Forget productivity — embrace effectiveness

Productivity is much simpler than it may appear, though a lot of people seem to make a fuss about it. Today, it has essentially become synonymous with squeezing as much as you can out of yourself until you burn out.

Getting lots done is easy to do if you’re willing to get up early, stay up late and shut out distractions. Trust me, you’ll get plenty done.

But if you keep doing that for long enough, your productivity will suffer. You’ll be too tired to think straight, and if you’re engaged in creative work, you’ll end up working at a much slower pace than normal because of exhaustion.

And, if you keep going in the face of that, you’ll probably end up getting sick and you’ll need to spend time recovering from the damage you’ve done to your body.

Bye, bye, productivity.

It’s much smarter to do your work sustainably and consistently. If you take this approach, you might not outwork them, but you will outlive them.

It used to be that productive people ruled the world. I’m not so sure that’s the case anymore.

Show me someone who’s highly productive and I will show you a good employee. Show me someone who’s highly effective and I will show you a good entrepreneur.

What’s the difference?

Productivity often doesn’t account for priorities. If every task is treated as equal, inevitably we end up putting off some of the most important work we need to do.

How do you know what work is most important? It usually falls under the category of “not urgent but important” work.

A business is a system that generates money. So, if you’re trying to figure out whether to create content to build an audience or create a product to generate sales, I would argue the higher priority would be creating the product.

Now, I understand that both approaches work. You can build an audience first and sell to them later or you can sell first and build an audience later. Neither approach can be discounted entirely.

But it would suck to build an audience only to find they won’t buy from you. It would suck to be holding onto an idea for years and when you finally launch it, no one shows any interest in it.

That’s just one example where productivity fails. There are many more to consider.

For instance, if you’re asking yourself whether sharing an update on social media is more important than preparing a slide deck for your investor presentation, you’re not thinking straight. But this is what “productivity thinking” trains us to do. It causes us to treat all tasks as equal without thinking about how our energy should be distributed.

Effectiveness can happen when you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep, you’re feeling energetic, and you’re ready to make clearheaded decisions. A lot of stupid decisions can be made when you’re sitting at your computer at 2 AM trying to decide whether to buy another 10 domain names (hint: you probably will end up buying them at that point because your willpower is close to zilch).

Furthermore, effectiveness happens when you’ve actually thought about what tasks or work to engage in that day. You’ve ranked every task in order of importance. And, you work on the highest value tasks when you have the most energy to tackle them.

Effectiveness also isn’t shortsighted. It will get you thinking about which tasks you can eliminate, automate or delegate. In productivity, this doesn’t matter. Every task is of equal importance, so no thought is given to which tasks don’t even need to be done, which can be set on autopilot using technology, and which can be handed off to a capable freelancer, contractor or employee.

If you want to get a lot done, then read Steve Pavlina’s Do It Now. It’s a great article, and you’re sure to learn a lot and increase your productivity if you apply the lessons within. This is an honest and genuine recommendation. I’m not knocking anybody who wants to achieve more in their lives.

But don’t blindly churn out work day after day without thinking about what your end goal is. Consider carefully what you’re trying to achieve and keep that out in front of you. Draw a straight line between your starting point and end point. Stay on the rails and don’t let distractions slow you down or get in the way.

If you don’t have a clear goal in mind, you’re just doing work for the sake of doing it. You need to ask yourself “why?” Once you have a meaningful answer, you’re ready to do the work required to get to where you want to go.