07: Track output, not input

When it comes to knowledge work, real productivity isn’t measured by hours clocked, meetings attended, how long a lunch break was, or number of emails sent. Set clear goals, and focus on output and outcomes instead.

The theory

Knowledge work isn’t factory work. It’s the assimilation, organization, and execution of ideas, which may or may not correspond to a physical act. A programmer can have a breakthrough idea while walking their dog. A marketer can envision a groundbreaking campaign in the shower. That makes management approaches based on inputs — commits pushed, bugs fixed, days and hours worked, meetings scheduled — irrevocably flawed.

Even worse, measuring inputs often leads to surveillance via “bossware”, a new crop of remote tools that incinerate trust and incentivize employees to “perform work” instead of doing actual high-value work.

Measuring Outcomes, Output, and Impact vs. Inputs

Instead, focus on the results that drive the business, like product goals, sales targets, quality standards, and customer impact. The only effective measures of knowledge work are output, quality, and outcomes, not inconsequential productivity metrics and performance theater.

Further reading