We talked recently about Oliver Burkeman‘s fantastic article “Why time management is ruining our lives,” and specifically about how “Inbox Zero” creator Merlin Mann is an inspiration when it comes to recognizing the work-life boundaries essential to true productivity.
Rereading the article today, one passage in particular stood out to me:
“[Productivity expert Tom] DeMarco points out that any increase in efficiency, in an organisation or an individual life, necessitates a trade-off: you get rid of unused expanses of time, but you also get rid of the benefits of that extra time. A visit to your family doctor provides an obvious example. The more efficiently they manage their time, the fuller their schedule will be – and the more likely it is that you will be kept sitting in the waiting room when an earlier appointment overruns. (That’s all a queue is, after all: the cost of someone else’s efficiency, being shouldered by you.)”
The cost of someone else’s efficiency, being shouldered by you. This gets to a real problem when it comes to a lot of productivity “life hacks”: it might be possible to accrue a selfish benefit to yourself, but it is felt as a loss by someone else.
Beyond not wanting to go through life as a selfish prick, this is not an ideal way to improve productivity when we are looking at the organizational level: if Jonny increases his productivity by shunting off work to Tommy and Pam, making their lives worse and their workdays less efficient, this could actually be a net loss for the company’s overall productivity.
It all goes back to the idea of zero-sum vs. non-zero-sum. As a quick refresher:
“A zero-sum game is any interaction in which the gain of one party is exactly matched by the loss of another. If you and I bet a dollar on the flip of a coin, the result is zero-sum: after the toss, either you’ll get my dollar or I’ll get yours: you win if I lose, and I win if you lose. The total benefit adds up to zero, hence: zero-sum.
In a non-zero-sum game, however, both parties can win.”
Selfish productivity solutions don’t work organizationally because they are zero-sum: the total net benefit washes out to zero. For true productivity gains for a company or team, a non-zero solution must be found.
Timyo offers one such solution. By helping make it easier to share expectations, Timyo benefits the sender and the recipient of every email sent. (This is especially handy, since throughout the day we all act as both sender and recipient).
As the sender, you gain the confidence that you have clearly and politely let the recipient know what you would like from them (a read, a response, or an action) and when you would like it (today, tomorrow, or by a future specified date):
As the recipient, you know at a glance when and how you need to deal with each email, allowing you to better organize your day and prioritize accordingly.
So now Jonny can be more productive and help Tommy and Pam increase their own productivity at the same time, making life more pleasant for everyone. This improves the company’s overall wellbeing, and also makes it less likely that someone accidentally drops strychnine in Jonny’s coffee. It’s a true win-win.