Why We Decided NOT to Become Productivity Gurus

August 23, 2018

The world of productivity and time-management is filled with gurus. A simple Google search for “productivity gurus” reveals 9.8M results. In fact, you can even buy a book on How to Become a Productivity Guru (we haven’t read it).

What is a guru? According to Wharton professor and best-selling author, Adam Grant, gurus share their intuition and experiences.

We were headed down the path to becoming gurus. After all, the story behind the founding of Zarvana was that I, Matt, had reduced my hours worked per week by 15-20% over a 6-month time period at a premier consulting firm and begun sharing what I had learned with my peers. I became a guru and shared from my experience of what seemed to work for me.

And so, Zarvana became an extension of my personal experience, teaching others from intuition and experience. It wasn’t that anything we were teaching in our courses and coaching wasn’t good advice. In fact, many of our clients said otherwise.

It was just that we didn’t know whether it would really work. We only knew that it had worked for us or at a minimum, it made sense to us.

But then, we did what Adam Grant says scholars do: we asked a question.

Could we actually calculate how much time people could save by adopting time-saving practices?

To find out, we began to “explore ideas.” When we began, we spent a lot of time sorting through clickbait headlines (e.g., “Save 8 hours per day on interruptions” or “6 ways to give great feedback”) with no references to actual research or analysis in many of our favorite business and management publications. Then we headed over to Google Scholar, SSRN (according to Malcolm Gladwell, “the greatest website on the Internet”), and other more academic sites, and dug into the academically published papers. We read through papers on radiologists processing x-rays, how to cut in line, and analyses of 0.5M tasks entered into an online to-do list.

And, lo and behold, we were able to begin to establish a menu of research-backed, time-saving practices and assign actual time-savings to each of the practices. It’s not perfect science and we had to make some assumptions, but it’s a massive leap forward from intuition and experience.

While we’re still running some of the numbers and finding second and third sources to validate our initial findings, the headline is we can literally save in the order of hours per day by adopting a handful of best practices… hours… every day.

To be honest, this surprised us. We thought productive practices were important (obviously), but we could never have expected how big of a difference they can make.

As a result, we’ve re-launched 6 of our 8 courses to align with the research and tie to specific time-savings and we’re working on the last 2. We’ve released much of our research and analysis so that you can see how we came up with the savings.

Adam Grant said, “One of my big goals professionally is to get more leaders to stop acting on intuition and experience — and instead be data-driven.” We decided to accept his challenge.

Will you – and move from the intuitions and experiences of the gurus to research-established evidence now available?