Slow Productivity: The Lost Art of Accomplishment Without Burnout by Cal Newport

As I have progressed in my career, I have become more and more impatient with what I call BIC managers. BIC stands for “butt in chair”. These managers, rather than measure your productivity based on the results you produce, focus instead on your presence in the office where they can see your butt in your chair. Especially for any kind of salaried position, this has always felt absurd to me. These workers aren’t paid for the hours they work. They are paid for their expertise and the results they produce. The challenge of measuring productivity in this context leaves such poor managers scrambling for how to measure it. In his most recent book, Cal Newport explores both the history of why this is so as well as outlines how knowledge workers can create the space for the slow productivity that leads to outsized results.

Slow Productivity starts with a history of measuring productivity. This was easy in the industrial and agricultural ages. You measured output for each unit of input. But knowledge work is more creative and less easily measured. Still needing a way to measure success, managers fell into using what Newport calls pseudo-productivity. This is measuring hours on the job rather than results, which are much harder to quantify and manage (or micro-manage, as the case may be). He then goes on to outline what it means to slow down and focus on outcomes.

The final three chapters outline how to accomplish slow productivity in a world that insists on quarterly results. He does this by focusing on three principles: do fewer things, work at a natural pace, and obsess over quality. When he suggests doing fewer things, he means to focus on only one project at a time, keeping a ranked list of what comes next. Communication and transparency are key. Working at a natural pace means recognizing the ebb and flow of work and adjusting with it. No one does or can work pedal to the metal every day all year long. And when you relentlessly make sure that your results are high quality, those around you will trust your methods.

The details he covers in each of these final chapters are highly practical suggestions that readers can do right now to move their work out of the crazy making of pseudo-productivity and into the realm of a more peaceful and natural way of working that actually produces better results. This book is beyond the usual productivity business book just trying to help you squeeze more out of already busy days. Instead, it is the antidote to that life outlining how you can be an even more effective contributor. Highly recommended.

My rating: 5/5

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