You’re Overthinking Productivity.
It’s not nearly as hard as you make it out to be.
**Side Note: I’ve gone ahead and pioneered the field of music pairing for articles. Run this piece while reading to get the most emotional value out of your read.
Hit the play button and set the volume to low for the best effect. Enjoy!**
Everything started about two years ago. It was the day I decided I was finally going to take my work seriously — for the sixth day in a row.But, as I typed out the contents of my schedule on a perfectly formatted Notion document, it felt like I was making a deal with the devil.
Listed near the top was a sinfully early time I was supposed to wake up at (without hitting snooze) for the rest of my life. The rest of my day was supposed to be a time-blocked marathon of reading, meditating, taking ice-cold showers, and hustling — whatever that’s supposed to mean. At the bottom was my very own signature, sealing the contract.
Want to guess how long that “schedule” lasted me?
Four hours, give or take.
Long story short, it didn’t work out great. But cut the old-me some slack. That classic “billionaire’s timetable” is what most people think the recipe to inhuman productivity is.
Two years later, and I can tell you it isn’t. Let me tell you, I’m by no-means world-class at making the best use of my time, but I’ve come a pretty long way.
I’ve gotten good enough at the game of productivity to write these weekly articles — while being able to work on some cool projects, have a decent social life, and get a solid eight hours of sleep (on most days). And I started out just as lost as anyone else was.
But after two years of trying, failing, and improving, I’ve gotten a closer to the core of productivity — and I think you’ll be surprised at how simple it really is.
Make A Schedule You WANT To Follow
All productivity comes down to is making a schedule for yourself. Not a handwritten journal, a mindset, a motivational video, or a 14-minute plyometric HIIT workout. A schedule.
Without one, you’d lose your sanity. If you think you don’t have one and still have it together, think again. If you go to work or attend school every weekday from 9AM to 5PM, that’s a schedule. Whether you get lots of stuff done is another thing, but it’s that constant cycle that helps keep our minds in check.
It’s just that most people do schedules wrong.
A good schedule is one you can follow for decades without getting tired of.
Are you starting to realize why my contract with the devil didn’t work out the way I wanted it to? If your schedule drains all your energy in the first few hours, something’s wrong. If you feel like your schedule’s a burden, something’s definitely wrong.
One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that the world’s most successful people have monstrous levels of willpower. Most of them don’t. Even if they did, it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Willpower’s great, but no amount of willpower’s enough to keep anyone motivated for their entire life:
Here’s the trick. If you put Steve Jobs (someone who could work sixteen hours a day on his company) in a high-school math class, he wouldn’t be too excited to wake up every morning and study trigonometry.
What makes or breaks a schedule is how you fill it up. Even Steve Jobs wouldn’t last very long if you forced him to do something he didn’t want to do. We aren’t any different. After all, what’s the use of a schedule you can’t follow through with?
Remember this, too. A schedule’s supposed to become the default mode for your life. It’s something you should naturally gravitate to.
As much as someone could say Netflix and pizza would be their default mode for life, there’s a good chance it isn’t. Without something challenging and exciting to spend your energy on, even relaxation can get boring.
The same rule applies in reverse. You can’t expect to work eighteen hours a day for very long without some sort of R&R to keep you in shape. I know it sounds cliché, but that balance is key. Trust me, you won’t understand how magical it is unless you experience it for yourself:
Get something you want to get done and give yourself a fitting reward. That’s what makes work second-nature — it’s all about doing the things you genuinely want to spend your time on:
By letting you do what you want when you want to, a well-made schedule’s actually going to leave you with more freedom than constraints.
The hardest part is finding what you want to do. That topic’s better left for an article of its own, but here’s the short answer — you probably already know what it is. Stop caring what other people think about your actions, and you’re halfway there.
If you want to sink into your couch after a long day and a friend invites you to a party, do the right thing and refuse. Want to become a musician and you’re wondering why you can’t get yourself to focus in law school? Well, now you know. It’s not rocket science.
But, let’s get back to reality. Of course you’ll find yourself having to do things you don’t want to do every once in a while. But, you’ve got twenty-four hours in a day. If you choose the things you want whenever you can, you’ll be surprised at how rarely those things come up.
Create a schedule you want to follow, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Hours Don’t Matter
Alright, I know it isn’t ideal to learn from something unless you learn it the hard way. But, if you’re going to from any of my mistakes — learn from this one. It doesn’t matter how long you work if that time isn’t spent well.
We live in a society where being busy’s commodity for status. The busier you are, the more you’ve done with your life. If you always have things to do, it means you aren’t the type of person who messes around. But you already know that’s not true.
Most of those people are messing around.
Here’s the thing — the majority of the population doesn’t even have that much work to do. They just either a) don’t know where to start, or b) can’t focus on things for long enough. That stretches out an hour-long task into a week-long affair that keeps you awake at night:
Society’s embedded the glamour of being busy so deep into our minds that we feel guilty whenever we aren’t. It shouldn’t be that way.
Really, as long as you’re working on the things you want, the sheer length of time you work shouldn’t be a problem in the first place. But, if you’re struggling with squeezing the most out of those hours, I’ll give you some food for thought.
Remember that balance I was talking about earlier?
There’s nothing wrong with working six, four, or even two hours a day. Heck, you could sleep in for the entire day and wake up for fifteen minutes. It doesn’t matter, as long as you can get what you need to get done, done:
And it just so happens that you need to spend a good chunk of your time reflecting and relaxing to achieve that level of efficiency — at least when you’re starting out:
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” — Abraham Lincoln, US President
Get rid of that guilt. Believe in the value of sharpening your axe so you can cut the largest trees in a single strike. The best piece of advice I could possibly give you is to treat your productivity lie a muscle. It only grows when you exercise it, and give it enough rest. You get the idea.
Remember That You’re Not A Machine.
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that we weren’t made to work every second of our lives. We were made to live every second of our lives.
The very fact that we’re human makes it impossible for us to do everything we want and get exactly what we want out of situations. Computers could do that, but we don’t consider them alive, do we?
Okay, so what’s all this philosophical nonsense about, anyway?
All I’m trying to tell you is that productivity isn’t only overcomplicated, but overrated too. Anything can be productive. Only you can enjoy life. Sure, it’s something you should dedicate your time to building, but it isn’t going to kill you if you don’t become productive tomorrow, either. You don’t need it.
But, if the path you’ve chosen demands it, don’t forget this. You’ll fail.
You’ll fail, but that’s the point. I’ve taught you a framework. Figuring things out by yourself is what’s going to make productivity a lifestyle for you.
I could tell you everything I’ve learned about productivity and you could learn from my mistakes, but it wouldn’t replace what you’d learn by screwing things up on your own. Oh, and screwing things up doesn’t make you feel that awesome.
So when you do fail, don’t be so hard on yourself. When you look back on those failures ten years from now, you’d probably laugh them off anyway.
With every failure, you’ll get a bit stronger. The challenges you once thought were hard are going to become that much easier, and you’ll grow without even realizing it. Until, one day, you see how far you’ve come.
This is supposed to be a challenge, but hopefully you realized that it isn’t nearly as daunting as you made it out to be. Really, the hardest part is starting. So start, and don’t look back.
And with that final note, I’ve just taught you everything I learned in two years. Not a lot of findings, that’s for sure — but that’s the point.
Don’t make life any more complicated than it should be. It might not seem like it, but in the end, productivity’s just a tool meant to bring you happiness. All you have to do is start using it for the right job. Do what makes you happy, and you’ll realize the “secret” was in front of you all along.
Thanks for reading.