Super-productivity is deeply personal – don’t listen to anyone else

This time of year the Interwebs are hit with the same standard 25 productivity posts guiding people to get more done (more quickly and with less cleanup) than ever before in 2013. Today it finally hit me why they all piss me off:

Super-productivity is a deeply personal thing – and you can’t take advice from someone else’s surface-level understanding of how you work

Tapping into your potential for getting a lot of important work done isn’t about figuring out a way to actually get more tasks done an hour – it’s about tapping into yourself emotionally to see what you care about enough to just do what is best for great work to happen. That’s it.

But isn’t there is so much great information on how to get more done?  Not really – all the standard blog posts about productivity tell you surface-level ways to:

  1. Block distractions (turn off notifications, go to a quiet place, tell that herd of rhinos to keep it down or move along)
  2. Guard your physical health to increase mental energy (eat clean, sleep, exercise, no or less coffee/heroin)
  3. Write down your to-do list, goals, and what you achieved (your to-do list should be as complex as your taxes)
  4. Gain 1.5 hours a day by being your best self ever today! (i.e. small foolish tips such as Learn keyboard shortcuts, use auto-responders, hire a virtual assistant, use two monitors, listen to music while working, never listen to music while working)

Great. Outstanding. Well-Done. There are about a million people that read those sorts of “Top 8 Things that Massively-Productive People Do” posts a few times a week.  So I guess they aren’t working.

Let’s turn the tables:

  1. Why do you get so easily distracted
  2. Why can’t you take care of yourself
  3. Why don’t you know your goals, what you are doing now, or what you did yesterday
  4. Why do you need a daily pep-talk from some stranger on the Internet (who may or may not be a cat)

Articles that talk about this stuff aren’t as catchy: “8 Ways to Care Enough to Do Good Work“, “Stop Being Distracted: Do Not Read This” don’t encourage or get page views.  Answering these “on the couch” personal questions leads to some interesting answers:

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Calculus cat is aware of his emotions and really likes bookmarks.

  • Well if I get behind on emails its going to look like I’m not working, so I have to check my email every 5 microseconds
  • If I don’t see the latest cool/funny/shocking thing on Twitter/Facebook then I’ll miss out on it and feel left out
  • I want to feel connected even though I’m in this cube/office/airport Starbucks (the saddest kind of Starbucks)
  • I need a distraction that makes me feel good when work is hard because the work makes me feel stupid
  • I need the validation of new email, new notifications, new whatever
  • I don’t feel as if my work is that important, so I take breaks to get through the day

The list above might be nonsense to you – make your own list (that’s sort of the point).  My point is that you have to tap into why you don’t care enough to not tolerate petty distractions and instead allow obvious ways to improve your work occur to you naturally.  You have to care.  Maybe you don’t care about every single cell in this Excel spreadsheet that you are editing by hand but for what it represents – care that it is a way to provide for yourself and others, a way to have time for other things, a lucky accident that allows you to work inside and safely.  Your work has to be important to you either by faith or fact.

If you can tap into those issues preventing you from being passionate then you’ll find that doing well at your work matters more than they do and you will naturally focus, naturally take care of yourself, and naturally figure out your own ways to improve so that you can do great work.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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