The Downside of Prioritizing Productivity

by Tara Mospan

“Do more with less.”  Out of necessity, and prompted by the national economic downturn, many of us are fully executing this mantra and have radically changed how we approach our work.  We have searched out ways to optimize our time and efforts in order to get the most from our day and make the resources available to us stretch as far as possible.  In many ways the reduction of financial reserves that has impacted the entire legal profession and which gave importance to the “do more with less” mindset has helped organizations become more efficient by streamlining work flow and reducing waste.

Yet, I also think that our efforts to make things easier and more automatic (and thus cheaper) can lead to a dangerous preoccupation with efficiency.  Two examples of this phenomenon: life hacking and The 4-Hour Workweek. “Life hacking,” the goal of which is to do something better with less effort, is wildly popular (the website Lifehack.org is devoted to it). Applied to the workplace, life hacks include such actions as utilizing a label maker to help you design a personalized organization system for files and getting a second computer screen to minimize the time and effort it takes to switch between windows on your monitor. Timothy Ferriss’ bestselling book The 4-Hour Workweek provides guidance on how to “10x your per-hour output” and describes how the author went from “$40,000 per year and 80 hours per week to $40,000 per month and 4 hours per week.” Ferris guides readers to improve their professional efficiency by doing such things as only checking e-mail at specified times during the day, creating a to-do list for tomorrow at the end of each day, and negotiating a remote work environment with your employer.

I think many of the ideas behind “life hacking” and discussed in The 4-Hour Workweek  can help us “do more with less” and are exceedingly valuable for approaching organizational processes and personal tasks in a better way. However, I also think we need to be wary of becoming overly preoccupied with efficiency when implementing these ideas for there is often a value in effort, work, and the expenditure of time. I have seen this value most clearly in my interactions with our library patrons. For example, the quality of my communications with students are significantly stronger when they are in person and unhurried rather than electronic and fit into a timed portion of my day. While an e-mail may be a faster and easier way to connect, taking the time to meet face-to-face allows for relationship building and deeper engagement. I know very little about the students to whom I provide reference help to via e-mail, but I have learned about the families, professional backgrounds, and academic interests of many of the students who have meet with me personally. A thorough reference interview also takes time and effort. Ensuring that the person I am helping is comfortable, determining what they want to know, and then providing proper instruction on how or where to find that information in the library cannot be rushed.

I encourage you to reduce wasted time, clarify goals, and develop better strategies for achieving those goals, but also try to make sure that productivity does not take over your focus. As librarians, there are simply some aspects of our professional roles that will suffer when we continuously prioritize productivity.

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This entry was posted in Career, Issues in Law Librarianship, Time Management and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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