Is there anything more important than the influence you have on another human being? Is there anything more important than how you affect the world around you? And of course, as we’re all relational beings, we can gaze at our navels forever and become enlightened in the Buddhist sense. But if we’re not looking at how we’re influencing other people, we’re missing the point of what it means to be human.
Jim Hessler: Well, and I think there’s a lot of people that might not agree with that statement, who might think it’s more about “what am I on this planet to accomplish? What I can do and what my achievements are?”
Steve Motenko: But how can you even frame that in a way that doesn’t include your impact on other people?
Jim Hessler: That’s a good point.
Steve Motenko: So that quote expresses about as well as anything I’ve ever come across why I do that work I do. I’m sure I could have put “we” in that sentence, Jim.
Jim Hessler: Yeah. Create the conditions. Those are three great words. “Create the conditions.” Not transform people. But, create the conditions in which people can transform themselves, I guess.
Steve Motenko: Right. Now, Parker Palmer in the quote goes on to say that, “The problem is that people rise to leadership in our society by a tendency toward extraversion, a tendency to ignore what’s going on inside themselves. Leaders rise to power by operating most often very competently and effectively in the external world sometimes at the cost of the internal awareness.” And he says, “I’ve looked at some training programs for leaders and I’m discouraged by how often they focus on the development of skills to manipulate the external world, rather than the skills to go inward and make the inner journey.”
I Just want to kind of bounce this back and forth with you Jim, about the notion of how important the inner journey is to the leader’s effectiveness in impacting relationships in healthy ways. And I just wanted to bring up what we do, specifically what we do in that context. Jim you created this thing called the path forward leadership workshop, which started out . . . I don’t know . . . started out 15 years ago as six month program[crosstalk 00:05:12]
Jim Hessler: A six month program and now a 18 month program. It just keeps getting better and deeper. I think the best way to describe what we do is a journey. It’s not a program that is very highly skilled focus. I think we have many opportunities that we take in the workshop to help people to understand the how. But at the center is the why. Is to use Simon centics terminology. I think our program probably attacks the why of leadership as well as any program I’ve ever seen. And our belief is . . . and I think this it true about so many things. If you’re thinking and your intentions are in the right place, the skills will follow. To lead with skills and then try to back into intention or belief or sense of mission, for example. That doesn’t work and it’ just hallow. But if your have a foundation, I guess I’d say, of belief and the importance of leadership and what it is that people need form you psychologically to perform, then the skills of leadership, I think in many ways, just show up. Or if they don’t, you have better context for them when . . .
Like doing a performance review. Right, I can take you to a class and teach you how to do a performance review. If you don’t have the leadership “why” at the center of that performance review, it’s going to be a lousy conversation, no matter how skilled you are in saying what needs to be said.
Steve Motenko: Yeah. There’s a metaphor there somewhere, that not quite coming to mind about kind of putting a patch over something. Maybe it will come to mind later in the show. Maybe you can help me with it. (chuckles). But, if you got that “why”, then you understand that your self-awareness is at the core. Or first of all, if you got the life, you’ve got the motivation to get better. You’ve got the motivations, as we said in the earlier segment to create the conditions in healthy ways under which people must live, right, as apposed to unhealthy ways. If you got that motivation, then you realize that you can’t get there without a diligent look at your own self-awareness. If and you’re really honestly looking at yourself awareness and you’ve got the motivation, everything follows from those two.
Jim Hessler: Certainly
Steve Motenko: Because you can’t cover up your own inadequacies by trying to apply a patchwork of skills over a foundation that isn’t solid. That self-awareness if where the foundation becomes solid. Cultivating self-awareness requires that inner journey that Parker Palmer talks about.
Jim Hessler: Right. So it wouldn’t do any good to teach me how to dice and saute and onion, if I had no interest in cooking.
Steve Motenko: Right.
Jim Hessler: What’s your intention? If I want to be a great chef and I want to make great food, I’ll understand that one of the things I need to learn how to do is to dice an onion and saute an onion. Without that why . . . without that intention to be a great chef, that activity will be tedious and meaningless for you.
Steve Motenko: You’re not necessarily going to make a flavor out of the dish your creating because your just doing it to do it. [crosstalk 00:08:33]
Jim Hessler: It won’t taste good.
Steve Motenko: So we like to work with leaders who want things to taste good.
Jim Hessler: Yes!
Steve Motenko: To screw up a metaphor completely
Jim Hessler: (chuckles) Yeah. We pride ourselves in our leadership program at really having a strong sense of the person behind the title. The real human being behind the title.
Steve Motenko: Yeah. I’d like to say it’s really about who you are as a leader. That’s the foundation.
Jim, a decade ago, roughly, this guy by the name of Merlin Mann created a concept called inbox zero.
Jim Hessler: Inbox zero. Okay. I like the concept.
Steve Motenko: I think you have embraced the concept recently. I don’t know if you’re still doing it. But the notion was that every time you sit down to read email, you process everything in your email inbox down to zero. Now . . .
Jim Hessler: I do it once a week now.
Steve Motenko: Oh, you do? Okay.
Jim Hessler: At the end of every week . . . by Monday morning I have an empty email inbox.
Steve Motenko: Okay. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean you have read answered all those emails, right?
Jim Hessler: It doesn’t meant that I’ve answered all of those emails, but it does mean that if I haven’t answered the email, it goes into an action category or an action list. I just simply move it over to my to do list.
Steve Motenko: Yeah, right.
Jim Hessler: A lot of people don’t like to do that, but that how I do it.
Steve Motenko: Yeah. It’s interesting, cuz since we’ve worked so closely together and we email each other a lot, I can see how that plays out for you. [crosstalk 00:10:02]
Jim Hessler: Oh. [crosstalk 00:10:02]
Steve Motenko: Because I can see you sending emails on strategic, not urgent things. Responding to things I’ve sent you as much as [crosstalk 00:10:11] a month, now two months before.
Jim Hessler: Weeks ago. In fact, that just happened over the weekend, this past weekend.
Steve Motenko: I do a similar thing.
Interesting thing is . . . and we’re talking about productivity today. A couple years later, Merlin Mann, this writer who created the concept, inbox zero, abandoned all his work on the productivity. [crosstalk 00:10:27]
Jim Hessler: Is that right?
Steve Motenko: Yes, he did.
Jim Hessler: On productivity generally. [crosstalk 00:10:30]
Steve Motenko: Right
Jim Hessler: Not just the email. [crosstalk 00:10:32]
Steve Motenko: Right. Right. I mean, he become a productivity guru and he had received a hefty advance for a book that he was writing based on the inbox zero concept. Because of the hefty advance . . . because how well the idea had caught on . . . he kind of spectacularly flamed out on the whole concept of productivity.
Jim Hessler: We should have him on the show.
Steve Motenko: We should. We should. I’ll try to get him. He said publicly that he was quote unquote “typing bull crap” . . . not exactly the word he used . . .”typing bull crap that I’d hope would please my book editor about how to use time well”.
Jim Hessler: Wow.
Steve Motenko: He said he was guilty of abandoning his priorities to write about priority.
Jim Hessler: Wow.
Steve Motenko: He was starting to see some kind of chink in the armor of productivity. Last week on the show, we talked about the benefits of procrastination. Today we’re tackling another oxymoron: The downsides of productivity. Although to American Business, it is of course the holy grail and has been. It’s this huge unexamined assumption. We’re all about productivity. We’re all about efficiency. We’re all about growth, which is another unexamined assumption I think that we need to exam because the concept of growth . . . What single word captures the concept of unlimited growth?
Jim Hessler: Cancer?
Steve Motenko: Yes! (chuckles)
Jim Hessler: (chuckles)
Steve Motenko: We didn’t practice this ahead of time.
Before we get into … and this really goes down deep to core values and cultures means and that sort of thing. Before we get down to the downsides of productivity, I want to talk a little bit about just some of the fun tip and research findings about productivity. But, if you go to any app. Store, you’re going to find thousands of apps on productivity. Recently, there’s software to stimulate the ambient noise of working in a coffee shop.
Jim Hessler: Yes.
Steve Motenko: Which is actually has been shown to improve productivity. Also, I saw something about a text editor that deletes words that you’ve written if you don’t keep typing fast enough. (chuckles)
Jim Hessler: (chuckles) Man.
Steve Motenko: That’s going to make you more productive. (chuckles)
Jim Hessler: Has it really come to that?
Steve Motenko: But what are the downsides? Some just really quick highlights of recent research in productivity. Productivity is the holy grail for American businesses and we’ve been talking about . . . people work best in 90 minute intervals. So you might give that a try, rather than sitting down for three or four hour stretch. Looking at photos of cute animals increases productivity.
Jim Hessler: Come on.
Steve Motenko: What they’ve compared the cute animals to is looking at photos of animals that aren’t as cute.
Jim Hessler: (chuckles)
Steve Motenko: Puppies and kittens as opposed to dogs and cats. I kid you not.
[crosstalk 00:13:26]
Jim Hessler: Seriously? Wow.
Steve Motenko: Cross training . . .[crosstalk 00:13:31]
Jim Hessler: That just speaks to white people like to have pets around in general. You know me. I don’t.
Steve Motenko: Right.
Jim Hessler: Most people do.
Steve Motenko: Yep. Yep.
Jim Hessler: I wonder if there’s a cognitive payoff to that.
Steve Motenko: It could well be.
Cross training, on a more serious note, clearly increases productivity because it makes the person who’s doing the training look at how they [crosstalk 00:13:48]
Jim Hessler: Yes. [crosstalk 00:13:48]
Steve Motenko: Do the thing they are training.
Jim Hessler: Yeah. They always say if you want to learn something, teach it.
Steve Motenko: Teach it, right. It makes the person who is learning what they are being trained to do come up with ideas. Well, how come we don’t do it this way?
Jim Hessler: Right. That’s great.
Steve Motenko: It’s a great way to increase productivity.
Walking. Recent research says increases productivity.
Jim Hessler: Doesn’t surprise me one bit.
Steve Motenko: I pace around the house when I’m in a strategic kind of conversation. I do that with you all the time.
Jim Hessler: Yeah.
Steve Motenko: I have to get up. I have to pace and the creative juices flow more.
Jim Hessler: Yeah.
Steve Motenko: I notice when I do.
Jim Hessler: Good.
Steve Motenko: The last quick thing . . . and we’ve got all sorts of details, more details on this stuff. Contact us through our website the if you’d like to know more.
Napping can increase productivity. Even 20-25 minutes worth of nap can prime our brain to function better.
Jim Hessler: One of the things I’ve talked to clients about quite a bit is almost 16 years ago, I started this business called path forward. There was a really important shift that occurred for me as a result of being self-employed. That is, I looked at what I accomplished through the lens of goals and accomplishments, rather than time. I really . . . I think I did a really good job of divorcing myself from many specific expectation of how much time I spend doing my work, and attach myself more and more to an expectation of what’s most important to work on. I generally work 90 minutes frankly as a sustained concentration on anything would be actually long for me. Mine tend to be 45 minutes to an hour I’d say. Writing anything, for example . . . I can’t write for two hours. My brain will explode.
Steve Motenko: Yeah.
Jim Hessler: I think I do pretty well with this. Part of it is being self-employed and not having to punch a time clock.
Steve Motenko: Yeah and . . . [crosstalk 00:15:45]
Jim Hessler: Or have my car seen in the parking lot.
Steve Motenko: I think I do less well. I think I can use the same reason. I do less well being self-employed and feeling like I have to . . . This is kind of an exploration of the difference in personalities between you and me. I think it’s something I need to learn to do, but part of it is looking at values. Values alternative to the value of just getting things done. This is where we get into this really intriguing topic of questioning the unexamined assumption of productivity and efficiency.
Jim, if I ask you the question. Why do we strive in general for let’s say efficiency?
Jim Hessler: Well I think there is a lot of reasons. I think number one, it is a business imperative to some degree. I think that your business tends to rise and fall based on your productivity. Your ability to deliver goods and services at a competitive price.
Steve Motenko: And as personally too, right?
If I’m an employee. If I am not as productive and efficient as possible, then my job conceivable regressed.
Jim Hessler: Yeah. It’s how we’re measured as individuals and as organizations in the business world. Yeah, that is quite an encouragement. Frankly, I think there is a lot of cultural shame and judgment directed at laziness as a concept.
Steve Motenko: Right. Right.
Jim Hessler: That really works hard on people.
Steve Motenko: Right. The impact of cultural messages are kind of so subconsciously powerful, that we don’t recognize the quality of that impact. It really needs to be brought to the surface and questioned. Let’s talk about efficiency as saving time. Getting things done in a smaller amount of time. The questions is . . . so that what? This is where it gets down to my own personal core values because if what we’re doing is saving time, so that we can do more work and get more work done in less time, then the result of being more efficient is this ever-increasing spiral of harder and harder work. Because in order to be more efficient, generally, not always I guess, we’re doing more work in less time. That to me is a spiral toward burnout.
Jim Hessler: Well, not only on an individual less, but I think on a . . . If i can get really philosophical. On a global level, there is no light at the end of that tunnel.
Steve Motenko: Right.
Jim Hessler: Where does it stop?
Steve Motenko: Yeah. There’s no end to the work that has to be done.
Jim Hessler: There’s no end to how much more productive we need to become. At what point is enough, enough? I don’t think we’ve even begun to ask that question [crosstalk 00:18:35] as a culture.
Steve Motenko: I think that fundamentally is a values question. It’s a personal values question. I think a lot of us and I think I’m guilty of this subconsciously. We tend to think if I’m really productive or really efficient, then I’ll have piece of mind. Cuz I’ll get a lot done and then I’ll have spaciousness in my life. The spaciousness never comes.
Jim Hessler: But there’s another really big important part of this Steve and that is it just capitalism as an economic model. The whole idea of capitalism in many ways, is putting your money to work. Having your money produce wealth for you. Right? So the people with the capital, they invest in a company, invest in a business, they buy a machine, and then those people and that machine produce wealth for them. If you ever . . . If the American economy ever says “you know what, we don’t want to grow anymore. We’re fine. We have enough. We can take care of everyone in our society now with the amount of wealth we have”. The whole underpinnings of how capitalism works . . . discombobulated. There’s a scientific word for you. (chuckles) The economist use the word all the time. It is an incredibly difficulty transition to have to make. Yet, I can’t help feeling that at some point in the not to distant future, we will have to face a time when we can no longer grow economically.
Steve Motenko: I think we’re absolutely [crosstalk 00:20:11]
Jim Hessler: Maybe we’re already there.
Steve Motenko: We’re already there. This unexamined assumption of unlimited growth and capitalism fosters it what is deteriorating our environment and eradicating species to the point of catastrophe. Climate changes obviously. You can say direct or indirect manifestation of the cultural value as well.
Jim Hessler: Right. The hard thing is, if you put any money in the stock market, you kind of have no control over how that money is spend or towards what end that money is used. Yet, you really want the Dow Jones average to be above 20,000 for your own personal wealth.
Steve Motenko: Right. Right. Of course.
Jim Hessler: Where do we get off this Ferris wheel? This merry-go-round, I guess would be a better analogy.
Steve Motenko: To wrap up today, if your looking for piece of mind by becoming evermore productive and evermore efficient, it aint gonna happen. What I want to point you toward is your underlying core values. If the value of productivity supersedes all other values, then efficiency is never ending spiral toward burnout. If the value of balance or engagement or happiness or creativity . . . If a value like that Supersedes productivity, then efficiency might be a road to a better life. But only if your setting it in the context of those deeper core values. If maximizing your contribution to life and the world maybe. If that’s your number one goal and you frame it in terms of doing, I encourage you to think about the quality of being.
Jim Hessler: The Boss Show is produced by Path Forward Leadership and our sound engineer is Kevin Dogril.
Steve Motenko: If you missed any of this show, you can get it in its entirety online at the That’s where you can also go to subscribe to our podcast or to contact us for any reason at all. Maybe bring us into your workplace.
Jim Hessler: Thanks for listening.
Steve Motenko: And don’t forget . . .
[crosstalk 00:22:08] Rule number six
Jim Hessler: [crosstalk 00:22:08] Rule number six.

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