Let me start with a bold statement:
Good decisions trump everything.
Getting something done is obviously worth more than endless concepts and theories. Don’t just talk the walk, but walk the talk. But at the same time, a good decision made is more valuable than the endless need for increasing productivity.
It’s common for many of us to compete in becoming the most outstanding, in getting more efficient and productive, or even strive to become that hardest working person in the room.
However, nothing comes close to a good decision made.
The Pitfalls of Productivity
Productivity is not good enough because when we talk about productivity, most people think about getting more done in less time. And when we put our sole focus on precisely that:
- Progress becomes linear. We’re focusing on doing something better and faster instead of doing something right.
- Level of awareness drops. We become obsessed with measuring outputs and tend to ignore the quality and potential leverage of inputs.
- It’s a race to the bottom. There will always be someone who works harder and faster than us — maybe it’s not a person but a robot.
What Are Good Decisions Then?
Good decisions come in many definitions.
In Tim Ferriss’s words, good decisions are those that make 100 other decisions easier or outright meaningless. If you can solve a problem that put a hundred other problems out of the question, you’re doing better even when you spend more time and energy on it.
In Seth Godin’s words, reaching good decisions is the type of hard work everyone should be doing. The alternative is doing the long work, where the outcome grows linearly to the efforts. Sooner or later, we hit the ceiling and fall into a pattern of doing things without actually making an impact.
Ultimately, good decisions help us accomplish our objectives — not metrics or KPIs.
It requires us to shift the linear, situational thinking to multiple orders, strategic thinking. It requires us to dive deeper into our mental frameworks, strategies, and processes, instead of focusing solely on the outputs and the numbers.
So Why Do People Value Productivity Over Good Decisions?
- It’s easy to track and measure
- It’s comfortable to talk about
- There are fewer uncertainties
- The influences of action bias and peer pressure
- There is shame in thinking deeply
- It’s necessary
Yes, valuing productivity is necessary. I’ll talk more about that later.
First, getting more productive and working harder is easier because we could calculate our effort. We could focus on what we’ve done instead of what we’ve accomplished. You can’t track the deep thinking you’ve done for a project but you can track how many hours you spent on mundane, repetitive tasks.
People talk about it often because there is a direct cause-and-effect relationship between productivity and hard work to success — even when it’s just an illusion most of the time.
The idea that becomes more productive and working harder create more success is incomplete because more of those (long hours of mundane work) don’t optimize or improve a bad decision.
Spending more time on the bad or wrong things doesn’t make it good or right. Keep running in the wrong direction doesn’t bring you to your desired destination.
Make Better Decisions Today
Hard work and higher productivity only work when the fundamentals of good decisions are established. Now, here is the question: How do we make better decisions?
This is not an easy question to answer. How do you define good decisions in the first place? If we define good decisions based on the desired outcome, we could not possibly know if we’re making a good decision when we’re making it.
It quickly becomes a paradox. But, there is a solution — in fact, two solutions.
The Challenges to Making Better Decisions
We don’t know if we’re making a good decision when we make them, but we could avoid making a bad decision. Instead of getting things perfectly right, making better decisions is about getting things less wrong.
In the book Mastery, Robert Greene argues the importance of the intuitive intelligence of humans. He said that everyone could master this type of intelligence. Most of us don’t because we’re obsessed with rationality.
That’s exactly why we value productivity and hard work more than good decisions.
So the second strategy to making better decisions is by using our intuitive intelligence. This is where the hard work and productivity come into play. We need to work hard and efficiently to harness our skills in selected topics in order to develop this type of intelligence.
We need to put in the time to see through the Way and the dynamics of how things work to make good decisions based on intuition.
The Role of Productivity
Hard work is the strategy to train your intuitive intelligence to make better decisions. Productivity improvement is the added layer to optimize your effectiveness and efficiency when you start making better decisions.
They are never the end but the mean.
Takeaways and Call-to-Action
Here is what I want you to take away:
- Good decisions should always be what you strive to accomplish. It requires more smart work than long work — more thinking than doing.
- To make better decisions, aim to get less wrong instead of more right.
- Make productivity improvement as a support layer of good decisions instead of the other way around.
And here is the call-to-action:
Strive to make better decisions by understanding the realities, be radically honest and transparent to yourself, be self-aware — instead of working hard to get a certain outcome, work hard to get better at decision-making.
- This article is inspired by one of the conversations with Matt Levene.