What if everyone were good at their jobs?
You would be surrounded by competent, efficient workers. But still something would be missing.
Because being good at a job isn’t what’s really important. At least not in a mechanical sense.
Let me explain.
Everyone’s job has mechanical tasks. Sure, you’re a knowledge worker with a college degree. But you have to do certain tasks.
Filling out spreadsheets. Filing reports. Sending emails. Scheduling meetings. Purchasing supplies. Listening to customer complaints. Organizing tasks. Completing transactions.
All these “things” that we need to do are the mechanics of our jobs.
So it seems obvious that we should put a lot of effort into getting good at those things. That’s what fuels lots of obsession with productivity.
If we could just do more, faster, then we would be good at our jobs. We would be more efficient. More stuff would get “done.”
There is a problem with that line of thinking, though. And it’s this: we are not machines.
In the world of machines, we need maximum utilization. We need to recoup the capital investment and to reduce the cost of goods sold.
That’s the name of the game when you’re pumping out widgets all day.
People have their widgets to produce too. But that probably shouldn’t be the organizing principle for how you view your work.
The organizing principle should probably be effectiveness. Now and in the future.
Your Effectiveness is What Matters
You might be better off thinking about productivity for yourself by thinking about the biggest impact you can produce for your organization, your team, and your own career trajectory.
Your impact won’t best be measured in widgets. And much of it won’t be measured immediately.
Your impact needs to be bigger than that. You need to grow. A machine doesn’t.
Machines are designed and built for production. Then someone works on the next iteration of the design. One day the new machine replaces the old one, wholesale.
That’s not how people work. Instead, you are always on a journey to improve. (If you’re not on a journey of continual improvement, you risk being replaced one day, wholesale.)
Aiming for Greatness
Aiming higher means maybe worrying a bit less about productivity.
Or, looked at another way, you might want to be super productive in some areas so that you have more freedom to develop in others.
It may be better to optimize your mechanical tasks as much as possible. But then stop there.
Resisting the urge to increase output of mechanical, mundane, necessary-evil, and low-value tasks might be the better strategy. The resulting incremental improvement is just not as impactful as investing in other areas.
What if you used that excess capacity to invest in higher value areas?
Maybe you could re-think some of the mechanical tasks (design the next machine).
You might put more effort into building relationships (crucial to just about any type of knowledge work).
Perhaps you would study new technical areas, business opportunities, or life skills (up your game in some way).
Whatever you did, it is probably going to seem slow, inefficient, and costly. Especially compared to just pumping out more immediate tasks that are highly visible and measurable right now.
But in the long run, it might be just the stuff that matters most in getting you to the next level.
If you take this approach, you are essentially building yourself a new machine while you’re operating the current one. Which is not that easy.
The point isn’t for things to be easy, though. The point is to do hard things that force you to grow.
It’s always about leveling up. Which is why the path of being “busy” and “productive” and “efficient” in the wrong areas could be a mistake.
A strategic approach to being good at your job is the best way to become great at your job. And then to grow to the next job. And so on.