Are digital tools really making us more productive? It’s a constant inquiry and an ongoing debate whether the digital revolution is making us more productive. I’ve written before that the digital revolution is transitioning us to the Age of Efficiency, one where technology does most of the decision making for us. It’s great, but it also has it’s cons and more importantly the expectation that it will make us smarter just by it being there.
The promise of the digital revolution is better innovation, higher productivity, lower costs and faster growth. The jury is still out on whether or not digital tools make us more productive, and the implications for society.
The digital revolution is destroying jobs. And the implications is that we’ll have to either develop new skills for new jobs that have yet to exist or downgrade. One thing is for sure: we’ll still need to be productive; with our without digital tools.
Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit and, more recently, Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business, talked to Freakonomics about how to be more productive; in the digital revolution and beyond.
In the interview, which I recommend you listen to, he talks about how when talking about whether or not the digital revolution is making us more productive it’s not about tools, rather we need to rethink how to best use them and toward what end.
In other words: think about the outcome, and whether or not a specific tool will help you achieve that outcome in a more efficient way.
For his latest book, Mr. Duhigg interviewed over 300 people and probably heard 300 different ideas about how to increase productivity. In the end, he identified 8 universal skills the most productive people and teams use:
- Motivation. We trigger self-motivation by making choices that make us feel in control. The act of asserting ourselves and taking control helps trigger the parts of our neurology where self-motivation resides.
- Focus. We train ourselves how to pay attention to the right things and ignore distractions by building mental models, which means that we essentially narrate to ourselves what’s going on as it goes on around us.
- Goal-setting. Everyone actually needs two different kinds of goals. You need a stretch goal, which is like this big ambition, but then you have to pair that with a specific plan on how to get started tomorrow morning.
- Decision making. People who make the best decisions tend to think probabilistically. They envision multiple, often contradictory, futures and then try and figure out which one is more likely to occur.
- Innovation. The most creative environments are ones that allow people to take clichés and mix them together in new ways. And the people who are best at this are known as innovation brokers. They’re people who have their feet in many different worlds and, as a result, they know which ideas can click together in a novel combination.
- Absorbing data. Sometimes the best way to learn is to make information harder to absorb. This is known in psychology as “disfluency.” The harder we have to work to understand an idea or to process a piece of data, the stickier it becomes in our brain.
- Managing others. The best managers put responsibility for solving a problem with the person who’s closest to that problem, because that’s how you tap into everyone’s unique expertise.
- Teams. Who is on a team matters much, much less than how a team interacts.
This list isn’t that surprising. Because, whether or not technology is making us more productive, it speaks to the fact that productivity is a choice; the tools we use are in support of that choice. And that is the biggest takeaway.