Productivity is Doing the Right Things, Not More Things

It is a common misconception that productivity is about getting more done. David Allen’s all-time bestselling book on personal productivity is titled simply, “Getting Things Done.” It seems so basic we don’t even consider it. Being productive means doing more stuff. Obviously.

But productivity is about quality, not quantity. It’s about doing the right things, not doing more things.

Productivity is about doing the right things, not doing more things. Quote

The 100 mph train

There are lots of tools, tips, and tricks to help you do more. They are fun to figure out because they give a sense of accomplishment and progress. The first time I made a big to-do list and started checking things off it felt amazing. But if you learn to do more without considering whether they are the correct things, all you do is get really good at being really ineffective.

It’s like a train going 100 mph in the wrong direction. The crew is working hard shoveling coal, making sure the engine is churning at max capacity. The train is rocketing along. Everything is smooth and full-speed ahead. But where are the tracks leading? If the train is heading away from its destination, all that work is piling up fast in exactly the wrong direction.

Doing the wrong things is not productive at all. In fact, it creates more work in the future because you have to undo the incorrect things. The train has to turn around and cover all that ground over again.

It’s the same for personal productivity. If you’re getting tons of stuff done you may feel productive. But if you are going the wrong direction you’re actually being horribly counter-productive. An ounce of planning is truly worth a pound of effort. First be sure you know the right things, then you can work on doing more things.

No matter how much you’re getting done right now, it’s worth stopping and asking which direction you are going.

Do Less by Doing the Right Things

It’s not just that doing more isn’t necessarily productive. I’m all about doing less and resting more. Doing the right things is one way you can be free to do less, yet be more productive. Quality, not quantity.

One of the most important parts of a productive day comes the night before. Make a list of the three Most Important Things (MITs) that need to be done the next day. One way to determine these is to ask, “What will make me feel unproductive at the end of the day if it doesn’t get done?”

Begin your day with these Most Important Things. When those three MITs are done, no matter what time it is, you can rest easy knowing you moved forward on what was important. And that’s being productive.

Doing the Right Things

So how do you know the right things to do? What makes a to-do item a “Most Important Thing”?

The right things to do are the ones that move you in the right direction. That means you have to know what you want to accomplish. Even bigger, you have to know where you want your life to end up. Determine a destination, lay down the tracks of how to get there, and then you can start chugging along at 100 mph.

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