Productivity is a Resource Management Game

A lot of my time growing up was spent playing resource management/real-time strategy games like the first two versions of Age of Empires. The basic idea is that you have a limited amount of resources, and you have to make the best use of them as possible. I believe that productivity is a resource management game, and I’m going to build my case here for this model of thinking.

The Resources

I believe there are four main resources that we have to learn to manage in this game. Three of them are resources in the traditional sense, and one of them is what I’m calling a “reverse resource” where we actually want to limit the amount we have instead of maximizing it.

  1. Time (Static Input) – We have a limited amount of time that we have to use in the best way possible to get things done, and we can’t do anything to get more of it.
  2. Willpower (Dynamic Input) – While we do have a limited amount of willpower, it’s a much more flexible resource than time, and we can manipulate it in a lot of different ways because of that.
  3. Distractions (Negative Resource) – We want to minimize distraction as much as possible, though some exceptions exist where a distraction can prove useful.
  4. Investment (Monetary/Time/Otherwise) – Sometimes we will need to spend time or money to help our cause in the long run.

These four resources combine to determine our total output in terms of productivity, which is what we’re trying to maximize for this game. Note that I’m not necessarily referring to improving how much we’re getting paid, and I don’t include that as a part of this game. For this reason, we’re going to assume that our payment is static per unit of productivity for the time being. This ties productivity directly to earnings which is our monetary output.

The Nature of the Productivity Game

Like the majority of resource management/real-time strategy games from the AoE era, productivity as a game is mostly tactical with elements of strategy.

Note: This article is a good read for nerds on the topic of strategy vs. tactics using a different type of model then what you’re probably used to.

We typically use systems (whether we realize it or not) to determine how our resources are managed, so the productivity game becomes almost completely about the systems that we use. I’m going to go into detail on the creation and management of productivity game-based systems in a future post, but for now, I want to get into a number of ideas that are the logical conclusion of viewing productivity in this way.

Two Payment Models

Let’s look at two common payment models and see how they work within the parameters of this productivity game.

Hourly Wage: (Engaging Socialism)

The basic idea here is that time is exchanged directly for monetary earnings instead of being tied to productivity. This takes distractions, willpower and monetary investments out of the equation almost completely because there is typically no incentive to do more than the bare minimum to avoid being fired. The lack of an incentive structure is the main weakness of this model (though there are exceptions), so this completely crushes (and exploits) people who have a sense of wanting to perform well as their main incentive.

Pay For Producing: (Engaging Capitalism)

In a lot of markets, pay is given based on producing a specific service or product. For example, someone might pay a flat $5,000 to have a small shed built behind their house. In this way, productivity is exchanged directly for monetary gain which brings willpower, distractions and monetary investments into the equation in a major way. The incentive structure for optimization in this payment model is perfect for individuals who are motivated to perform a job well for its own merit, but it also punishes people who are not skilled enough to optimize in some way.

The Role of Automation

Automation is a pretty big deal for productivity as a whole, so I felt the need to touch on it. It’s essentially a specific type of monetary (or time) investment where your return is the ability to do a task without willpower and distractions coming into play since a machine doesn’t have to deal with these things.

[pullquote]Automation is an investment: Time/money in to bypass the need for time, willpower and the lure of distraction at a future point.[/pullquote]

I’ll throw out a quick example. One of the easiest things to learn to automate is building a following on a social networking site like Twitter or Pinterest. On the most basic level you would need to follow a bunch of people, wait a while, and then unfollow them. However, a lot more goes into this like managing the list of people you’ve followed, getting a list of people to follow, engaging your targets so they’re more likely to follow you, etc.

When you automate these tasks, you no longer need willpower to do them, you don’t have to worry about distractions keeping you from doing them, and you won’t have to take up nearly as much time in the long-run. In short, automation is a critical part of many systems in productivity game because it removes a lot of the “human elements” of the situation.

The Role of Procrastination

This is a big one that I have put a lot of work into myself. Interestingly enough, this model makes short work of one of the most hated topics when it comes to procrastination:

Procrastination is a very interesting topic that gets a lot of attention. However, it also becomes a very boring and trivial topic to handle when viewed inside of this model of the productivity game.

It becomes trivial because it’s a simple systemic problem that just handles distraction and the management of willpower poorly. A slightly smarter system almost completely eliminates the problem in one swoop.

[pullquote]Before the Internet and computers were so wide-spread, I wonder what people did when they were procrastinating?[/pullquote]

The two signs of procrastination are the easy availability of distractions and the requirement of too much willpower. To beat procrastination, all you have to do is design a system where there are fewer distractions and willpower is used in a more efficient way.

A quick example that’s used a lot is going to a coffee shop to do your work instead of your home. This works because there are fewer distractions at the coffee shop than at home, and the social pressure of being in a new environment means you have to engage your willpower at a lower level to get the same results.

Again, we’ll get more into this at a future date, but this should be enough to get you thinking.

In Conclusion

I’m going to expand on a lot of the ideas presented here, but this is going to serve as my “introduction post” to my model for handling productivity. I think this model can help people, primarily myself, so I’m excited about it.