The Myth of Perfect Productivity

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In the midst of a fine and helpful article from Forbes titled, “Time Management Secrets Anyone Can Use,” I stumbled on the following.

“According to a survey by, the average worker admits to wasting 2.09 hours of each eight-hour workday, not including lunch or scheduled breaks.”

I’ve been in business since I came home from the Marines in 1968. By my count that’s 42 years. And in every single one of those years there has been at least one well-publicized bit of research that says the same thing.

The “research” is offered to us by accounting firms, consulting firms, and peddlers of productivity “solutions.” They all seem to find that we waste two to three hours every day.

Most often (mercifully, not in this case) the study also puts a dollar figure on the wasted time. How they do this is one of the secrets of the Business BS Society.

It always turns out that we workers are wasting several bazillion dollars. Presumably those doing the survey are more disciplined than we, because they know how we can be more productive.

Nuts. It’s not going to happen. Not in 1968. Not in 2010. Not in your lifetime or the lifetime of the Milky Way Galaxy.

It won’t happen because human beings aren’t machines. We don’t work well when we work all the time.

That “wasted” time is the time when creativity happens. It’s the time when relationships are developed.

Don’t get me wrong, I think all of us can be more effective and productive. After a lifetime of working on that issue for myself, I know that there’s still room to do better.

Just throw away your notions that you can get 100 percent productivity. It’s not human. It’s not natural. It won’t work.

The poet Robert Frost addressed something similar in his poem, “The Hardship of Accounting.”

“Never ask of money spent
Where the spender thinks it went.
Nobody was ever meant
To remember or invent
What he did with every cent.”

Boss’s Bottom Line

Strive to help your team members be more productive and to be more productive yourself. But recognize that people are at their best when they’re allowed to be human and not just productive.

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