How to Be More Productive


That's right. By the end of this blog post, you will get everything done that you've ever wanted to and still have time afterwards for a light snack. 

Ok, that's not true, but a recent Chicago Booth School of Business study by economics professor Chad Syverson looking at the Honrdal steelworks plant in central Sweden has revealed a lot about how people get things done and what speeds that process up. Even more surprisingly is that the study looked at a 15-year period in the mid-1930s wherein the plant couldn't make any "new investments… to modernize the plant."

Even though it seemed to be light on cash, the Swedish plant rose to the occasion and increased output by two percent per year.

Yes, it's notable in a very shallow way and seems to make perfect sense on the surface: Hey, it's just elbow grease and they couldn't make modern advancements, so they just worked harder, right?

Right. Sort of.

This is was Booth found, though: 

The study finds that the knowledge individual workers gained while working at the plant was quickly incorporated into the production process. Workers, together with plant managers, made adjustments to the assembly line based on what they learned, changes that benefited the next batch of workers and boosted overall productivity. 

But another factor here is there were major changes made at the assembly plant and the company was also making changes to its output. So what's really going on here is the product was modernizing, but not the technology to produce it.

In other words, shortcuts didn't exist so folks had to learn the old-fashioned way. Which, in the end, resulted in climbing the learning curve and an increased ability to create.

To look at it another way, we love our GTD apps in the 21st century. But they also have their own learning curves and actually have no impact on getting things done. This is why, I suspect, when GTD gurus are asked what they use to stay on top of their day-to-day, it isn't some computer program, it's pen and paper. This might shift in the coming decades as everything goes digital and pen and paper seems as outmoded as quill and parchment, but for the foreseeable future the gist seems to be: If you want to get better at something, don't reinvent the wheel. Figure out how to make the wheel you already know.

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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