Forget Productivity. Think, Change and Create Instead.

The moment you ask yourself “How can I be more productive?” you may have asked the wrong question. Forget productivity, time management and better tools. None of those things will help you. You will get sucked into the swill of self-help, activity pathos and self-loathing. It’s not a place worth visiting given our short lives.

Productivity is for corporations and economists.

Get real about yourself and think about how change really happens. Can you really lose 55 pounds in 8 days? Do New Year’s resolutions effect lasting change? Did you accumulate the sum total of your life’s experience by the time you finished kindergarten?

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Things take time.

Great ideas, great minds, great bodies, great satisfaction come from commitments that are deeper than passing fancies. What you ultimately need to do is focus on actions and results. Everything worth doing can be done better. And everything done well is the result of considered thought, the exercise of the brain and a determination to practice.

Here’s a question worth asking: “How can I be more effective?”.

What’s the difference between increased effectiveness and increased productivity? Effectiveness is all about success while productivity is all about output. This differentiation is key to understanding yourself and your life. Success is not about how others measure your life after you die; you will not have the ability to care at that point. Success is about how you measure yourself and your contributions to community and the world while you are alive. Success is the true metric for satisfaction and growth. When you have achievable goals that you attain, you can rightly claim success. That gives you a new platform upon which to draw strength, comfort or resources for other goals. Productivity is all about the accomplishment of more and more tasks. Productivity serves itself. At times the dogged pursuit of productiveness leads to poor quality, waste and dissatisfaction. This in-turn leads to feelings of inadequacy, self-loathing or pessimism. Suddenly your goals are further away and your “system” has failed. You will begin to talk about how your tools failed or how you spent all of your time working on task lists rather than work.

Do you think Shakespeare really cared about “distraction-free writing environments”, the Pomodoro technique or which context list was the most appropriate to use while traveling by wagon to the next performance?

Not that he’s any Shakespeare, but I do not think David Sparks spends any time wondering about that either. He’s a real live example of a creative professional who uses tools to serve his creativity. Merlin Mann learned that the study of tools does not make you creative. If he can do it, so can you.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not denigrating or dismissing any specific task-based techniques or ideas. I use some of them myself but I do not need them. Neither did Shakespeare. Nor Einstein nor Steve Jobs for that matter. What you need to understand is that your brain, not the latest or greatest piece of software, will get you where you need to go. There are no “5 greatest tips for always performing at your best” or “10 hidden secrets that will make you rich”. Stop consuming empty thought calories and start thinking. When you do that you will realize that you have the ability to create and that is the greatest skill you can have.

Now start!

Time Management and the Perpetual Motion Machine

I was at an airport convenience store the other day looking nostalgically at all of those things they call “books”.

And then I saw it.

A paperback with the incredible words “Time Management” on the cover. I don’t know who wrote it. I did not pick it up and I’m certainly glad to inform you that there is no link to Amazon here urging you to buy it.

Can you do something for me? It will only take 4 minutes.

In the first minute think of a number of things you can do in 1 minute. In the second minute do nothing – just sit there. In minute 3, do all of the things you thought of in the first minute. In minute 4? Reflect. What was the difference between minute 2 and minute 3? Did you “manage” the third minute better than the second? Did time transmute itself? What really got managed?

I know that people think they experience time variation; heck, I think I have felt that way. You know… “Time stood still”. “Time flew by”. And so on.

Here’s the thing:

Time on earth is immutable. It does not shift or vary. Until you or I experience the twins paradox time will not be a variable in your life. Time will be a constant.

You cannot manage time. You can manage stuff like tasks, relationships, possessions… Yourself.

On the productivity graph of things vs. time, you can only vary the things axis. Anybody who talks about “time management” as if it exists, ought to be selling miracle cures, perpetual motion machines or time shares on Baffin Island. I never felt productive until I got past this concept. It’s not that you are wasting time or making the best use of your time when results go poorly or go well. It’s that you did less or did more in a period of time. People who go on vacations are not better time managers than people who don’t go on vacations; they just value vacations more.

So in the realm of hackneyed truisms; “Time marches on”. To which I would add, “… at the same rate”.