☕ saturday mornings - February 11, 2022
being yourself, reclaiming productivity & special bonuses
Happy Saturday. I hope you’re having an excellent start to your weekend.
Below is your edition of “saturday mornings”, a weekly recap of what I’ve been pondering, learning, and exploring over the past few days.
Thanks for being here.
Total read time (bolded sections) = 2 minutes
Total read time (all) = 6 minutes
✍️ Quote I’ve been thinking about:
“Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who to be?”
— Charles Bukowski
💡 Idea I’m exploring: Redefining Productivity
Why is productivity some elusive feeling that continually escapes our grasp?
As society has become increasingly productivity-focused, more and more people base the value of their days on their ability to be “productive”.
Yet, most people either fail to have a clear definition of productivity or their definition is plain wrong. In either case, they’re left unsatisfied with their level of output. Only 7% of workers feel productive during regular work hours.
I struggled with this for ages, but I wanted to share some tools I used to combat my continual urge to be “more productive”.
I’ll explain why productivity has become such a big problem, how you can reframe “being productive”, and provide some strategies and tactics to 5x your productivity.
The Why: Reasons to be More Productive
Productivity is a means to an end. I don’t believe in productivity for productivity’s sake.
Why do you want to be more productive?
Productivity is beneficial as it frees up time you can re-invest in things you love to do. More time spent doing what you love should = better life. Whether that’s spending time with friends and family, learning cross-fit, or seeing the sun rise on your sailboat.
If that’s more work, that’s great. But you may as well increase your productive output to make more money and move up the ranks faster.
The Problem: Defining Productivity
“Doing less meaningless work, so that you can focus on things of greater personal importance, is NOT laziness. This is hard for most to accept, because our culture tends to reward personal sacrifice instead of personal productivity.
Being busy is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions.” — Tim Ferriss
“Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When you don’t know what harbor you’re aiming for, no wind is the right win.” ― Seneca
Having a definition of productivity is important. You can’t hit your target if you don’t know what you’re aiming for.
Most people’s definition of productivity, or lack thereof, will lead them straight to an early grave through overwork and under enjoyment.
We’re led to believe that productivity is the absolute volume of work you complete and the total amount of time spent working. In other words, the size of one’s to-do list and their ability to get it all crossed off.
If you heard your friend worked 14 hour days at the office, you’d think they were “productive”. Even if, in reality, they shuffled papers at their desk all day.
We confuse productivity with being busy. We see someone that has no time to spare and consider them “productive”.
This confused definition of productivity has ties to the workplace. Employees often compete on time spent in the office (or online which is much worse) and bosses favor those that are working longer hours - with little consideration of output.
Busyness has become an emblem of prestige. To signal to others how productive they are, people talk about how they have so much to do. Yet, being busy is not a reflection of our sheer work, but rather our inability to prioritize what matters.
Even if you disagree, and believe that more work always = more productivity, using busyness as your definition will lead to a life filled with work. And any time you’re not working (a.k.a. “living”) you’ll have to deal with a perpetual unease that you could be doing more. I know from experience.
Busyness completely fails to take into account: (i) the nature of work, and (ii) your input cost (time and energy required).
There’s a concept used by high-performance athletes called the “Minimum Effective Dose” or MED. The MED is defined as the smallest dose that will produce a desired outcome. The MED not only delivers the most dramatic results, but it does so in the least time possible.
For athletics, the MED is performing the fewest exercises to stimulate a muscle growth response. But we can lateral this same term to productivity.
We’ll define productivity in a much more practical way: achieving maximum output with minimum input. The point is to maximize the outcome, not the amount of work.
The How: Experiments to 5x Your Productivity
Below is a 3-step process I’ve iterated over time and tracked massive increases in productive output.
1) Choosing the Right Things
“When you’re faced with too many demands, it’s easy to assume that the only answer must be to make better use of time, by becoming more efficient, driving yourself harder, or working for longer … instead of asking whether the demands themselves might be unreasonable” — Oliver Burkeman
“Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.” — Greg McKeown
There are a ton of tips and hacks to increase productivity. But most of them miss the mark because they make the implicit assumption that you’re choosing the right things to work on.
Effectiveness is doing the things that get you closer to your goals. Efficiency is performing a given task (whether important or not) in the most economical manner possible.
Most people are hyper-focused on being efficient while giving less thought to how effective they are.
90% of focus is choosing the right things to work on, 10% is your level of concentration while working. This hit me like a lightning bolt. You can be the most efficient person possible, but if you work on unimportant minutiae you’ll be no further ahead.
From “The 4-Hour Workweek”, here are two truisms to keep in mind:
a) Doing something unimportant well does not make it important.
b) Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important.
Below are four tools I use to ensure I’m working on the right things. I don’t use these all at the same time. (I often get distracted and use none of them). Pick and choose what works best for you.
First: Long-term Planning.
I create a list of objectives and outcomes I want to achieve for the month and each week. For every task, I can apply a simple test: “Is this work getting me closer or further away from my desired outcome?”
Second: 80/20 Analysis.
“What 20% of my inputs drive 80% of my desired outcomes?” Determine your highest points of contribution and try to focus on those exclusively.
Third: Hard Questions.
On a monthly basis, I think about “What are the top 3 activities that I use to fill time to feel as though I’ve been productive?”
On a daily basis, after planning my day, I ask myself: “Which of these tasks on my to-do list do I least want to do?” Most important usually = most uncomfortable. Important tasks are often anxiety-inducing and easy to avoid. We delay them precisely because they’re important.
Also helpful: “If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?” Often you can get miles ahead simply by doing one thing that makes you uncomfortable each day. Others will avoid this work by convincing themselves they’ll do it tomorrow. Complete one thing each day you’re proud of.
Fourth: Daily Reminders.
While I’m working I tend to get caught up in small details. I’ve made a habit of asking myself throughout the day “Is this important?” or “Am I inventing things to do to avoid the important?” Both these questions are on a sticky note beside my desk.
More often than not, I’m using busy work to delay working on more productive tasks. Usually, this feeling of shame is enough to get me back on track.
To be unusually productive, you have to be willing to do unusual things.
2) Completing Productive Work
“To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction. Put another way, the type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work.” — Cal Newport
“Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.” — Cal Newport
“Woooooo!” My friend, who’s built like a linebacker, yelled out as we finished another HIIT workout on the beach. He’s been training this way for years. HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is done by circulating intense exercise with periods of short rest, guided by a timer. As he explained to me, he’d never be able to push himself as hard without the timer telling him to keep exercising. No one has that level of discipline.
It’s a concept that you can apply to complete productive work in less time. Especially as working on a laptop is much easier than doing burpees for 30 minutes.
I’ve been experimenting with doing 90-minute timed sessions of distraction-free work. This means doing nothing but work until the end of the timer. Phone off, notifications off, headphones on. You amplify your ability to make progress on critical tasks and avoid the two biggest killers of productivity: (i) task switching, and (ii) distractions.
You don’t need as much discipline to work because the timer regulates your action. And, as an added bonus, you know exactly how long you’re actually working in a day.
For skeptics, there’s serious scientific evidence on the value of timed work sessions.
3) Measuring Productivity
“What gets measured gets managed” — Peter Drucker
When it comes to driving improvements, it is impossible to evaluate, or even understand, anything that you cannot measure.
You can measure your productivity using a simple productivity index (patent pending):
The higher your productivity index (the more critical items you complete in less time) the more productive you are. Easy peasy.
“Our days are spent trying to “get through” tasks, in order to get them “out of the way,” with the result that we live mentally in the future, waiting for when we’ll finally get around to what really matters.” — Oliver Burkeman
For maximum productivity, focus on doing more in less time.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Being productive isn’t about hitting home runs. It’s simply a tool we can use to reclaim our time to allocate it as we choose.
The most productive people focus on completing high-impact work each day and don’t avoid the uncomfortable. Over the long run, consistency and compounding create out-sized results.
Life is all about trying your best and getting a little better each day.
And don’t forget to be kind to yourself.
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That’s all for this week’s edition of “saturday mornings”.
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Have a fantastic weekend. You deserve it.
Much love to you and yours,