A Collection of Productivity Advice That Is Actually Useful
The internet is filled with productivity advice. From YouTube videos to social media threads, you see it all the time:
Follow these 37 tips to write every day. Get up early and cold plunge. Fast “intermittently” before eating a cow for breakfast.
For a long time, I’ve believed that most productivity advice—while usually well-meaning—is misguided. One problem is that it’s focused on managing time, an impossible process. Time exists independently and doesn’t appreciate being told what to do.
Another problem is that attempting to compel greater levels of output also ends up producing more guilt, shame, and anxiety. We want to live more purposefully, not just more productively. And while it can sometimes be useful to improve efficiency, other times these two values are incompatible.
Over the past two years, when not writing another book, I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot. This will eventually become a larger project, but for now, here’s a short collection of productivity advice that might actually be useful.
Disclaimer: I don’t mean to criticize every other person writing about productivity while exempting myself from blame. As always, take what works for you and ignore anything else.
Here’s my recent advice, collected in a few posts:
- The Best Productivity Hack is to Care About What You Do – The title kind of says it all. When you really care about something, the system or workflow of choice becomes far less relevant. You don’t need to psych yourself up to work on it. You just get to work and it’s fun!
- “More” Is Not the Answer to Too Much – Again, decent title here. But there’s a lot more in the post. Feeling overwhelmed is a common condition—yet in trying to deal with the problem, we often end up compounding it by adding more programs, systems, and solutions.
- The Key to Productivity Isn’t More Rest, it’s Intentionality – Many people who change the world or pioneer big discoveries tend to spend only a few hours a day working on what they’re most known for. They aren’t just resting for the remainder of the day, though—they’re exploring, pursuing their curiosities, and otherwise having adventures.
- It’s Not How Much Email You Get, It’s the Lack of Purpose in Your Life – If you misidentify a problem, your proposed solution probably won’t work. Before you dash off to treat the symptoms, declaring email bankruptcy or a digital sabbatical, promising to return with a 28-day series of themed Instagram photos, take a look at the bigger picture of your life.
- How the Quest for Productivity Fails Us – No matter how hard you work—and, crucially, no matter how much you optimize or improve your methods—you will never get everything done. In fact, the more you try to “get things done,” the more you optimize, the more frustrated you’ll become.
- Working Hard at Something That Doesn’t Matter – Based around this quote: “Our greatest fear should not be failure but succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” That hits hard! At least for me. The internet makes it easy to devote yourself to the craft of useless work—so we have to think critically before diving in.
As someone who’s adapted to living with ADD, and who also wants to do a lot of things, I’ve spent a lot of time reading everything about productivity I could find.
In doing so, I’ve noticed a familiar cycle: feeling motivated and pumped up, then drained and discouraged after yet another energy crash.
While I can still appreciate a good productivity thread, I’ve learned to be more wary. As noted, I’m much more interested in living purposefully than productively.
Sometimes there’s overlap between the two, but not always.