I picked up a fantastic idea from Agile trainer Angela Druckman last week. She recounted a story about a presentation she had been to where the speaker asserted that everyone would be more successful if they regularly asked themselves, “What does my factory produce?”
This may seem like an odd question at first given that most of us don’t own a factory. But the idea is this: at the end of the day, you get paid for what you produce, not what you do.
We all have to-do lists, regular daily and weekly tasks, and things we do out of habit even if we don’t necessarily have to. And as tasks pile up, we get stressed about getting everything crossed off our lists. What most of us don’t do, however (at least not regularly), is step back and make sure we’re actually producing the right end results.
In your quarterly review your boss doesn’t ask, “So, how many items did you cross off your task list this quarter?” He or she says, “So, did you meet your goals?” If you interview for a new job and someone asks, “What did you do at your last job?” they are not expecting you to say, “Well, I wrote 1,000 lines of code a day” or “I made six calls an hour” or “I answered 250 emails each week.” They’re expecting you to say “I built a system that optimizes widget production” or “I sold specialty paper to multilingual greeting card manufacturers” or something like that. They want to know what you produced, not what you did.
Angela presented this idea in the context of a professional training course, where it certainly makes a lot of sense. I think it would be wise for all of us to ask this question about our personal lives as well. We’re all pretty good about making sure we get to work and buy groceries and wash dishes and do laundry, but how often do we step back and ask, “Is this what I’m supposed to produce?” When it’s all said and done, will you care about how many emails you responded to or how clean your kitchen was? Is any of that really what you want your factory to produce?
We can’t ignore email or the laundry or whatever our personal brand of dirty work is. But it has to be a means to an end and not the end itself. At the end of the day, both personally and professionally, it’s the outcome that matters.
So… what does your factory produce?