I Googled “how to be productive” and saw all these 20 point lists with super-specific techniques. Unnecessary.
These posts teach you the opposite of productivity.
You don’t need a 20 point checklist to be productive. You don’t need a meticulously crafted rainbow-colored calendar. And you definitely don’t need to use apps.
Instead, you need principles. What are principles? They’re foundations for knowledge. When you learn through principles, you don’t need to know the exact steps. You just need to understand how something works at a base-level so you can make your own decisions.
This works especially well for productivity — a nebulous term that means many things to many different people. As far as what productivity means to me? Well, I consider myself a pretty productive guy.
Not because I work super hard. I don’t. My brain usually turns to mush after four hours of deep work. Not because I’m highly organized and conscientious. I’m not. I’m actually more of the “absent-minded professor type.” Definitely not because I have a myriad of apps and tools to keep me focused. I mostly use pen and paper.
So what do I consider myself productive? I have a very simple answer.
The Secret to Productivity That Hides in Plain Sight
As much as people talk about productivity, they tend to forget the core principle of it.
If you want to be productive, you must produce something. This is why so many activities actually fall into busy work and errands instead of real productive activity. Many people are active, but they’re not productive.
I produce something almost every day. I write a new blog post, a chapter of a book, and email to send to my list. When you’re productive, you’re doing something that’s a means to an end. And not just a means to any end, a worthwhile end.
When you call up the phone company to haggle on a bill, you didn’t really produce anything. Not in the sense that matters anyway. No, you exerted effort on a task of inconsequential worth.
Many people don’t feel like they’re productive because they can sense the meaninglessness in their activities.
David Graeber wrote a book called Bullshit Jobs that talks about the fact that there are entire positions, many in fact, that doesn’t serve an actual purpose:
“We have become a civilization based on work — not even “productive work” but work as an end and meaning in itself.”
Most people aren’t suffering from a lack of effort. They’re suffering from a lack of production.
If you go through your whole life being “active” but feel like you don’t have anything to show for it, of course, you’re going to feel like you’re living under your potential, because you are.
This is why the key to becoming truly productive is simple. It’s also very hard.
If You Do This, You’ll Suddenly 10x Your Productivity
No productivity trick or technique can replace the core engine for true productivity.
If you want to be productive, you need a clear purpose and mission for your life.
Juxtapose a mission with a job. A mission if something you feel compelled to do. A Job is something you feel you have to do.
If you focus on finding a mission for your life, you’ll become productive in that mission and you’ll become more productive in general.
Sure, some days I don’t feel like writing, but not often. I don’t have to work myself up to write on a daily basis. It’s time-consuming, but it’s not hard. I struggle, but I keep going because I’m not struggling needlessly. Growth and failure serve an actual purpose…when you have a purpose.
Feeling productive means you feel like you’re contributing something to the world. Something that matters to you. Anything short of that and your feelings will range from busy to burnt out. If you’re worried about being burnt out, you either don’t have a mission or you have the wrong one.
I can easily “work” on my business — writing, sending emails, doing little tasks — for 60 hours in a week without feeling “burnt out” because I’m enjoying myself for the most part. And the rote tasks I don’t like to do still get done because they contribute to that ultimate mission.
If you find a purpose in life, you’ll be productive in other areas too because you want to be able to do what you love more often. I keep myself healthy because I want to live longer and produce better work. Waking up at 5 a.m. to work on my side hustle wasn’t always fun, but it was worth it.
I manage my time better because I don’t want to lose out on quality writing and learning time. When you have a clear purpose, you understand that being lazy in other areas of life take away from that purpose, so you focus on getting better across the board.
Your life purpose is the stone that kills all birds.
Of course, this is no easy problem to solve, right? But it’s a worthwhile problem to solve! I don’t get why people throw up their hands at the task of finding their purpose. It’s supposed to be hard, genius. Otherwise, you wouldn’t want it.
Here are some of my best resources for finding your purpose in life to help you out:
- My first book
- My second book
- The Ultimate Guide to Discovering Your Talents and Strengths
- How to Decide What to do With Your Life
Let’s say you do have a mission in mind — a side business, a hobby, a fitness goal. Whatever. How do you become productive while on that mission? Again, let’s look at more principles, not tips.
You Must Get and Keep This At All Costs
You know why it’s so hard to change when you feel stuck? It has less to do with the difficulty of the tasks ahead of you and has more to do with your current state.
When you’re stuck, you have no momentum.
Momentum is the key to productivity. The more momentum you create, the easier it is to produce more, which creates more momentum, which makes it easier to produce […].
You have to understand the concept of feedback loops. Confident, motivated, and productive people just build better feedback loops than others. You take in feedback all the time, mainly in your behavior.
When you do something good, it sends a subconscious signal that says “you’re good.” This is why it’s easier to increase your self-image through actions instead of trying to think your way into loving yourself.
I often tell people the most difficult part of the new life path isn’t the entire path itself, but the very beginning. If you can work on something for 90 days to 6 months, you are 80 percent of the way there.
Most bloggers quit writing before six months. The majority of people quit their diet and exercise before six months. People give up on hobbies before six months. But of course, you see the people who are still in the gym after the new year’s craze dies down, manage to get that blog up and running, learn the new language, etc.
Are they any different than you? Better? More motivated? Yes and no. Let me explain.
How I Became More Productive
I’ve gone from very, very, very lazy to productive. I always ask myself how. I’ve been that stoner on the couch watching Netflix and porn in rotation all day. I’ve been a loser. This fact actually helps me write with more confidence because I know what it’s like to be on both sides.
I credit my productivity to three things. The first two I mentioned. I found my purpose and gained enough momentum to break the beginner’s barrier. But there was one more important source that changed everything for me.
I got really, really, really pissed off.
Most people stick with diet and exercise when they’re truly tired of being overweight and unhealthy. Most people genuinely start a business or side hustle because they’ve really reached the last rope at their job.
In my case, I was sick of being a loser. I knew I had intelligence. I knew I had too much talent to be a bum. Pain and dissatisfaction are two of the most potent sources of productivity. I prefer them much more than inspiration.
Pain is so useful. People who literally don’t feel pain have a hard time staying alive.
They’re missing that crucial signal pain provides:
Something is wrong, fix it!
We all know how to deal with literal pain. We don’t touch hot stoves and go to the doctor if we break our leg. But we have a hard time with emotional and psychological pain. Those are beguiling types of pain. You feel them, but they have a way of tricking you and lulling you to sleep long enough for you to do nothing about them.
There are no easy answers to this problem, but sometimes feeling the weight of your inaction so badly that you feel compelled to do something is the best route you can take.
If you combine dissatisfaction with the search for purpose with momentum, you get to experience this level of productivity nirvana I’m going to describe next.
Productivity Crack — Get Hooked on This ASAP
I get to experience flow on a near-daily basis — the feeling that nothing else matters but the task in front of you. It’s not a coincidence that people often feel flow when they’re producing something — writing, painting, filming, doesn’t matter.
When you enter flow states on a regular basis, it makes everything else in your life easier. You will have your problems, challenges, and annoyances, but you get to spend time in your mental fortress for a little bit of time each day. This is how you preserve your sanity so that you have enough energy to keep working.
People are so burnt out because they have nowhere to escape. They try to escape through escapist activities — Netflix, drugs and alcohol, sex — but these are band-aid cures.
Flow, the truest form of productive action, doesn’t just cover your wounds, it heals them. And it recharges you.
This is why I tell people to keep a hobby even if it never becomes a business. You need to lose yourself. You need to produce. This is the antidote to the religion of busyness society has created. Speaking of the religion of busyness.
You Don’t Need to Learn “How to be Productive”
I opened the post by mocking 20 point productivity checklists because they miss the point entirely.
Those posts are like someone giving you a bunch of wood, nails, hammers, saws, etc, but failing to mention that you’re building a house with them.
Tools and tasks are a means to an end.
Productivity itself is a means to an end.
So many people are needlessly bowing to the altar of productivity, all the while never becoming productive, foolish.
Understand the principles, know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and the tasks themselves won’t matter at all.
Ayodeji is the author of You 2.0 — Stop Feeling Stuck, Reinvent Yourself, and Become a Brand New You. Want a free copy of my first book? Get it here.