I’ve said it before: the best approach to productivity is a simple one, and that approach is to know what needs doing, and then do what needs doing. I’m not talking systems. How you manage the knowing and doing is another issue. But approaching productivity on this simple level is important. In our effort to become more productive, our strange human minds can sometimes turn it into an almost mystical and ethereal concept with hidden treasures and secrets waiting for those who explore it enough.
But at the end of the day, all this business about getting productive is mundane. It’s dirty. It’s about just doing what needs doing. There are other things that deserve to be put on the philosophical pedestal and considered deeply, such as how we make meaning from what we do and discover the things we’re passionate about. These are the things that make greater productivity a pursuit that’s worthwhile in the first place.
Because on its own, being productive means nothing, and it’s such a mundane thing that I occasionally wonder if we’re creating much ado about nothing. But the truth is that we’re not and that increasing our skill in furthering our goals through action is indeed worthwhile; without it, those more important things in life can’t stand on their own two legs. Productivity is a pillar and a propellant for them.
Reading about productivity and lifehacking can be a hobby. But it can also be a way to feel better about the fact we’re not getting anything done or making significant improvements in our life, just as some people find that overeating can help ease (or temporarily erase) emotional pain. Use it like a crutch, and it’ll become more than it really is and more complicated than it really is, because you depend on the crutch, exacerbating the problem you had in the first place with facing your dreams head on and figuring out how to make them happen.
I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a geek and in what little spare time I can gather after work and family are satisfied, I play a bit of EVE Online. In this game you must advance and improve your character and his or her abilities by training skills, and because it’s such an intellectual and complicated game there are even third party applications that can help you create a skill training plan that spans years.
What’s that got to do with anything? Well, I think sometimes we need to stop talking about productivity all day like it’s some fluffy cloud in the sky, sit down and look at what’s really stopping us from getting things done. A lot of the time it’s because we simply don’t have the skills required to be productive. Like speaking a language, cooking, playing chess or even EVE, being productive is not an instinctual thing we’re born with. It’s something you learn, and you get good at with time. And you won’t get anywhere without some sort of skill training plan.
There’s an old saying that everyone has heard hundreds of times: practice makes perfect. But what they forget to add is that if you’re not practicing the right things, you don’t get any better. If all you practice on the guitar or piano are the same scales you could already pull off flawlessly a year ago, you’re not learning anything new. You’re not getting any better at playing. Or, if you’re practicing with bad finger placement and flawed technique, you could actually be getting worse and creating health issues for yourself.
What’s needed is a path to improvement. A path that doesn’t go in circles covering the same ground and a path that doesn’t reinforce the negative behavior patterns we’ve learned over the years. Ever tried to look busy even though you’d done all the work you could for the day, just so your corporate overlords wouldn’t ask you why you weren’t working? That’s a negative behavior pattern caused by the society we live in and it can slip into all areas of your life without you even realizing it. Instead of staying where you are surrounded by bad habits and circular thinking, decide where you need to be in order to work past those things and get the real work done. You might start by focusing on a few core skills for productive thinking:
- Discipline. 95% of getting things done is in doing the things that need to be done.
- Evaluation. You need to be able to step above the day-to-day minutiae and evaluate whether you’re getting closer to your goals; if you’re not, you’re not getting the right things done.
- Discrimination. It’s sometimes a word with negative connotations, but you need to be able to discriminate between the important things — productive work — and the busywork.
- Foresight. You need to able to see your big-picture goals and the tomorrow you intend to create in the first place. Being productive without direction is pointless.
There are many skills that factor into being competently productive and these are just a few of them. The point is not to tell you what you need to handle. The point is that you should be thinking about what you need to handle and working towards being better at productivity in a proactive way. Reading about productivity in order to gain knowledge about it is a good thing, but too often it becomes the end of the path.
This will be my last post on Lifehack for a while as I adapt to a new and fairly significant role over the coming weeks. I wanted to leave you with something that got you thinking about where you’re going with productivity, why you read blogs like Lifehack, and what you’re getting out of it. I hope I succeeded, and if I did get you thinking I’d love to hear about in the comments.