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The Missing Half of Productivity Advice: Why Women Need to Get Involved
I'm a woman, and I care about productivity. So today I want to start reaching towards some answers to the question Charlie posted in What If Women Cared About Productivity? (You might like to read or re-read that post – it's from December 2008 – so you know where I'm coming from here.)
Perhaps I'm not the best person to address this issue. I've never been especially girly. Over the years, I've had more male friends than female ones. I hate buying shoes. I live in jeans and t-shirts. I listen to thrash metal. I enjoy roleplaying games and computer games. I make my money in a bloke-dominated area: websites, blogging and ebooks.
I can't give you the definitive female view on productivity, any more than Charlie can speak for every man on the planet. I can, however, try to give it as I see it, and explain where the current trends in productivity-advice fall short.
There's a certain strand of productivity which is unmistakably macho. It reeks of sweat and testosterone. It looks a bit like this:
Today (Friday) is a perfect day to “embrace the suck,” because most people will be moaning “Oh, I’m so glad it’s the weekend and I can finally stop working” (or, for the 7-day-a-week-ers, “Oh, man, don’t I ever get a day off?”). Don’t complain. You are stronger than that, damn it. Embrace the suck, do it anyway, and bask in the fact that you are, as I said, an a$$-kicker like no other.
(Dave Navarro, Embrace The Suck: How To Hate What You Do And Love It, Rock Your Day) or like this:
To want it more means to do more. To work harder and to be prepared to do whatever it takes to get what you want. It’s one thing to say you want to retire at age 50, or you want to run a 10K race in less than an hour. But what are you really willing to do to make this happen? How badly do you really want it?
(Alex Blackwell, How to Crack the Code to Your Life, Pick the Brain) I've quoted two guys here who are very human, warm, gentle people. This is the non-extreme end of the macho spectrum.
I can see the attraction here: it's about giving yourself the energy to power on through when things are tough. But in general, I think there's something wrong if life is like that on anything approaching a regular basis. I feel a bit dismayed every time I read someone writing about how freaking hard they're going to work, how little sleep they're getting, how many hours they're putting in. Are they really happy? Or are they just taking a grim pride in being stronger, harder and tougher than the other bloke?
All too often, it seems like kids and wives become just another item on the to-do list (and it is often "wives" in the productivity genre – I'd prefer the word "partner", to avoid assuming that everyone's male, heterosexual and married...) Okay, it's better to have "family time" scheduled in the calendar or "play with kids" on the to-do list than to let that bit of your life fade out altogether – but there's something awry about needing to treat people as yet another task.
The macho element also comes in when we start to see productivity as a race or a competition – with winners and losers. We tend to see men as being more competitive and women as more co-operative. Productivity often seems to mean being more profitable, more interesting, more relevant, more useful than other businesses ... or about working harder and longer than your colleagues, or earning more money than your friends.
Isn't there room for a model of productivity where, as friends, as coaches, as cheerleaders and encouragers, we use our time to the greatest effect, empowering others to do their best work?
Start Thinking Outcome, Not Output
Charlie wrote, perceptively, that there's a male preoccupation with numbers and stats and metrics and things which can be counted:
Let’s be real here: males in our society get wrapped up around the countable things in life. Money, time, “contacts,” cars, women – if it’s countable, we’ll add it to the list of other things we have that are countable. (What If Women Cared About Productivity?)
Of course women do this too (I can get quite obsessed with word counts, as you'll know if you follow me on Twitter) but I think that we inherently see "countable" things as being rather shallow. So many things in life just cannot be measured. Happiness can't be measured or counted (shh, utilitarians...)
And when it comes to "contacts" ... that just makes me shudder. Turning people into numbers inevitably de-humanises them. I have friends who I love to chat to on Twitter or Facebook, and I'm always happy when people find me through my blogging – but investing any sort of self-worth in these numbers is, frankly, a bit embarrassing.
Measuring your productivity by the number of novels or paintings or blog posts you produce is a mistake. I'm a writer. I could sit here all day typing and churn out thousands of words. They'd be crap and unpublishable. Is that productive?
The output you produce doesn't matter. The outcome does.
Bigger Picture Productivity
“Productivity” has become focused on Getting Things Done, hacks to make using technology more efficient, and has resulted in a host of sites dedicated to coming up with [Absurd number]+[Ways to]+[Save time]+[by doing something you haven't thought about doing]. It’s old, and frankly, there are better things to talk about. (What If Women Cared About Productivity?)
When I started reading Dumb Little Man (which, despite the name, is read by plenty of women!) there were quite a few articles like this, along the lines of "20 Ways to Make Firefox Even More Amazing".
I don't need to make Firefox more amazing. "Saving" ten minutes a day isn't really going to make a difference to my life. This approach to productivity is a bit like saying that if you eat one cookie less per day, you'll lose 10lbs in a year. It might be true, but that doesn't make it especially useful.
When I write about productivity, I try to take a different angle: partly because I'm still trying to break my thoughts away from the masculine model of productivity. I've written before about the dangers of productivity – especially when we start doing for doing's sake, and we forget to be.
I'd like to see productivity come out of the factory-office mindset and into the modern world. I'd like to see us stop thinking about how many widgets we've cranked today, or how many emails we've processed, or how many business cards we've collected. I'd like to see us addressing the bigger picture, asking questions like:
Why doesn't my happiness seem to matter?
Why do I keep over-committing myself?
How many big goals can I realistically and sanely accomplish this year?
What do I want more of in my life?
Where can I recover big chunks of time by ignoring expectations?
These aren't gendered issues. These relate to the big picture of all our lives. After all, we can get macho and masochistic about how many hours a week we work, how many products we ship, how many clients we send holiday greetings to ... but is that really what we're here for?
There is a huge amount more to be said about women and productivity, about how we need to lift productivity beyond the factory/office and into a more holistic view of who we are and who we want to be. I'd love to see this discussion extended not just into the comments but on other blogs, too.
Your turn: What if women cared about productivity? What then?