The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that overall national productivity dropped to 105.57 Index Points for the first quarter of 2015. That’s a decrease of over one full point from the last quarter of 2014.

Yikes. I’d like to see the study that outlines how many more cat videos have been produced since the end of 2014--perhaps there's a correlation!

Technology and science can only do so much to improve productivity; most of it depends on the people who drive the work in the first place. It’s comforting to remember that even before cat videos, Twitter, Candy Crush, and other mindless distractions, people still needed motivation. I’m sure that even Thomas Jefferson had his days!

Sometimes, all you need is the right words to get you fired up again. So in an effort to combat those frightening numbers from the Labor Bureau, here is some sage counsel from some of the best minds of ancient history, entertainment, and business to motivate us all to work smarter.

Harold Bloom is Sterling Professor Emeritus at Yale University. He has compiled a brief list of what he calls “thought productivity nuggets” from ancient history:

1. “Think not long, but do; do not long, but think.” --Confucius

The Chinese philosopher is reputed to have taken hold of China’s vast and corrupt imperial bureaucracy and turned it into a productive civil government that inspired nations like Japan and Korea to emulate his reforms.

2. “There is nothing wrong with complaining about work; but do the work first, and then the complaints will be all the more worthy to be heeded.” --Socrates

Called “The Athenian Gadfly” by his contemporaries in ancient Greece, Socrates was a notorious sluggard who refused to serve in any government capacity or work at anything steady. He asked all the wrong questions, which eventually got him sentenced to death by the exasperated citizens of Athens. But after his death, many of the practices he had questioned in government and transport were finally eliminated and more productive policies were implemented. Go figure.

3. “Never hitch a pig to a plow or expect an ox to provide bacon.” --Virgil

The ancient Roman poet Virgil wrote extensively about agriculture. It is said that his own estates were so well-run that he eventually gathered more wealth than the Roman emperors he often wrote complimentary poems about (he was a notable brown-noser, too!).

Ofir Sahar is the chief digital strategist of data delivery company Cogniview, which converts PDF files to Excel. He collects productivity quotes, or rather quips, from show-biz personalities:

4. “You may catch more flies with honey than vinegar, but you’ll get them to work harder if you use a flyswatter.” --Jerry Lewis

When the frenetic comic began writing and directing his own movies in the early 1960s, he hired only the best to turn his comedic vision into reality. It soon became well known all over Hollywood that he consistently demanded only the very best work from his staff--a mediocre performance was automatic grounds for dismissal. Whether you love him or loathe him, there’s no denying his movies are technically way ahead of their time.

5. “Measure twice; cut once.” --Harrison Ford

Before he became Han Solo, Ford worked as a carpenter. And like any good carpenter-turned-movie-star, he always carefully planned out his performance before going in front of the camera--so he’d never have to recut.

6. “Measure results, not hours.” --Emma Thompson

The British actress is affectionately known on the sets where she works as a thoroughbred when it comes to performance. She never lets up until she feels she has gotten the scene just right, no matter how long it takes. This attitude has made her one of the most award-winning actresses in British history.

Silky SInha is a contact center marketer. She makes a hobby of collecting the pithy remarks of successful business leaders:

7. “The longer the meeting, the less is accomplished.” --Tim Cook

Cook is the CEO of Apple. He never stays in a staff meeting longer than 10 minutes, and if the meeting runs longer than 20 minutes after he’s gone he asks for a memo justifying the time spent around a conference table.

8. “I use my brain as a playground, not as a calendar.” --Donald Trump

The Donald is famous among his business associates for his creative energy when it comes to productive solutions. He hires (and fires) secretaries to keep track of his time commitments so he can dream up the unusual strategies that have kept him one step ahead of the real estate game.

Published on: Aug 18, 2015