Personal Productivity is About Being Your Most Effective, Not Your Most Organised.

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We are not judged by the amount of work we do, we are judged by the quality of the work we produce.

Recently, Jason Fried of Basecamp and other fame, tweeted about people confusing “being productive” with “being effective”. Being productive is about numbers, it’s about doing more with fewer resources. In the personal productivity field, that means doing more work in less time. Being effective means doing your best work. Period.

A lot of the questions that appear on my website and YouTube channel are more on the productivity side rather than the effectiveness side. What you need to be doing is focusing more on the effectiveness side. As Jason Fried pointed out in his tweet, you are not a machine.

In my experience, the two do overlap, but if you want to be the best version of yourself, creating work of a high standard and consistency and spending more time doing the things you love doing, then you need to have a bias towards the effectiveness side. The question is, how do you do that?

To be at your most effective, you need to be well rested, not stressed and be in a place where your thoughts and expectations are clear. Obsessing about whether you have ticked off all your tasks for the day is not being very effective. Making sure you have ticked off the important things, the things that will drive your life forward towards the things you want to achieve in life, that is being effective. I personally do not care if I check off all my tasks for the day. The only thing I care about at the end of the day is I have checked off the two most important tasks for the day. More often those tasks have nothing to with my work but are more related to my life goals.

My personal productivity system is designed to reduce the stress of finding things when they are needed and to reduce clutter in my life. Clutter stresses me. I like things to be working, clean and in their right place. That’s just my personality type. My wife, on the other hand, is perfectly happy for things to be all over the place. That’s just her character. (You can imagine the wonderful ‘conversations’ we have about decluttering.) The thing is though when my wife has a piece of work that needs doing by a particular deadline, her ‘system’ works for her. She always hits her deadlines and the quality of her work is excellent.

Now, I could not work with her system. If I am cooking, I have to clean the kitchen first. My wife can cook with a sink full of dirty dishes. However, we both end up with the same result. Cooked, delicious food.

A good example of this is in the car industry. Toyota is famous for having one of the most productive systems there is to build a car. Every part, every component in a Toyota car is measured for productivity and managers are tasked with making that system more and more productive. Machines and robots are custom built if it will make the production of a car more efficient. If you were to visit the Aston Martin car plant, on the other hand, you would find the opposite of what you see at a Toyota plant. At the Aston Martin car plant, the emphasis is less on productivity, and more on quality. The leather in an Aston Martin car is hand stitched. There are sewing machines that would stitch the leather much faster and more efficiently and a lot cheaper, but the quality would not be as good. The goal of Aston Martin is not to produce a highly efficient production line, the goal of Aston Martin is to produce a beautiful, handcrafted car. Productivity comes second to quality.

I find air travel tedious and boring. There is no glamour in air travel today. On a recent flight from Seoul to Amsterdam, I had thirteen hours to consider why air travel is no longer enjoyable or glamorous. As I pondered this, I realised all the romance and pleasure of long-distance travel has been destroyed because airlines have become obsessed with efficiency and productivity. Seats are lined up with the minimum legroom they can get away with so they can maximise passenger numbers. Food is made and packaged in the most productive way. This results in food that is barely edible. This is business focussed on the spreadsheet, not business focussed on the customer no matter what an airline’s marketing material may say.

This is why, when you are building your own productivity system, your focus needs to be on what is important to you, not how many tasks you are completing each day. Your life should not be organised by spreadsheet or numbers. Those are not important. It doesn’t matter whether you get fifty tasks complete or five. What matters is that the five tasks you complete are meaningful to your life and take you closer to achieving the goals and dreams you have for your life. Your productivity system should be geared towards maximising your enjoyment and happiness and minimising the time you spend doing work you do not enjoy doing, no matter how inefficient achieving that is.

I love spending time with my family, walking my dog, writing and producing videos. I hate doing admin and working on spreadsheets. Those are a necessity, but I reduce the time I spend doing those tasks to their minimum. That is how you need to be working your own productivity system. Maximising the time you spend doing the things you love and minimising the time you spend doing the things you hate. Focusing your attention in this direction will mean you will become a much more effective you, and less like a machine cranking out work you hate doing for the sake of efficiency and productivity.

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My goal is to help show you how to live the life you desire. To help you find happiness and become better organised and more productive so you can do more of the important things in life.

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