Why all productivity systems stop working
Alexey Guzey wrote a post that had some interesting ideas in it: Every productivity thought I’ve ever had, as concisely as possible
This was a particularly thought-provoking idea: Every productivity system stops working eventually, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Do they all stop working eventually?
Can I do something about it?
Why productivity systems stop working
Because everything stops working. But my productivity systems stop working for reasons that I now understand.
Every system costs and benefits. A system works when the benefits exceed the costs. As the gap between costs and benefits narrows, a system starts to break down. When it goes negative, the system stops working.
Whenever I put a new system in place, hope rises. The system is new, and I like novelty.
So novelty and hope bring benefits at no cost. But those benefits are at risk.
Eventually, novelty is certain to disappear.
In the face of failures, hope will fade. And failure is inevitable.
Those changes might not be enough to break my system, but here’s what reliably destroys my working productivity systems.
In response to failures, I do things intended to make things better, that paradoxically make things worse.
How trying to make it better makes it worse
Failures are inevitable unless the system is perfect—which no system ever is.
In the face of failure, I try to “fix the system.” I want to anticipate and prevent similar failures.
But every change that might forestall a failure carries a cost. I pay that cost in every case—failure or not.
These changes increase the system’s cost but don’t change the benefit—except in the rare case of a prevented failure.
The result is more small failures.
Every failure further erodes my hope and lead me to more preventative changes.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Eventually, all hope for that system is gone.
My only hope is that I’ll find or create a new system.
Novelty rises. Hope reappears.
Lather, rinse, repeat until I have no new ideas.
First: keep innovating. Keep novelty high—without disrupting the process that produces results. If I’m writing, I might write in different places. On different computers. Whatever is novel and low-cost.
Second: accept the inevitability of failure. If I’m not failing from time to time, my system is probably less efficient than one that allows for more failure.
Third: reduce the cost of failure. Ideally, celebrate failure. Find novel ways to celebrate failure. One stone, two birds: novelty and the cost of failure.
Fourth: resist improving the system to prevent failures. Instead of looking for ways to eliminate failures, look for ways to lower costs or increase benefits.
Maybe look for novel ways to fail!
Will it work?
Time will tell, but this system’s got several things going for it.
First: it’s novel.
Second: I’m hopeful.
Third: it helped me write this. So it’s already got one win.
Score one for the new system.
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