The productivity-prone attributes of work

Work is a vague term. One persons work is another's play and vice versa.

Yet, many times work is referred to as thought it were a single thing.

It seems to me that the term hides the underlying complexity a little too well.

Let's examine some types of work and how the nature of the beast can impact productivity.

I'll also assign a +1 point or a -1 point to a work attribute according to how helpful it is.

Flowy vs not flowy

Flow is a great mental state. Work that leads to it naturally is going to be satisfying, interesting and challenging.

Flow also greatly enhances task performance, so that make flowy work even better.

Flow inducing: +1
Not flow inducing: -1

Not done before vs done before

This is a big one. We're less likely to do things we've never done before. Our brains base much of our future and present behavior on what we've done in the past.

If there's no precedent in the past, there must be a particularly potent incentive cocktail present to turn us in a new direction.

Done before: +1
Not done before: -1

One session vs many sessions

If something requires many sessions to get done, it means having to start many times. If starting is not a strength of yours, this multiplies the points of possible failure.

One session: +1
Many sessions: -1

Meta-work done vs no meta-work

Some work (esp. knowledge work) requires preparation. One has to think carefully about creating an article, or a program, or writing copy.

Without an idea of the structure of such work, the uncertainty involved easily translates into negative feelings in the mind.

Done meta-work: +1
Not done meta-work: -1

Involves others vs alone

If the work doesn't involve others in the short-to-medium term, there's no accountability. Without accountability to someone, it's easy to let things slip and take up more time than necessary.

You also forgo some of the possible benefits that come from working in a positive collaborative fashion.

With others: +1
Alone: -1

Note: you may disagree with this one and that's fine, there are exceptions.

Has a deadline vs no deadline

To complete work without a deadline, you need a solid production habits or be really passionate and obsessive about it. Without that, it's going to take longer than it could with a deadline.

Time passes by and a deadline makes us more aware of it.

Deadline: +1
No deadline: -1

Has a clear timeline vs no timeline

A close cousin of a deadline is a timeline. A set of dates with tasks that are supposed to be done by that time. A timeline can be polished and precise, or a rough and general.

Either way, if you consult the timeline on a daily basis, the odds of distributing your efforts well in time increase.

Timeline: +1
No timeline: -1

Has a process vs no process

A process as in a defined set of steps (an algorithm) for accomplishing something. Going from A to B is much easier if you have a sense of steps 1, 2, and 3.

How-tos, tutorials and guides have an effect of speeding up work.

Process: +1
No process: -1

Has short-term feedback vs no short-term feedback

And the last (at the moment) but most definitely not the least: short-term feedback.

It's vital. In the physical world, we often instantaneously feel whether we're making progress or not. The hole is getting deeper, the lawn looks well-trimmed, the leaves are on a pile,... This feedback helps us engage effectively.

In the digital environment, feedback is much harder to come by. Knowledge work is complex and involves others and that introduces delays and sometimes doesn't allow for any feedback at all.

Life ain't fun without feedback.

You can substitute your own short-term feedback mechanism for one built into the task. You can have visual feedback in the form of green boxes on a calendar, or numbers in a spreadsheet.

Either way, feedback greatly impacts how we do the work.

Short-term feedback: +1
No short-term feedback: -1


The productivity-prone attributes of work:

  • Flowy vs not flowy
  • Not done before vs done before
  • One session vs many sessions
  • Meta-work done vs no meta-work
  • Involves others vs alone
  • Has a deadline vs no deadline
  • Has a clear timeline vs no timeline
  • Has a process vs no process
  • Has short-term feedback vs no short-term feedback

This is it for this short exploration. If you find more interesting work attributes, do let me know on Twitter (@vitabenes) or via email (contact@vitabenes.com).

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