Looking at Productivity as a State of Mind: Policy makers often fret about the pace of worker productivity. But each of us also frets about the pace of our own individual productivity.
Type the phrase “being more” into Google: The autocomplete function suggests “being more productive” as the third-most-likely choice — right behind “being more assertive” and “being more confident.” That suggests that many people are searching for answers about productivity.
But there is a disconnect. When we look at worker productivity at the macro level, we tend to limit ourselves to issues like skill shortages, new technologies or appropriate incentives.
In our own lives, though, we see a personal struggle. Tomorrow we want to finish that memo, review several files and plan that project. We know that some of the work will be tedious, but benefits like career advancement, fulfillment or just sheer survival outweigh the costs. When tomorrow becomes today, though, we may discover that we have all kinds of pressing problems. The tedium we had anticipated suddenly feels very large. It is tempting to take a break and just let our minds wander. In our own lives self-control is a big problem — yet it is largely absent from high-level discussions about worker productivity.
And that raises an obvious question: By focusing so heavily on classic big-picture issues, are policy makers overlooking something that may be even more important? ...