This article is Part 2 in a series of articles about spending your time the way you want.
Productivity is consistently completing value-added tasks with minimal inefficiency. That means:
- Doing things that matter,
- All of the time,
- Without wasting time or resources.
Mastering productivity matters to varying degrees to people in different fields. But if you want to be successful spending your time the way you want, mastering productivity is a must, since your own efforts are the sole impetus for your success.
You’ve probably read articles on productivity before. Before writing this article, I Googled the term “productivity tips”, and about 5.5 million results showed up. That’s a lot of productivity tips.
So what’s different here?
Many articles on productivity are exactly that: tips. “6 tips to increase productivity”. “5 ways to check your e-mail with more efficiency”.
But these articles miss the point, because they give us some examples of productivity in a specific scenario without teaching us how to be productive. We all know things like “check your e-mail only once per day” or “use a calendar”; I’ve read hundreds of these tips. If that was all we needed, we’d all be productivity pros, and this article would be pointless.
If you don’t know how productivity works, you’ll fumble the ball each time. How many times have you read about managing your time better, only to go right back to your old way of doing things?
That’s what happens to most of us.
So my goal is to teach you how productivity works. From there, you can read productivity “tips” that match your specific field, and use them successfully. Knowing how productivity works is to have the Productivity Mindset.
5 keys to the Productivity Mindset:
1. Understand why it’s hard to be productive.
Did you ever stop to think about why you have trouble being productive? If you know why you have a problem, it’s easier to see how to fix it.
It’s hard to make productivity a habit because we are used to having our time managed by other people, and having those people use negative enforcements to motivate us. We have bosses that give us deadlines. We have teachers that give us homework assignments. Don’t we usually get all of our assignments done on time? We don’t want a poor grade in class or to get fired.
But when it comes to motivating ourselves, we’re just not used to it, and there’s no immediate negative enforcement from someone else. We’re not used to the self-discipline.
So it’s not that being productive is inherently hard. How could you be good at something you have limited experience with? Think of driving a car for the first time. It’s not that it’s “hard”; it’s just you’re not used to it. So the solution, quite simply, is to make yourself more used to it by:
2. Make productivity a habit.
If something is a habit, we do it without much thought. Do you struggle to remember how to drive to work, or to drive somewhere new across town? It’s going against the grain of our habits that causes problem.
People struggle with productivity because it’s not their habit. They continue to struggle with it because they didn’t try to make it a habit. They just look up some “quick tips” when they feel like they have a problem. Then a couple weeks later, it’s back to the same old thing. That’s a huge problem, because it discourages us and makes us feel like “failed”, when the real problem is we just tried the wrong way.
3. Care more about being productive and accomplishment than distraction
I wrote in my article on motivation that the only reason you have trouble motivating yourself to do something is because you don’t really care about accomplishing your goal: you’d actually rather not accomplish it.
The same thing goes for lame excuses about how it’s “hard” to keep productive, and “hard” to not look at Facebook while you’re working.
It’s basic reasoning: we naturally want to spend more time doing things we care about. If you cared more about writing your business plan than watching YouTube videos, why wouldn’t you spend more time writing?
But since you care more about the immediate satisfaction of goofing off, you spend more time doing that than working. Maybe your brain is just more accustomed to lethargy. Mine was at one point.
This means that being productive has more to do with your drive and determination, rather than memorizing tips. So if you care more about accomplishing your goals, remaining productive, and maximizing the value of your time than you care about being slovenly or unproductive, won’t your actions naturally follow? You will naturally be led to find out the best productivity “tools” and “tips” that work for you; and you’ll naturally organize your time according to your priorities.
Otherwise, the reason you “can’t” be productive is entirely your fault.
4. Do things efficiently.
This section is included as a nod to those who think they are productive because they work hard. Productivity must be evaluated by return on investment. That means that working hard isn’t necessarily working smart, since hard work only measures effort, while smart work is a measure of output.
I think there are two main types of harmful inefficiencies:
Inefficiencies in perspective. We have beliefs that hold us back, and structure our lives in ways that waste time and resources. For example, we:
- Living far away from where we work.
- Working in jobs that we are not good at (as discussed in why you should only do things you want, we are naturally good at things we like).
- Having life views or mantras that keep us from achieving more success (e.g.: “I need to watch TV for at least three hours per day in order to be relaxed”; plenty of people, myself included, don’t watch more than an hour of TV per month).
Read my article on challenging assumptions to understand how to fix this problem.
This article does an excellent job of showing how much time we waste on a daily basis.
Doing things efficiently also means relentlessly rejecting things from your life that waste your time.
5. Use metrics to define and quantity success.
A metric is something you use to quantitatively show your accomplishment. For example, my goal was to have over 1,000 hits to my blog within the first month of writing articles. And I was successful. But if my goal was I wanted my blog to be “popular eventually”, how would I know if I succeeded or failed?
Everyone knows about setting goals. But what you see less often is people using metrics as goals.
Using anything but well-defined metrics means that your goal has no substance. If your goal has no substance, you can’t measure productivity.
Suppose my goal was to get “a lot more” users by the end of my second month of blogging. What does that even mean? 2,000? 5,000? 15,000? Since I don’t know where I want to go I don’t know how to get there. And not knowing where I want to go—but pretending that I do—leads to failed productivity and squandered time, and no way to gauge success.
Think of this even as a “day at the office”. Which goal do you actually know how to accomplish: finish the “Excel spreadsheet by 3pm today”, or “get some stuff done by this afternoon”?
If you don’t know where you want to go, how can you get there?
The Productivity Mindset
Understanding how to be productive makes it easier to actually be productive. Even though the specific way to be productive in any given scenario (e.g. working at an office, starting a business, practicing the piano, etc.) might be completely different, the concepts are the same across all types of activities.
Now that you have The Productivity Mindset, you can look at pro-tips and hacks that are relevant to your specific field. Some good ones that focus on specific topics:
Photo Credit: By Alchemist-hp (talk) (www.pse-mendelejew.de) (Own work) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons