Álvaro Bernal via Unsplash

Double Your Output by Avoiding Pseudo-Productivity

I was twiddling my thumbs yesterday, kinda working, when I got a text from Luke:

Today so far:
1. Make Moka pot of coffee
2. Drink full Moka pot of coffee ☕️
3. Decide to write a quick blog post before starting client work
4. Decide I would like to tweak the blog theme
5. Start teaching myself css from scratch.
6. Spend whole day writing a blog post.
I have decided to coin the phrase “pseudo-productivity” for exercises such as this. Feel free to use the phrase (as long as you credit me).

It got me thinking. How much time do I spend fucking about, when actually I should be working?

Because to be fair, a lot of the time I say I’m working, I’m actually pseudo-working.

What does pseudo-work look like?

There’s this whole category of tasks that don’t really fit into a traditional work bucket, and actually aren’t all that productive either.

I’m not even talking about things like email and Slack (my usual gripes). No, this is about those tasks that you just take a look at for a second. The tasks that end up taking you hours. The tasks you still haven’t finished by the end of the day, when you go back to what you should have been doing to start with.

This morning I sat down at 04:30 to write this blog post. I’m headed to the gym at 06:30, so it’s a defined task. It’s 2 hours, and that’s all I needed to do.

I actually ended up not even thinking about this post until 05:30.

What happened?

I started out by making a coffee. Which is unusual for me—usually I wait until after my post’s out the way. Then I sat down on the sofa to drink the coffee. I reached for my laptop to check some email, Twitter, stuff like that.

Before I knew it I was looking on Amazon for water filtration systems, examining water testing reports for my county, and doing a break-even analysis for filtering my own water against buying it bottled.

Why is the time only pseudo-productive?

I needed to look into water filters. It’s been on my mind for a few days now. And given the current environmental challenges our society faces, maybe it should be on more people’s minds.

But I definitely didn’t need to look into water filters this morning. No, all I needed to do was my daily blog post.

That’s pseudo-productivity for you. It’s doing tasks that are productive/non-urgent, at a totally inappropriate time. Usually while you have productive/urgent tasks that you should be doing.

Pseudo-productivity (noun): Productive/non-urgent tasks at inappropriate times

What you can do about pseudo-productivity

Other than extreme focus, there’s not a whole lot of hacks for pseudo-productivity.

You can use apps like RescueTime to block certain apps and websites while you’re working on a task. Or just be strict with yourself.

In the end it’s about discipline and mindfulness.

You need to mindful of the work you’re doing right now. If you’re supposed to be working on a blog-post, but actually you’re looking at water filters, you’re probably not doing it right.

Once you’ve identified that you’re working on something unintended, you need the discipline to bring yourself back to your original task.

Everything has an order. And you’ll sure feel better about yourself if you’re accomplishing your urgent tasks first.


I’m just a guy from the UK that’s okay at writing, better at startups, awesome at making coffee.

I curate a weekly email digest and publication called Starting Up.

This is day 84 in a 365 day writing experiment. You can check out why I’m writing every day here.

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