Productivity 2.0: How the New Rules of Work Are Changing the Game

By Leo Babauta

For years, books and articles and blogs on productivity have been showing us how to be more productive: crank out the tasks, multi-task, work faster, be organized.

In short, they’ve taught us to be a good part of a corporation that wants more out of us. But that’s old-school productivity, or Productivity 1.0.

Today let’s take a look at Productivity 2.0: a new set of rules have changed everything for the workers of the world. Don’t crank out tasks — learn to work with a deeper focus. Don’t plan and hold meetings and form committees — just launch the software or product or service and keep improving it. Don’t spend time organizing — you’ve got more important things to worry about.

A little while ago I talked about the New Rules of Working … and today we’ll look at how those new rules have changed the game for productivity. Now, these ideas aren’t actually new, but they’re being newly adopted by many, and will be adopted increasingly as workplaces change in the coming years.

Please note that, as always, your mileage may vary — these new rules of productivity won’t work for every single worker in every single office situation. Certain jobs have different requirements. But more and more, these trends are emerging and changing the way we look at productivity.

1. Don’t Crank – Work With Deeper Focus.

Old School: Crank It Out. The old school of productivity taught us how to crank out the tasks. Each task is a widget that needs to be cranked, and the more we crank out, the better. Speed is important, and cranking out more tasks is the ultimate criteria. How many tasks can you finish in a day?

Productivity 2.0: Deep Focus. The new worker isn’t as obsessed with speed. He allows himself to slow down and work at a more leisurely pace. He clears away distractions and allows himself to focus on the task at hand. He gets passionate about important and exciting tasks and gets into Flow. This allows for a new kind of productivity — one where quality matters, where amazing things are produced at an intense rate, where there is a passion and satisfaction in completing a task.

2. Minimize Out Meetings and Planning — Just Start.

Old School: Lots of planning is important. Hold numerous planning meetings, draw up specs or detailed timelines, make sure things are well planned out before committing resources. This, however, meant that things took time. That was fine when the world moved at a slower pace.

Productivity 2.0: Just Start. Forget all the detailed planning. Meetings are a waste of time, usually. Instead, figure out the minimum requirements to launch, get those done as quickly as possible, and launch in beta mode. Improve as you go along. Things don’t have to be perfect at launch. Google exemplifies this philosophy — did it wait until it had a better email program than Microsoft Outlook to launch Gmail? Heck no — it just launched to a small group of users and used their feedback to improve the service, expanding its group of users as it went along. Now it’s the best online email program. Same thing with Google Chrome — was it better than Firefox when it launched in beta? Nope (although it’s better than IE in my opinion) … but you can bet that it will continue to improve with all the feedback it gets. Edit: I changed the title of this point to reflect that some planning is necessary — “overplanning” is not.

3. Paperwork is out — automate with technology.

Old school: Crank through tons of paperwork. The old productive worker had tons of incoming papers, and lots of paperwork to fill out. And productivity methods taught him how to crank through that paperwork.

Productivity 2.0: Automate with technology. Many workers are learning to go paperless. And because everything is becoming digital, you can use technology to process it faster. People can fill out online forms instead of paperwork, and computers can pull the data in the forms into databases that can be manipulated in many ways. There’s no need for photocopying, scanning, faxing, filing, collating, hole punching, printing, or any of the many other office tasks that are associated with paper. People can buy something online and it can be produced and shipped to their door with no need for paperwork — it can all be automated. Many little tasks that used to be performed by humans can now be automated through computers.

4. Don’t multi-task — multi-project and single-task.

Old school: Multi-tasking is productive. Juggling tasks shows how productive you are, says old school productivity. I’ve written enough about multi-tasking for you to know where I stand on that.

Productivity 2.0: Multi-project and single-task. While I won’t go on once again about single-tasking — focusing on one task at a time to be more effective — I will say that multi-projecting has its uses. Let’s say you’re working on Task 1 of Project A — you should single-task while working on Task 1. But when it’s done, you might need to wait for a response from your boss before moving on to Task 2. In that case, while you’re waiting, you can work on Task 1 of Project B, single-tasking while doing that. When you’re done with that, you might need to hear back from a client before moving on to the next task of Project B — in which case you can either return to Project A if your boss responded, or move on to Project C. Single-task while working on any one task, but working on different projects to make your time more efficient can be a useful skill.

5. Produce less, not more.

Old school: Produce more. Again, the idea was to crank out as much as possible. Good managers tried to get as much productivity out of their workers as possible. Good workers produced more.

Productivity 2.0: Produce less. More isn’t necessarily better. The old thinking can lead to a big pile of crap. Instead, focus on quality, on innovation, on creativity. Focus on the important stuff. Let’s take a software engineer as an example: one engineer can write tons of code, knocking out one program after another. But a second engineer can focus on a really innovative program, and though he has produced much less code and fewer programs and has spent more time on a single program … his software can change the industry. It can win awards and recognition. It might even be the company’s main source of income if it catches on. Produce things that change the world, with a long-lasting impact.

6. Forget about organization — use technology.

Old School: Be organized. The productive worker of the past had drawers full of files, all organized thoroughly so that nothing would ever be lost. He had a Filofax full of contacts and appointments. He organized his computer files into folders and sub-folders and sub-sub-folders and on and one. It took a lot of time, but it was worth it.

Productivity 2.0: Tag, archive and search. With technology, that’s not necessary. Tag a file with a certain label, archive it, and find it later through its label or through search. This approach saves a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of headaches. You can spend your time on more important tasks.

7. Out with hierarchies — in with freedom.

Old School: Hierarchy. The old way of thinking is that hierarchies are more efficient. After all, in a dictatorship, the trains run on time, no? Well, that’s not always true. Hierarchies require a lot of top-down decision-making, and a lot of up-and-down communication. The bottom level is often left powerless to act until the top level makes decisions, and the top level is often left without important information necessary to make those decisions, because they aren’t down at the bottom in the trenches. As a result, there’s a lot of inefficiency.

Productivity 2.0: Independence, freedom, and collaboration. Hierarchies are being flattened out. In fact, whole new forms of organization and collaboration are being created all the time. People more and more are working independently, either within a company or as freelancers and consultants. They take on jobs as they like, and collaborate with others at will. Workers are empowered to make decisions, communication is more efficient, and people with freedom are generally happier with their jobs and more passionate about the work they produce.

8. Work fewer hours, not more.

Old School: Work longer hours. Work long and hard! Be a top producer! Burn out by age 40! Working long hours earned you points with your boss, and there was a competition to see who worked the most and the hardest.

Productivity 2.0: Work fewer hours. With more freedom, workers are realizing that work isn’t everything, and that it’s more important to be happy, to produce important work, to have the freedom to be creative and innovative, to be passionate about your work … than to give everything you have for something you don’t care about. As a result, more people are working from home. More people have flexible working hours, working early and leaving early or coming in late and leaving late. More people take naps in the afternoon, when their productivity normally flags, and wake up refreshed and ready for a productive round 2. More people are setting limits to their working hours, and realizing that with those limits they actually make better use of the fewer hours they work.