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The Hidden Costs of Being 'Productive': 4 Tips for Fighting False Productivity

Hustling entrepreneurs' obsession with being hands-on is actually hurting business relationships and the bottom line. How can they side-step the false productivity trap?

In the world of hustle culture, it’s easy to fall into the trap of mistaking “swamped” for “successful.” But over the last year, as the pandemic changed everything about how we live and work, we have taken our offices virtual, stayed in, slowed down and started to examine the true meaning of productivity.

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“If I could offer one piece of advice to the business leaders I work with, it would be, ‘Stop running in place,’” explains Todd Gerber, vice president of Adobe Document Cloud. “Stop trading in the currency of a false productivity that values action more than accomplishment.”

False productivity is what happens when we spend time on activities that keep us busy or are considered “urgent,” but aren’t meaningful: responding to IMs and emails in real-time, and attending pointless meetings, for example.

So, how do we side-step the false productivity trap? Gerber has four pieces of advice:

1. Vanquish time vampires.

Streamline tasks by being a tech delegator. Digital tools are your friend, use them.

When Adobe surveyed small-business owners recently, they reported signing and processing a mind boggling 16 documents per week. And to get a contract fully executed? They’re averaging six whole days. Gerber has two words: “digitize” and “streamline.”

“Digital tools provide the opportunity to get real about where we are wasting time,” says Gerber.  

2. Guard the good moments.

Take small pockets of time to recharge and create the brain space for innovative solutions. Staring at a screen for nine hours straight isn’t solving problems so much as spinning wheels. In other words, take a lunch break.

3. Remember: People, people, people.

You’ve heard “location, location, location,” right? Entrepreneurial success starts and ends with people. Be intentional about connections that matter at work, and at home.

Many entrepreneurs worry that digital connection can lead to a human disconnect. Nearly half (45 percent) worry that adopting a new software will negatively impact customer relationships, such as by reducing personal touchpoints. But quite the opposite is true. Software tools can automate low value, back-office tasks (like paying bills or tracking to do lists) so you can spend more time building relationships with new and existing customers.

4. Evaluate your day and ditch processes that waste time.

The biggest lesson from the last year? Be flexible. Look at the way you do things—really look at them—and ask yourself, “Why am I doing it this way?” Is it because you always have? Or because it makes sense?

According to one entrepreneur surveyed by Adobe, getting a contract signed requires printing the documents, signing them, scanning them and then sending them back. “It’s not difficult, just time consuming and a waste of paper,” the respondent noted. It’s easy to see why more than 40 percent of small businesses have digitized contract management and collecting signatures from customers. 

“If a process doesn’t make sense, learn why and let it go to leave room for the right solution at the right moment,” advises Gerber.

In years past, digitization was a buzzword for big businesses with big budgets. Entrepreneurs eschewed digital tools, rolled up their sleeves and prided themselves on a hands-on approach. The pandemic has propelled us forward, though, and taught us how to delegate with digital tools for true productivity. And for entrepreneurs looking to grow and scale their businesses in 2021, digital is here to stay—and there’s no going back.

Learn more about how Adobe Acrobat Pro DC with advanced e-sign can unlock productivity.

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