Managers drilled productivity concerns into me from the beginning of my official work life. One year while I attended university I was the “curtain hanger” in final finish department of Airstream, the manufacturer of high quality recreation vehicles. The goal was not only how many trailers made it out the back door per day but how many quality trailers made it out the back door every day.

About half of my career was devoted to manufacturing of one sort or another. Even when I transitioned into the media market as a senior editor the question was how many articles written and how many news items posted. And, of course, how many advertisers mentioned.

I have ruined so many mental cycles and time searching for the optimum set of digital tools for my media and writing career over the past 25 years. Yes, cybernetic (digital) productivity did me no great favors.

On one hand, I’ve been able to do so many jobs that wouldn’t have been possible prior to digital tools. On the other hand, much time was wasted playing around with all the tools looking for something that worked.

Translated: I can do important things that I couldn’t have before. I can not feel as if I’d done more things than before.

I listen to Cal Newport (Deep Work, World Without Email, Digital Minimalism) Deep Questions podcasts every week. First thing Monday. A month ago, his essay lead in concerned thoughts on The Failure of Cybernetic Productivity.

Paraphrasing—cybernetic productivity, using digital technology, have put us in a bit of a gerbil wheel where new things get thrust upon us to do at a faster and faster pace until the buffer holding work to do approaches infinity. 

There is an old Pogo cartoon where the character says, “The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get.” That fits many of us today.

The important part a human (that’s us) plays in this story is to stop and think and determine what we should be working on. What is the best use of our time? Then, we can use digital technology for search and research and storing ideas and writing and communicating.  It’s not that we let digital technology shove a whole lot of stuff at us and then we think. That would be too late.

I keep thinking that this cybernetic productivity people write articles about should be viewed like my first manufacturing job. How many quality tasks did we accomplish? What impact did we have on the success of the organization and our success? That’s what is important. Counting finished widgets is one thing. Counting reports? Not so much. Determining impact? That is all the importance for knowledge workers.

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