ver the past few years, I have observed all sorts of methods for productivity. One consistent surprise is the role of monotonous rituals and what could be described as “analog drudgery” among the especially productive. For such accomplished people, I am shocked by the apparent lack of efficiency in their daily routines.
At one point during my research for Making Ideas Happen, I interviewed Bob Greenberg, the legendary CEO of the digital agency R/GA. With high-flying clients like Nike and other household names, Greenberg is overseeing a tremendous number of heavyweight projects at any point in time. He’s a busy guy and he’s been leading his industry for decades.
Despite his digital interests, Greenberg’s productivity tools are entirely analog. He uses a paper agenda with a series of lists written at the top that he writes every single day. In the morning, Greenberg will manually bump uncompleted tasks from the previous day to the current day. He also re-writes the names of key clients and other areas of focus; often transcribing the same names again and again, daily, for weeks if not months or years.
When I hear about such monotonous and repetitive work, my instinct is to make it more efficient. If Greenberg used a digital system — even a spreadsheet — he could save a significant amount of time. Even better, he could use an online project management tool that automatically bumped everything to the following day for him. Scratch that; he’s a CEO! Why doesn’t he have an assistant that does this all for him?!
For Greenberg, it’s all about feeling the granularity of prioritization. By manually bumping a certain task every day, he feels that it is incomplete. He is faced with the reality and forced to either complete the task, delegate it, or bump it again.
And it’s not just Greenberg who operates like this. Many admired (and extremely effective) leaders use an analog approach to productivity as a way to stay accountable and feel connected to their decisions around how they spend their energy.
Yes, monotony and routine can be truly wearisome. They transform our colorful, over-stimulated existence into black and white. But a task left undone SHOULD be a burden. If you make your system for productivity too productive, you will become anesthetized to your responsibilities.
We are left with an important lesson: The manual labor involved with productivity is valuable. Repetitive rituals will make you pause. You will feel burdened, but you will also catch a glimpse of just how busy you are and what you should prioritize.