in Business, Creativity, Motivation, Philosophy, Psychology, Science

Staying Productive At Work – A Matter Of Definition?

“Stressing output is the key to improving productivity, while looking to increase activity can result in just the opposite.” — Paul Gauguin

Often people ask me about how to increase or sustain their level of productivity.

The first bit of advice is really trite and really true: love what you do.

Ugh, I know, right? But if you really love it, you’ll keep showing up and doing the work come rain or shine.

Now, here’s some actual practical advice: Define what it means to be productive and what’s just being busy.

You can do a lot of work during the day, but for most of us it’s just keeping busy and doing, well, stuff.

How often do we stop ourselves to ask: “If I didn’t do this, would it matter?”

Granted, we’ll probably find some ways of justifying our need to do it.

But if we look really hard at the things we’re doing, we’ll find that about 80% (Pareto was pretty spot on) is just bullcrap that doesn’t really make a difference in the big picture. It’s just busy work.

Once we’ve eliminated that, we can start working on the things that actually matter.

Some people will probably object to this number and say: “Seriously? 80%? What if EVERYONE started doing this?”

Riot 2011

Sure, let’s have a completely necessary hockey riot.

Yes, you wouldn’t have gotten that email asking you to go to that 1,5 hour meeting on Thursday.


Because Bill would’ve instead solved the problem himself. Because Bill’s boss wouldn’t have asked Bill to spend those 5 hours indexing those papers that turned out to be a complete waste of time because the boss realized that spending $10.000 on a system that scans and turns the papers into searchable PDF:s was a better allocation of resources, plus all that other dumb shit.

My feeling is that if you decide for yourself what being productive really means, you’re golden.

The problem is that we don’t have a system to determine what’s important and what’s not. What needs to get done now and what we can do later.

I find Covey’s Quadrants a great way, provided that we put the right stuff in the right quadrant.

Covey's Quadrants

Just hammering this in, yet again.

Do Q1 right now. Then spend your time on Q2. Delegate Q3 whenever you can. Don’t even bother with Q4.

What most people do is to alternate between Q1 and Q2, they think urgency means that it’s important. Well, it doesn’t.

If you can punt things in Q3 and Q4 you’ve probably done away with 80% of the stuff, you seeing a pattern?

Hell, even if you’re an efficiency master and “only” manage to do away with a lowball figure like 10% all of a sudden you’ve got 10% more time to spend on other stuff.

Let’s say you work 8 hours a day, 10% means you’ve got 48 minutes of extra time per day. In a 5 day work week that’s an extra 4 hours per week, 16 hours per month.

Do you know how much that is in a year? That’s 8 days. Frickin’ 8 times 24 hours.

Imagine what you could do with that.


All dat time tho.

What I suspect is that a lot of people are fearful of change, they want to be seen as more important or busy than anyone else.

So there’s this culture of: “Oh, you think you’re busy? Check out my hustle!” and it’s something we’re glorifying. At the same time on the other end we’ve got this mentality of people wanting to put in the minimum amount of effort yet get the maximum reward.

And this isn’t generational. It isn’t “Those darn millenials!”, it’s something that’s systematic.

What’s so amazing is that we’re witnessing a real change in many fields where people aren’t having it and there’s actually change taking place on a systematic level.

However, to have that change on a wider scale is going to take some real time because we aren’t working in silos anymore. It’s so interconnected that when one thing starts to wobble, other things will too.

That’s why there’s still so much resistance when people ask: “Do we really have to do this? Isn’t there a better way?”

Yes, yes there is.

But some people just aren’t ready for that jelly.

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Have a kick-ass ₢eative day!

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