Is productivity complicated?

Maths Mathisen
73 replies
There are more than a million productivity tools and books out there, but how many of them succeed in helping you and me to improve our productivity? How many of us use them regularly? Is it only my belief that Productivity solutions are made unnecessarily complicated? What’s the least complicate productivity tool you use everyday/workday?

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Developer/DevOps Engineer
Depends if you're talking tactical or strategic IMNSHO. I use GTD, but that's only as as good as the gatekeeping I do in the first place. I'm I'm not doing valuable work, who cares how good my system is? If I am, a system is a gamechanger. In terms of focus, the pomodoro technique is something everyone can use regardless of any system. Unnecessarily complicated - if you're spending time tweaking your system you either haven't streamlined it yet, or you are just procrastinating with 'busy' work, rather than tackling something you don't want to do. Just my 2 cents!
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COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@jummy Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Personally I use to follow the "EAT THE FROG" strategy and combine it with pomodoro and distraction blocking when working tactically. My understanding of productivity as complicated stems down to the fact that productivity is not very tangible and is hard to measure. E.g I can complete 50 task on a single day, but it doesn't tell me how much of the important stuff I got down. I further wonder if there are two types of productive people. The one that is tweaking on everything to get the additional percent of performance, and are already into productivity. On the other hand, I think there are a lot of people that have very little experience from using productivity tools - except email, calendar etc. A typical productivity tool today requires you to devote your life to to see the full benefits. Would it be possible to make productivity simple? And just a one way street? similar to what Headspace and Calm did for mediation?
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Developer/DevOps Engineer
@maths_mathisen It's actually bedtime over here in Australia but I'd love to think on this a bit more - so much we could discuss! I actually wrote a productivity course for software developers, but again that's a tactical thing in a way. Strategy I think is important, more so than the tools. Can you tell me what you mean by devote your life to sell the full benefits? I think I know what you mean, but I'd like to be sure.
COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@jummy Sorry for the late reply. I'm guessing it's soon bedtime again in Australia 😅 Would love to discuss this further with you. feel free to send me an email if you want to continue the conversation there (maths@hold.app) In regards to "Devote your life to see the full benefits" is connected to my belief that in order to get some real output from a productivity tool you need to invest a lot of time, and secondarily you might need to adapt your workflow to the new tool. This what I mean about productivity being complex. Why can't we get a simple and adaptable solution that will provide you with the benefits from day 1.
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The Entrepreneur's Identity Standard.
Thank you for your suggestions!
Replacing email with something better
How much of good productivity comes from habits instead of tools we get asked all the time. Obviously we think tools can help. otherwise we wouldn't be building https://sendmemo.app/ but thinking about that has help us realise that some things can't be fixed by our tools and we should focus on the small bits that can be
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COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@crowdhailer I totally agree that good productivity comes from the habits, rather than the tools. But my concern is that we tend to stick to some bad habits that keeps us from getting things done, and it's in that context I believe a tool can come in handy. Changing a habit requires commitment, but can it be done in an easier way? Our experience stems from helping more than 650.000 students focus on their studies instead of their phones. 9/10 students considered their phones as a distraction and saw the impact it had on their grades - but that itself wasn't enough to change their behaviour. That is why we introduced a simple app to rewarded students to put down their phone with real life rewards like a free coffee or through gamification elements like streaks, levels etc. We are currently working on helping knowledge workers get more done in less time, by making productivity simple, but the difference understanding of productivity makes it hard - thus my original question.
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COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@crowdhailer btw Memo looks awesome. Totally onboard with the attention economy. I've signed up :)
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Replacing email with something better
@maths_mathisen great, send us a message. Me and my cofounder pick up everything at https://sendmemo.app/team
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Productivity Enthusiast
@crowdhailer Great point a lot of productivity depends on habits that we built and ability to concentrate.
Founder at Memo, designer/dev
No I do not think it is complicated but I think it benefits the productivity economy to make out that it is complicated. My approach has three steps. 1. Review what needs to be done. 2. Write down, prioritise and commit. 3. Remove distractions, choose the top item and do it. Someone mentioned eating the frog. Some days it feels like all I do is eat frogs but hey, in France they are deliscious!
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COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@richardesigns Haha! I personally use Eat the frogs, but rarely looking forward to eating my daily frog. Do you use any tools to complete your approach?
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Founder at Memo, designer/dev
@maths_mathisen A dash of Trello, some paper and critically a pencil. Never a pen. Pencils can be rubbed out if necessary. Pens only crossed out and that makes a mess. Plus pens leak if you leave them in your shirt pocket.
Co-founder/Taskable, a smart to do list
I'm working on a productivity product, and I do think most tools and systems are unnecessarily complex. For example, a lot of our users previously used Notion as a productivity system. The problem is they spent all their time maintaining Notion, rather than actually doing the work. Also, many tools are team focused, and optimize for collaboration and communication, rather than individual productivity.
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COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@mattcrail totally agree. The time it takes to build a proper productivity system in notion might outweigh the benefits. PS: Taskable seems cool. Love the templates :) Will give it a try in the coming period.
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Co-founder/Taskable, a smart to do list
@maths_mathisen Cool - let me know if you have any questions/feedback 🙂
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Founder @ Talk to Stefan
This is a good question @maths_mathisen - I think it can be overwhelming. I work with clients on a 1:1 basis to help them ruthlessly prioritise and figure out what they need to work on. Usually my clients find the practice of talking it through with someone/having someone asking questions useful. It's often difficult to see the big picture when you're stuck in the swamp. All of these systems can help, but it's about finding something that works for you. If you're spending more time on tools and systems, they've failed you...
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COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@stefanmanku Thanks for sharing. Do you mind sharing your #1 tip to get your clients to figure out what they need to work on?
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Founder @ Talk to Stefan
@maths_mathisen Sure, it's a pretty simple process, but: 1. List out all of the possible options (helps to get everything off your mind) 2. Highlight the high priority tasks (could be based on impact, quick wins and/or urgency) 3. Rank them in order you'll work through them 4. Break down the first one into micro tiny steps to get started 5. Consider any blockers/distractions/problems that may occur... think through some mitigations 4. Repeat step 4 and 5 for each one as you go through it Often easier if you can talk it through with someone as you'll get a bit more clarity as you go through it.
COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@stefanmanku Thanks for sharing your tips!
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I optimize collaboration in teams
I agree with @crowdhailer that it's a habit thing. Tools can help you stay/become more productive, but the tool is not the solution. If I feel like doing nothing on a given day, the tool is not going to make me sit down and work. What helped me be productive is prioritize and tell myself "let's get this done". Seeing a list of tasks has hardly any impact on me. I tried Asana, Todoist and Roam Research for productivity. I think Roam isn't a good tool for productivity, but it's great for note taking and storing information & knowledge (which I need for writing).
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COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@katerinabohlec thanks for sharing your thoughts. Any ideas on what a tool can do to get you to start working on a single task? Would urgency/deadlines work? Nudges to keep you from scrolling? Or alternatively some positive reinforcement? Did you combine the tools, or did you test them one at a time?
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Replacing email with something better
@katerinabohlec Do you think productivity is just about task management. For that I'm happy with postits on a wall. No way to get side tracked with those. However there are some activities, like dealing with email, that can be very unproductive. Even if you check of the item "answer emails" on you todo list. To some degree that a bit of the logic behind sendmemo.app, to have better conversations. I think this will enable productivity but only in conjunction with the right habits
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I optimize collaboration in teams
@maths_mathisen I don't know if a tool would work. Any tool depends on me installing and using it. I think it is context dependent. Task management: You need to work on some tasks, have limited input on what you work, can't be bothered to do your work, or other situation where your motivation to do the work is close to 0. If the prospect of getting fired or the promise of more money doesn't motivate you, nothing will. In those situation, a drug that you are forced to take and that boosts your motivation might work. Or a brain implant that makes you super excited about work - something you get implanted on your first day of school. I'm not advocating these solutions, but trying to make the point that in certain situations a tool will not help. Something-else management (for lack of better word): This is for projects you are excited about, have ownership. This is the type of work you want to do, but have issues keeping track of what needs to be done when. There the problem is prioritization. A tool could help by helping people determine how urgent something is, how long it will take to do complete it, and who needs to be involved.
I optimize collaboration in teams
@crowdhailer Yes, I answered the post associated productivity with task management. This is a more short-term view of being productive. What you are describing, if I understood it correct, is a longer term view on productivity. You mention emails and conversation as tools to help you be productive ("produce something"). What do you consider the "right habits"?
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COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@katerinabohlec Thanks for the further explanation. I see your concern about a tool helping when your motivation is close to zero, but from a personal experience I tend to postpone stuff, and that is where I believe a tool could help. I think it's more about understanding what can trigger you to to get started on the task, because we know the nice feeling of accomplishment when completing a task we were reluctant to start on. If we can understand what is important to YOU I think a tool can work. E,g Social mechanics might be effective for you, but not for me. if you made a pact with a friend to complete a task by the end of day, would you do it? it's about getting you to commit to something and understand the consequences. The consequences doesn't need to be monetary, but can also be phycological. The mind is complex, but with the right strategies I believe you can design a tool that will help you achieve anything - in a simple way.
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Founder, Developer at Crucial Human
I draw the line of productivity between teams and individuals. Individual productivity is 10% the tool, 10% the methodology, and 80% your own will and commitment. For teams, the tool becomes more necessary and important. Fair warning, this is my product, and it's awesome because it lets you work the way you want to work. Let out the chaos in your mind in a free form fashion and then bring order to it. Very conducive to GTD - https://crucialhuman.com/product...
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COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@eddieaich Interesting thoughts. I agree that its a big gap between individual and team productivity. I like the flexibility of your system, and potential option to be creative :) From my personal experience I tend to separate my tools (tools for work and tools for sparetime). Do you see your users combining these into your tool?
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Founder, Developer at Crucial Human
@maths_mathisen Thanks. We have hundreds of people signed up for the beta and although we are targeting teams in the long run, most of them have come in looking for individual productivity help. Stickies is perfect for that, but it can also work for teams. That's our goal.
COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@eddieaich Great to hear that you're having traction. Will follow the journey closely :) I've signed up for the beta.
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Founder of Compete Themes
@eddieaich "80% your own will and commitment" I like this response. I have tried countless productivity apps, and whenever they stop working for me, it's always because I stopped trying. It's really a matter of personal will, and then even a paper and pencil checklist could be sufficient (for individual productivity).
CTO - fanimal.com
Meditation and a good night's sleep! For me these outperform every 21st-century tool by far.
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COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@dave_galbraith Sure thing. I'vent jumped on the meditation wagon yet, but a good night sleep does wonders to my mind.
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Founder @radiumLaw
I feel there's a lot of good productivity tool out there. Some saves me time, others help with tracking my productivity. As an example, a tool tracking my productivity - seeing my progress (or lack of) over time keeps me accountable. I can see if I'm stuck at the same place and then course-correct. (I'm into journaling - I feel its the same principle)
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COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@dbouchard2 thanks for sharing your thoughts. Which tool have you gotten the most value from so far?
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Founder @radiumLaw
@maths_mathisen hard to tell I used multiple. I would say Superhuman (use it everyday). Journey in second (for journaling), and lately I tried Session for time tracking. What about you?
COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@dbouchard2 I never gotten the chance to start using Superhuman, but heard a lot of people feels like it reinvented email. Emails are one of my biggest time bandits, so maybe I should give it a try. I mostly use Asana and Slack for team related communications and assigned tasks, while I structure my day through HOLD, the tool we currently are building. I get a prioritised overview of all my tasks and work on a single task at a time (eat the frog), while HOLD blocks my distractions. We're still early days, but a lot of progress lately :)
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www.pritamc.com
Multi tasking is complicated. Also multi tasking isn't productive. Productivity isn't complicated at all when you are focused on single thing.
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COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@pritam91 I totally agree, but is hard to single tasking. And people tend to multitask to stay "busy".
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www.pritamc.com
@maths_mathisen I think some people multi-task just to look busy. technically and biologically multi-tasking isn't possible
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Growth @Rock
I think there are two strong points two consider in how productivity is discussed, most specifically in the business environment. I agree with you that a lot of productivity solutions feel overcomplicated. Especially because they have a lot of extra features, plugins, add-ons etc. that make sense on paper, but once you actually incorporate them into your workflow, you end up spending more time calibrating your work stack than actually *being* productive. Complicated tools also make collaboration harder, with expectations that everyone you communicate and collaborate have the same proficiency with all the tweaks, upgrades and specific features you incorporated. On another note I also think that for a long time general business culture definitely negatively defines the concept of productivity. Surreal expectations of working crazy hours are still very much a thing in some companies. But very long work days on a continuous basis will a) lead to a burnout or b) doing stuff in 10 hours that could be done in 5 (example). Nevertheless, the last few months I have seen some amazing stuff popping up on the future of work and kind of breaking the decade long preconceptions. I think besides tools and books with tricks, hacks, tips and whatnot, looking at the original definition of what a *productive* workflow/workday actually looks like matters. Also, how is it connected with collaboration and communication (individual productivity is not as useful if the rest of the team is not) is something that not often considered, especially with remote work becoming more and more popular.
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COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@nicolaas_spijker copy your thoughts :) The set up time of most productivity tools outweigh the gains, but it still provides you with the idea that you are more productive than yesterday, and that is why you stick to it. Calm and Headspace made mediation simple and for the masses, Slack decreased the barrier of internal communication, but I believe similar can be achieved with productivity by making it simple. I also share your thoughts about the corporate setting. The last months we've been interviewing tens of HR-managers, but very few of them had a KPI connected to productivity. Very few of them had any other KPIs besides sick leave and revenue. It's probably hard to build a tool that serve both the individual and corporate, as a company culture should be built on trust, and expect that your employees should fulfil their duties.
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Maker of Markov
This is true. It might be cuz there's no true differentiation in the productivity market. Everyone is trying to solve the same problems and it converges to a distribution problem. I use Google Calendar all the time because it's integrated with my GSuite. But I could easily use a different calendar product, which I do for my job all the time. What are your thoughts?
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COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@jeff_zhang5 This is a really interesting thought, I've rarely thought about this from a distributional point, but I think you are onto something. This is connected to lock-in effects and the fact that you will be reluctant to change your workflow, because the current set up work for you. I think we need to make a simple journey that adapts to your workflow and improve in order to gain traction. There are a million productivity tools out there, but very few big players.
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Maker of Markov
@maths_mathisen I agree with the "lock in effects" that you pointed out. There's so little differentiation, its honestly which ever is most convenient. Competition kills revenue. Sad to see it but interesting question :)
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COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@jeff_zhang5 we just launched our solution to make produtivity simple today - HOLD X 2.0, whats your take on that in terms of differentiation?
Manager
Yes, productivity is complicated if you are not using the right techniques to market your product. If you are a salon owner and not able to mage your business activities then use !salonist.
COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@salonist_software what techniques did you use when creating Salonist?
Manager
@maths_mathisen see I just focus the pain points of the beauty business owners. I promote it through paid promotions.
Marketing, product management, sales
Tip 1 on saving your time and working productively is stop reading book about productivity. Tip 2 - if you can't start doing the task, count from 7 to 1 and move forward with it without overthinking. Just do it. Tip 3 - Cut the bigger tasks into the smaller once, like step by step. We often don't do our work because it scares us away with its amount. The tools for productivity are not unnecessarily complicated, they're just unnecessary. Productivity starts with you and your attitude to work/time, it's in your head. All you may really need is a small notepad and a pen to write a plan for the next day. Good luck with what you're working on!
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COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@aleksandra_vovchenko Thanks for sharing your tips. I totally agree that there is a ton of books outthere that will have little impact on your actual productivity. Any tools you find working well for you? Or are you happy with your notepad and pen?
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Head of Ops @Cycle
Always have a pen and paper next to your laptop to take rapid notes. Best productivity tool ever !
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COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@valentin_haarscher Sure thing. I also use pen&paper to empty my head for ideas. E.g when writing this I might recall that I've a deadline in a couple of hours, then by writing it down you will not occupy your mind more than necessary.
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Head of Ops @Cycle
Brand coordinator
I think that productivity is only ever accomplished with SLEEP. In a culture that promotes multitasking, productivity, and efficiency often our most basic human needs are left unaccounted for. I have often sacrificed sleep in order to achieve my daily goals or long-term plans but have recently rediscovered the importance and the effects of a good night of SLEEP!
COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@amara_pope I totally agree. Sleep is key to deliver speed and quality work. Have you read the book Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker? Totally changed my understanding of the importance of sleep.
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Brand coordinator
@maths_mathisen I have not but thank you for the recommendation! :) I shall take a look!
Kids Lover
I think, yes, if it is not too complicated.
COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@winfredrichards Thanks for sharing your thoughts :)
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Gamedev. Community. Media production.
I personally tried LOTS of productivity tools and frameworks (my personality type is "manager", so I am interested in such tools by nature). The conclusion I've got after years of up-and-downs is that THERE IS NO PERFECT SOLUTION. Some frameworks may become useful for somebody just "out of the box". Some frameworks require adaptation and modification to one's lifecycle, way of thinking and approach to doing things. Skipping the boring part about considering myself as complicated person, and straight to the core: I discovered, that all "self-management" things are divided into two main segments: 1) Global scope: What GOALS we are going to deal with or to make done in months and years. 2) Local scope: How to organize TIME for particular TASKS during days and weeks. For scope that involves more than one-two-three months, the first approach is optimal: you just markup main things, or milestones. Sometimes "SMART" is useful, sometimes easier to write down goals in simple verbose format. But when it comes to daily work and tasking (according to big goals!), most useful is to organize TIME (not Goals) and TASKS. So. For both scopes, Global and Local, there are completely different tools and frameworks. For example, you can develop your Yearly Goals using "Wheel of Life" OR "Year Compass" or by "Getting projects done" and etcetera... Whilst Monthly, weekly and daily work you can organize using Eisenhower Matrix, Pomodoro, Kanban, Google Spreadsheets, Bullet notes, Simple checklists, whatever, what you more comfortable with. The main goal in small scoping is to organize time properly to achieve locally your global goals. For me - yes, I tried hard to modify and combine different approaches and frameworks that finally well suits me personally. And I would not claim that my curent model is "perfect": models are changing as we grow as self-managers.
COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@alexeylvov Thanks for the great explanation. I will definitely take your definition of the local and global scope further. Would love to discuss this further with you if you're intersested. I'm building a tool to handle your local scope, while it integrates with tools that helps you with the long-term planning (global scope).
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Gamedev. Community. Media production.
@maths_mathisen no problem, I am open to discussions.
Co-Founder @ Staat
I wouldn't say that productivity is complicated as much as it is misunderstood. The tension around "being productive" and recognizing it in other folks boils down to a definition. As we build our tool, on the surface, you'd think a productivity metric like "number of commits" would be a feasible productivity measure, but when you dig in, it really is nothing but a vanity metric. Maximizing productivity starts by establishing how it's defined for you and your teams.
COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@david_choe2 Sure thing. People tend to use vanity metrics just to be perceived busy. I rarely states whether you are working on a complex task that requires a full day of focus. I agree that every team (and every person) should define their own version of productivity - and be completely honest to the importance of the factors you're measuring.
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I build and sell software
My take - I can be productive in my comfort zone no issues. I can work non stop 3-4 hours without any distraction. When it comes to pushing the comfort boundaries and doing the impossible, productivity falters. Can't focus more than 20 - 25 minutes. Be it solving a Leetcode difficult problem or trying to synthesise a new idea. I think this behaviour is more or less similar in everyone. So one hack that I am learning slowly is to stay in the comfort zone, be productive and then push the boundaries something like a 80:20 split. Eventually my belief is that the 20% will move to the 80%. You can use the existing tooling like RescueTime/Pomodoro for measurement but they won't be useful in determining the context of tasks.
COO & Co-founder of HOLD
@pbanavara The 80/20 rule is a great one to use! Thanks for sharing.
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