Friday, July 23

Trading Pace: How To Increase Productivity Without Being Hasty

Jeremy Sherman, evolutionary epistemologist studying the natural history and practical realities of decision making, has some interesting insights into decision making. And how, as things continually speed up, expediency becomes driven by an emotional aversion of hard work. He's partly right, perhaps with the wrong word.

He really means hasty, with all the spoils of an over-eagerness to act. As Benjamin Franklin once coined, haste makes waste. It's even the theme of a hit song by 10 Years.

How to recognize haste with online communication.

• Speed reading our critics to avoid anxiety or confrontation.
• Focusing on feedback only by those who appear to have amplification.
• Writing short, incomplete posts to flood the net with more of them.
• Reorganizing social network lists in order to only listen to a few voices.
• Using SEO shortcuts to attract people, regardless of content relevance.
• Following folks who are popular as opposed to those with quality insights.
• Tweeting conversations when you had enough thoughts to leave a comment.

And the list goes on, online and off. As Sherman says in an article on what he calls disappointment psychology, trading in a fast set for proper form at the gym is counterproductive. There is no benefit, other than our brain telling us to meet the quota without doing the hard work.

Another great example, especially interesting for anyone who tracks feedback across the Web, comes from a different article by Sherman (and it doesn't sink in to the murky pool of politics like the first one). He suggests people tend to speed read criticism because they are threatened by it. Again, he's partly right.

So what to do about it? Anyone working with marketing and communication on the Web knows that expediency acts as a magnet. Shorter posts that require little thought are the bread and butter of many popular bloggers. The author and readers have an unspoken contract to be marginally beneficial provided there isn't much thought involved. And that's fine, I suppose.

But what about feedback? Are you shortchanging the opportunities that present themselves from voices that aren't amplified by 10,000 readers? I know people who do. Some don't engage critics for fear of giving detractors validity. Some don't like confrontation, preferring to prop everyone up. And others simply try to define which voices are more important. Whatever.

How to avoid haste and increase productivity online.

• Speed read for validity, with a sensitivity to your emotions.
• Read every comment, looking for ideas not personality.
• Write tight, but make sure to fully flesh out the ideas.
• Keep up with friends, but allow other voices into the conversation.
• Never measure for traffic when trying to construct relationships.
• Give everyone a chance to demonstrate they add value.
• If you don't have time now; save and circle back when you do.

Sometimes people ask me how I can be active online and still make deadlines (my time online is miniscule compared to some of my colleagues who have 10-100 interactions more than I do). Still, I have found ways to maximize participation. It has everything to do with developing systems to improve productivity. And most of them work for me, but they might not for you.

An offline solution, for example, is finding time to read books. It took awhile to figure it out, but I have about 15 minutes to half an hour after dinner (usually on a reader). And, I have about the same amount time before bed (thanks to audiobooks).

Online, it's much the same. I can look at 100 or so posts from a reader list of 250 every day, skimming for substance. I flag those that seem to be a cut above and then read them deeper, never mind who wrote them. If I have time, I comment on them, but only if I can add value. (For example, I just cut a paragraph on speed reading critics, meaning to save it for another day).

The takeaway here is simple enough. Look for ways to improve productivity without being hasty. It's the most valuable tip from Sherman, summed and paraphrased: When you shortchange the journey, you may not reach your destination. And even if you do, you won't value it as much.

The same holds true for leaders. Look for ways to make the team more productive, but don't risk quality by forcing production.

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