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Long Term Productivity vs. Short Term Productivity

We all strive to be more productive, to manage our time better and to get more done in less time. However, this striving to increase productivity often leads to a very stressful life, exhaustion and both mental and physical breakdowns. What can we do in order to be both productive, efficient, happy and relaxed at the same time? I believe the most important thing for someone who wants to achieve this balance is to stop chasing short term productivity and focus on long term productivity instead. It might be tough at first, but it’s really worth it in the long run.

What is short term/long term productivity?

Short term productivity is your ability to reach and maintain high level of productivity during a short period of time, usually days, weeks and months. You can think about it as sprint.

Long term productivity is your ability to reach and maintain high level of productivity during a long period of time, usually months, years and decades. You can think about it as running a marathon.

What’s the problem with focusing on short term productivity?

There is a huge social pressure to focus on a short-term productivity. Imagine two people who are working in the same field. One of them is coming to work earlier, leaving later, catching up with work on weekends, trading proper lunch for a sandwich and coke in order to save time and sleeping six hours every night. Another one is coming to work on time, leaving work on time, not doing anything work related on weekends, eating not only a proper lunch, but also a proper breakfast and a proper dinner and sleeping at least eight hours every night. Which one of them would be considered a driven and hardworking person? Exactly. Therefore, it’s not surprising that so many people choose short-term productivity over the long-term productivity without even questioning it. However, once you start analyzing long-term consequences of this choice, it turns out that it might not be a wise choice after all

The workaholic from the previous example might do well for a while. He might even do well for a few years or a decade. The problem is that he’s not noticing that he’s exhausting himself, both mentally and physically. When we are young, our body recharges very quickly and we often push harder and harder thinking that we’ll be fine while all the stress, skipped meals and sleepless nights are quietly adding up, not talking about alcohol, nicotine and caffeine intakes. Once we get older and our body can’t recover that quickly, all those things come to the surface and often they do that very fast. Workaholic might be fine for ten years, but once his body won’t be able to keep up with this pace anymore, the breakdown will come, often in a form of physical or mental illness. He sure was very productive for few years and might even have made loads of money, but what’s the point of owning a Lamborghini when you can’t drive it because you’re ill? And what’s the point of being productive for few years if that leads to a massive loss of productivity over the coming few decades? This is the part that people often miss when they see driven youngsters obsessed with their careers.

On the other hand, the other person from previous example might not get the promotion as fast as workaholic will, but he is the one who will win in the long run, assuming his lifestyle was a conscious choice, not a sign of laziness or a lack of ambition. While everyone else around him is skipping meals, sacrificing their sleep and working on weekends, he is taking a proper care of himself and this also have consequences. Once his colleagues will start experiencing breakdowns and health problems, he will be fine and able to keep the same steady pace he kept for the last few years, while most people around him won’t be able to do that and will blame it on getting older. This person might have lost in terms of short-term productivity, but he will be able to be highly productive over the coming few decades and few decades of highly productive work will definitely put him on the top of his field. When you think about it like this, who was more productivity-focused, workaholic or this “lazy” guy?

Would you think that it’s a good strategy to sprint when you are actually running in marathon? Probably not, right? This is the problem with focusing on short-term productivity. People want to get results fast, not realizing that they’re hurting themselves in the long run. Life is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. Wouldn’t it be wiser to use the marathon strategy then?

Long term productivity and health

Your health is one of the main factors when it comes to your productivity. People often miss that and think that productivity is processing paperwork as fast as you can and it’s not related with other areas of your life. Well, you know what? When your health is a mess, you won’t be able to process paperwork fast, set correct priorities or make good decisions. You can’t be really productive without having a good health.

Things like skipping meals, eating random junk or sacrificing sleep does not indicate being driven, it indicates being foolish. Excessive drinking doesn’t make you cool, it makes you an alcoholic. Smoking cigarettes is beyond words, because all the nicotine marketing aside, it means that you’re paying money to slowly, but steadily kill yourself. None of this is compatible with a high long-term productivity. I’m sorry, but someone has to say it.

Take time to learn more about healthy lifestyle and start making slow, but steady changes into that direction. You might seem weird to many people, but it will pay off over the decades – remember the “lazy” guy from the previous example. Time spent on developing healthy habits is a time well spent. Ignore anyone who is pushing you to the opposite direction.

Long term productivity and business

We all want to make money as quick as possible – that’s completely normal. However, this desire often side-tracks people and they waste years participating in one “Get Rich Quick” scam after the other, never really creating a sustainable stream of income. Don’t let this be your story.

The important thing to realize when it comes to business is that it’s sustainability that matters, not a few quick bucks. There are a lot of people who are doing all kinds of things trying to make money without providing an equal value in return. This might look great for a short period of time, but it’s a business suicide in the long term. You can trick people once, but then they are never coming back. On the other hand, when you take time to create an amazing product or service and sell it at a fair price, people will not only come back or buy your next product, they will also tell their friends to come buy it as well. This is how a real, sustainable business is built.

It really doesn’t matter that much whether your business will take off after one year or five years, since time is going to pass anyway. All that matters is that it will take off. You can waste time on “Get Rich Quick” schemes and tricking people by doing shady things or you can graduate from kinder-garden and start building a real, sustainable business. The only difference between these two approaches is that over the course of five years one will get you nowhere and the other will make a proud and honest business owner. That’s your choice to make.

Long term productivity and relationships

I’m all for individualistic values, but the truth is that you can’t pull anything really impressive completely on your own. As long as you live in a society, you need other people, whether it would be your significant other, your friends, your customers, your business partners, etc. Knowing the right people might open you many doors and save you months or even years of hard work. Now, that’s productivity, right?

The problem is that many people focus of building shallow or win-lose relationships. It’ easy to have a lot of fake friends and think that you’re very popular, however, that might lead to a very harsh disappointment once you get in a real trouble and nobody cares. It’s also easy to engage in a win-lose relationships where you win and the other person loses, the problem is that the other person will soon get fed up with that and then what will you do? It’s really a shame that this is what most people perceive as “networking”.

In the long-term, it’s much better to focus on building real friendships and mutually beneficial relationships. It might take a lot of work with yourself, especially if your social skills are not very good or you’ve a habit of treating people in a rude or arrogant manner, but it will be worth it in the end. It will also take a lot of general efforts from your side, because in order to build good relationships, you have to learn to help people without expecting a quick gain from it. It’s like planting flowers. You wouldn’t expect the flower to appear the minute after you put the seed in the ground, right? You know that it will take time and care to make that small seed grow into a beautiful flower. This is the same with relationships. It takes time and efforts to create a relationship, but once it develops, it might bring you a lot of benefits, including career and monetary ones. Good relationships are also known for contributing a lot to your overall happiness.

Long term productivity vs. Short term productivity: You have to choose.

The truth is that you can’t have both long term and short term productivity. When you focus on long-term productivity, your short-term productivity suffers dramatically and vice versa. You have to make a decision and choose between those two. I’d obviously recommend choosing long term productivity, but don’t take my word for it, think for yourself. Analyze the long-term effect your actions have on your life. Then, choose the actions whose consequences you like the most and drop the ones whose consequences terrify you. It sounds very simple, but most people never sit down and think about what it is that they’re doing with their lives. Don’t be like them, don’t play follow the follower. Make your own decisions.

Agota writes a blog www.outsidethebox. lt’s about getting different results by using different approach. She writes on a wide range of topics, including productivity, emotional mastery and goal achievement. Agota has studied martial arts for almost ten years; it’s no surprise that her favorite topic is applying Eastern philosophies in our daily lives.

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  • Bashar

    Your website leads to a property management website :/

  • http://blog.hiredmyway.com/ Wesw@hiredmyway.com

    Great post, Agota! I also think this long term/short term rule can be applied to the job search process.

    The short-term job seeker blasts every job opening with his resume, regardless of whether it’s a good fit or not. He takes the quantity over quality approach and his only goal is to get his resume seen by as many eyeballs as possible in the shortest amount of time. The long-term job seeker takes a more thoughtful approach, investing time into establishing relationships with others in his field and networking with colleagues even if there isn’t any immediate benefit to it.

    It’s clear to me which one will have a more fulfilling job offer in the end.

    • JD

      It’s funny.. the friends I made in college are the ones who are offering me chances to expand my horizons into new fields, while the job market stone walls me every chance I get.

      Apparently, if the USA wants to be a nation of success these days, we need to look inward before we can look outward.

  • http://www.outsidethebox.lt Agota

    Thank you very much for pointing that out, Bashar!

    My website is http://www.outsidethebox.lt

    There’s a mistake in a link which wil hopefully be fixed soon ;)

  • http://www.outsidethebox.lt Agota

    Thank you for your comment, Wesw!

    On the other hand, blasting out CVs can actually help to get the job, because people often apply to few places and then wonder why they are still unemployed. This applies more to unqualified jobs like waitressing, etc, as opposed to professional jobs. I believe it’s better to approach professional jobs with more strategic approach.

  • http://www.balancedworklife.com/blog Bryce Christiansen

    Great details here. Balancing short and long term productivity is a challenge. I typically plan a project with the end goal and success metrics first. Then each week I meet with my team to see what the priorities are for the week.

    It keeps the project from becoming too overwhelming and lets us see the progress we are making at the same time.

  • http://www.newagethinker.com David

    Definitely agree with you when it comes to business, long term productivity is the most important.

    Nice article, thanks!

  • http://www.Mazzastick.com Justin | Mazzastick

    Hi Agota,
    We have to consciously decide to live our lives with the marathon mindset. The majority of us will live long lives so there is no need to panic and rush to the finish line.

    I see people do this everyday on their way to work. It’s even more disturbing to see people run around like crazy on the weekends.

    We have to leave ample time for rest and relaxation.

  • Satvik

    Hey Agota,

    What I’ve often found is that the “short-term productive” people who work 10-hour days usually do worse than people who work less. I think people who work less have time to step back and focus on what to work on and how to do it well, whereas people under pressure will just try to get everything done by the end of the day.

    One interesting example is http://www.37signals.com , they tested a 4-day workweek and found people accomplished just as much as in a normal 5-day workweek, so they made it their norm.

    So it’s not just a matter of burning out in 5 or 10 years: if you want to be more productive a week from now, start taking weekends off.

  • http://www.outsidethebox.lt Agota

    That is very true, Satvik.

    Many people get so affected by “Work, work, work!” social conditioning that they don’t really see how it affects your productivity. Having weekends off, regularly taking long-weekends off and going on holidays at least few times a year does wonders to productivity.

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