Splitting Your Time Between Inputs and Outputs

I’ve long been an advocate of ‘Deep Work’.

However, if I’m being honest. I acknowledge that I often engage in inordinate amounts of ‘Shallow Work’ while convincing myself that I am not procrastinating on what really matters.

I call this pseudo-productivity.

If I were to define it, it would be

Pseudo-productivity: avoiding tasks that will move the needle on your goals, by engaging in shallow tasks that can easily be rationalised as productive and important, but that are not.

For me, this often takes the form of reading or doing tutorials on more advanced uses of programming languages and technologies that I already have an adequate understanding of.

In an effort to combat this, for the past week, I have been implementing a practice of assigning all of my tasks as ‘Inputs’ and ‘Outputs’.

An ‘Input’ is anything you would consume. Be it food, water, media, information.

Inputs can be passive, like scrolling through Twitter. Or active, like making notes, or solving problems from a Mathematics textbook.

All that matters is that you are taking something from the outside world, and ‘consuming’ it.

An ‘Output’ is any procedure whereby your actions cause the existence of something that did not previously exist.

An Output can be as simple as folding a pile of socks (creating order where there was previously only chaos). Or as involved as advancing a scientific or artistic domain.

Deep Work, Inputs and Outputs

Generally speaking, the majority your Deep Work will be spent on Output tasks. However, some particularly demanding Input tasks may apply. Examples being some forms of academic study and research.

Ryan Holiday believes that reading is deep work.

I, for the most part, disagree. The majority of books that are read do not deserve ‘Deep Work’ levels of concentration. Furthermore, few people need to read as deeply as Ryan, given that we do not make our livings off of books and writing.

Sports Periodization, Inputs and Outputs

Sports Periodization is a concept from competitive training, where the athlete cycles through several facets of their training regime to maximise performance gains, and recovery time.

It’s also the model for what I have come to call ‘Productive Periodization’. Which can be defined as:

Productive Periodization: The cycling of numerous tasks, of varying productive value. This is done to prevent burnout, minimise stress, and maximise the use of time.

One can use Productive Periodization by alternating your time between Inputs and Outputs.

Regularly check in with yourself throughout the day. Or whenever you begin or finish a new task, and ask yourself, “Was this an ‘input’ or an output?. Then choose your following task accordingly.

Did you just finish writing an article? Pick up a book.

Pushed some code? Then open up a tutorial.

Rewrote a marketing strategy? Call a friend, meet them for coffee.

With the theory of inputs and outputs, you will never be at risk of burnout, or crippled by analysis paralysis ever again.