The 3 Crucial Productivity Axioms that You Already Know

Here on Medium, writers love to share the 3 or 5 or 10 or 37 rules that will change your life. The keys to success. The proven path. The lifehack to end all lifehacks. The one thing that will turn you from a couch potato into a beacon of productivity.

But here’s the truth: You already know the most important axioms of productivity.

The best life advice doesn’t come from gurus or mountain tops. Benjamin Hardy, James Altucher, Gary Vaynerchuk — they are insightful writers, no doubt, but don’t mistake their truths for your own. Don’t forget that the “aha!” moments arise, not because they’ve taught you something new, but because they’ve helped you unearth something that’s already there.

The best advice comes from ourselves via self-reflection and self-awareness. It comes from within; it just gets covered up by all of life’s other stuff. You just need a reminder once in awhile.

So here’s a reminder of three productivity axioms you already know.

To produce, you must offend.

Look back at the most productive moments of your life. The days where you got everything on the to-do list done. The time you buckled down to meet a deadline. If you look close, you will see that you probably ruffled some feathers.

But if you didn’t ruffle the feathers, the work wouldn’t get done. Every time we sit down to work on a passion project, we face temptations from friends and family. Sometimes the temptation is a Netflix movie, other times it is an important favor. But in each case, we’re given a choice, and so often, we choose the road simply because it is laden with less guilt than the other.

You must proactively decide that you won’t be interrupted. Close the door. Put the phone on Do Not Disturb. Preemptively accept that people will make you feel guilty.

Just like you did that other time you really got things done.

It is suboptimal to do all things optimally.

In other words: if everything’s a priority, nothing is.

During those times where you were crushing it, you probably dropped some balls. That’s okay. In fact, that’s a good thing. To excel in some areas of your life, you must accept limitations elsewhere.


  • I have zero ambition of running a marathon or being in anything close to “elite” shape. If I can run 3 miles often and 5 miles once in awhile, if I can do 30 minutes of yoga without hating my life, I’m good. If I keep my weight between 177.6 (the Declaration of Independence) and 186.1 (the Civil War), I won’t need to buy new clothes, and I won’t breathe too heavy going up and down the stairs.
  • I will probably never try to extend my meditation sessions much beyond 15 minutes. I’ve read that 20 minutes is the sweet spot. At 25 minutes, you begin to float — kidding. But, obviously, the longer you meditate, the greater the reward. However, if I keep adding minute upon minute, I’m cutting into time for my other priorities. I’ll have to do without the floating.

Don’t be outcome-determinative.

In other words: Don’t judge your decisions or actions based solely on the result.

This is a tough one because we live in a world that judges us by results. People ask if you have a job; they don’t ask how many jobs you applied to. People ask if you won money playing poker; they don’t ask if you played well. Inside, we know we’re doing our best, but the world doesn’t care.

But that’s absurd. There are very few things that we have total control over. We don’t make the hiring decision. We don’t make our opponent call when he should have folded. With every success and failure, chance plays a big — perhaps decisive — part. Yet we react as if life is a video game where doing X results in Y.

When we’re outcome-determinative, we miss out on the real lessons to be learned. Sometimes it is better not to learn from our mistakes… because it might not have been a mistake in the first place. Likewise, it is sometimes better not to learn from our successes… because blind luck might’ve been the true cause.

Barack Obama put it well:

Any given decision you make you’ll wind up with a 30 to 40 percent chance that it isn’t going to work. You have to own that and feel comfortable with the way you made the decision. You can’t be paralyzed by the fact that it won’t work out.


Remind yourself of these axioms:

To produce, you must offend.

It is suboptimal to do all things optimally.

Don’t be outcome-determinative.

And start listening to yourself more and to others less.

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