Danger sign

Nick Cernis of Put Things Off recently declared that productivity is dead. He said that “our obsession with ‘productivity’ is getting in the way of our lives.” Nick started out by saying that the productivity industry is out of control, and that it’s making us less efficient, not more. I agree with Nick, and I can tell you why the productivity industry is like that: it’s about making money.

The Productivity Industry is Out of Control

Somewhere along the way, many productivity merchants realized that us “Productivians,” as Nick lovingly refers to us, will try just about anything if it gives us an extra thirty seconds at the end of the day. So the useful information stopped and the crap that leaves readers unsatisfied became the norm, because productivity is like food: if it doesn’t satisfy you, you’ll go get more until it does.

Only in this case, unlike food, the chances of you getting full the more you consume are pretty slim.

One of the things I learned quickly when I started writing for Lifehack was that this is a site run by people who are truly concerned with finding the most efficient and effective ways of not only working, but living. Writing here, the concept of hacking your life begins to permeate the way you think, breathe and sleep.

The Industry Succeeds By Putting Your Focus In The Wrong Place

When I first realized that there was something wrong with the productivity industry, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what made it wrong. But writing at Lifehack meant that I not only thought about writing and productivity on a daily basis but also writing about productivity. I had to watch the industry and figure out how to write for it.

I did not like what I was noticing as I did my research, and I decided that the research would serve as an indication of what not to do. You know the saying:

“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”

The productivity industry succeeds by giving customers productivity tips, but not teaching them how productivity works and why. That’s why I knew there was something wrong with the productivity industry: if it worked, then it would teach people right the first time and there wouldn’t be so many repeat customers looking for ‘the secret.’ Lifehacking sites are the exception because their focus is not on systems, but what could reasonably be called extensions to systems; hacks to make life easier.

The focus is put on consuming information, not taking action.

So, is lifehacking and productivity making you less effective because you’re addicted to the information, but not to actually implementing things? Or are your efforts sabotaged from the get-go because the system you’re using was designed to sell, not work?

Step In The Right Direction

I know that the bulk of people reading about productivity don’t end up getting more productive. It’s not always because the information is bad; it’s often incomplete, but still works (as part of the aforementioned effort to get repeat customers), or more likely, the user is too lazy to put these things into action.

There is nothing productive about reading productivity blogs incessantly. And I’ll take Anxiety over a paper to-do list any day, but sometimes the best way of getting things done is to make a list of things you need to do and just do them. It’s never done for you while you’re reading, though. Reading about productivity is a good use of time because it teaches you how to save time, but under three conditions:

  1. The information is honest, complete, and effective,
  2. The information, harking back to the proverb I quoted earlier, doesn’t give the answer to you, but teaches you how it works, and
  3. You implement it.

If the productivity interest has made you less effective, it’s mostly because the focus is on intaking information and not acting on it. So how do you step in the right direction?

1. Cut down your information channels

There is very little quality information around, and I’m not just talking about productivity information. There is tonne upon tonne of crap with only a few nuggets of gold well-hidden in the pile. As Dustin recently wrote, what we need is not less information, but more good quality information. The first step to being able to take in more good quality information is to cut down the poor quality stuff.

I’m assuming that you do most of your reading, especially on productivity, from a feed reader, but there’s also a strong following in productivity books, too, so the same advice applies.

Go through each of your feeds, books, regularly visited sites, and ask yourself: Has this actually helped me lately?

Then it’s a matter of introspection: is that because I failed to implement good information, or because the information was poor?

Usually it’s impossible to tell if the information is poor until you’ve done some implementation, so if you can’t decide, put some information to use until you can make a judgement. We want plenty of good information; the point here isn’t minimalism, but getting rid of everything that’s not helping you.

When you can determine where you’re getting the greatest benefits, you can easily cut everything else out without the fear that you’re going to miss “the secret” to productivity (the secret being, in my opinion, to just do it).

More on managing information here.

2. Start Implementing The Good Stuff

Steve Pavlina’s 30 day trial is an excellent tool. You can use it on just about everything. When you find information that is going to be useful, the temptation is to flag or star it, or print it out for later. Instead, put it into action with a 30 day trial and see if your productivity benefits from the effort.

If you don’t start implementing the high quality advice you’re now receiving, then there’s no use reading it all – you could be more productive doing work than learning to be productive!

Is your addiction to sites like this one, Lifehacker, 43 Folders, Zen Habits and Steve Pavlina actually making you less effective? These are all great sites – the problem isn’t with them; the problem is with the reader. If you fall into this category, do something about it before you realize how many years of productive time you’ve wasted!

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