Improving productivity has been a pursuit of the modern human being from the start of civilization.
Somehow, we believe that productivity is something that became important after the industrial revolution. We assume that, because we live busy lives, we need to optimize our time—especially in the 21st century.
That’s not true. Productivity has been a topic of discussion ever since ancient eastern and western philosophy started. It’s a universal theme. I believe it’s in our nature to make better use of our time.
Because that’s what productivity means. On a deeper level, we all realize we have limited time. You and I both know that we’re not getting younger.
Time is ticking. It stops for no one. We need to use it. Etcetera, etcetera—we get the idea. And yet, without a clear productivity strategy, we squander our time like we have a limitless supply.
The reason I study productivity is because I’m an unproductive person. I truly am.
I sleep too much. I talk too much. I read too much. I listen to music all day. I watch movies. I buy gadgets that turn me into a zombie.
If it wasn’t for my productivity system, I wouldn’t get anything done. I wouldn’t even write this article. But if you browse social media, all you see is super productive, healthy, and wealthy people. Is that really the case?
I don’t know. I just know this: You can’t be productive 24/7. And a big part of being productive is about getting rid of unproductive habits we all have.
What follows is a list of eleven unproductive habits that I learned to do less, or eliminate. Do you have a few of these habits? Don’t worry, we’re all unproductive at times. But if you have five or more, it might be time to change.
One of the most popular ideas in personal development is that all successful people have achieved mastery. Many of us believe in this false notion that you have to master a skill to achieve career success.
That’s because we, as a society, admire and glorify winners. We look at billionaires, champions, gold medalists, and other outliers. I must admit, there are many lessons we can learn from people who are masters at one particular skill.
But at the same time, it’s very daunting. Let’s be real, not everyone wants to spend 10 or 20 thousand hours to master a skill. We all have other things we value in life: Our family, friends, hobbies, health, you name it.
So when people write books and articles about outliers, we might get inspired, but from a practical point of view, the advice is useless. Not because we can’t apply the advice—most of the time, we don’t WANT to.
Do you ever feel like you’re completely lost in a world that keeps on racing? The world moves fast. One moment you’re excited about a new opportunity, and the other moment you feel totally hopeless for no particular reason.
And if that’s not bad enough, there’s so much noise in the world that we lose sight of what we’re doing. It’s not uncommon to think, “Wait, what was I supposed to do on this planet?”
Look, we all get distracted. The world’s a weird place. And people ask me about how we can get clarity all the time. One reader recently sent me this email:
“Love to hear you talk about how to get clarity and minimize distractions and noise around us. What techniques do you employ to find that focus?”
It’s a good question that got me thinking. And if I look at how I get clarity in my life, there’s only one technique I use.
How often have you started a new habit that you already quit after several days? If you’re like me in the past, the answer is something like, “all the time.”
Forming a new habit is hard. I don’t have to tell you that. We all know how difficult it is to live a prosperous and healthy life. If it were easy, everybody would do it.
We also know that our chance of succeeding is much higher if we start small, right? It’s common sense. “Don’t take on too much in the beginning — you’ll have more reasons to give up.” So goes the advice, which is solid. I’m not going to argue with that.
But far too few people actually start small. In fact, I see more people starting big than starting small.
Why is that? I think we can get too excited about making a change or doing new things. When we dream about making a change in our lives and start believing in it, the excitement usually takes over.
That’s why we end up doing too much too soon.
Do you struggle to finish your tasks? Are you always distracted by notifications, gossiping, or anything that’s random?
In that case, you and I are alike. Because focusing on a single thing is one of the hardest things at work.
There’s always something that interrupts you, right?
- Another person
- A call
- A meeting
- A false emergency
- Your cat
- A stranger’s cat
- News about last night’s NBA game
Sure, you can blame those things — but that’s weak. You and I both know that those things can’t interrupt you without your permission.
The reason I research productivity is simple. I think that a productive life equals a happy life.
Also, if you’re more productive than average people, you’ll advance faster in your career. You learn more. You do more. And eventually are rewarded more.
And when I talk about productivity, I talk about being effective.
Because productivity doesn’t suggest that you get the right things done. It just means you get a lot of stuff done. But that’s not what matters.
Effectiveness, however, refers to getting the right things done.
And if you want to do your job well, earn money, live a meaningful life, or learn skills, that is what matters the most. Otherwise, you just run around in circles. You might appear busy, but you won’t achieve anything meaningful.
In other words: It’s easy to do useless work. Work that doesn’t bring you closer to the outcomes you desire.