Productivity guides are killing me.
Every day, I’m bombarded with titles like:
“How to achieve your goals within THE NEXT MINUTE”.
“Use my method to TRIPLE your output”.
“OMG I’m SO awesome, here’s how you can become more like me”.
Confession: I’m stupid enough to read them.
My diagnosis: they mainly just parrot each other — the majority hardly contain any interesting new information.
Write-ups about productivity are a dime a dozen. (Did someone say clickbait?)
Still, they succeed in making me feel bad: seeing all these titles makes me anxious that I’m not productive enough.
I don’t want to be the loser who missed out on the latest lifehack.
Fear Of Missing Out
What is the real reason that such guides spread like wildfire?
These days, many of us feel like we need to read every new article, jump on every new trend, experiment with every new method, wake up even earlier.
Indeed, the purpose of (reading about) productivity-improvement has shifted from productivity itself to a subtle form of Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO).
The entire point of improving your productivity is to get to the point where you no longer need to think about how to be more productive.
But, as the avid productivity-fan will have experienced, trying to optimize your productivity only seems to drive you away from that satisfied, ‘I’m productive enough’ state of mind.
There is this constant gnawing feeling that there’s still some magic technique that will create the next (or first, for me) viral article.
All these productivity articles give me the feeling that I could always do better — that I’m never doing well enough.
I’m so done with this feeling.
Here’s my strategy for dealing with productivity-FOMO without sacrificing on my productivity.
A better mindset
To shake this nagging feeling, I had to accept that I could always be more productive and that my productivity is never going to be 100%.
However, I decided that as long as I’m productive enough, I would allow myself to stop worrying about maximizing my productivity.
Striving for maximal productivity increases FOMO and yields sharply diminishing marginal gains once you have covered the basics — we’ll get to that soon.
We want to believe that we’re constantly improving ourselves, but I’ve found that the real long-term effectiveness of all these productivity hacks is questionable.
It’s better to stop wanting to have this belief in the first place: to not let your state of mind regarding your daily performance depend on whether you could perhaps have been a tad more productive.
As a friend pointed out to me, one should not confuse one’s (productivity) goal, with the best possible scenario (regarding one’s productivity).
Accordingly, I swapped my desire for being maximally productive with a decision to strive for being productive enough.
This shift in attitude became a lot easier when I realized that it’s quite easy to be more productive than most people are.
Productivity gurus often talk about the Pareto Principle: in many domains, 80% of the benefits come from 20% of the effort.
For productivity, the 80/20 is simple and comes down to practicing two straightforward habits.
You can thank me later.
1. DO THE RIGHT THINGS
Picking the right thing to work on is the most important element in being productive and is typically overlooked.
Blind effort by itself is worthless and does not justify time-investments. No pain no gain, as they say, but from that it doesn’t follow that pain always means gain.
Many people spend too much time on puzzling how to optimize their workflow, and not enough on questioning if they’re working on the right problems.
That’s a shame, because the efficiency of your system is irrelevant if you’re working on the wrong thing to begin with.
To avoid this mistake, make time to think about what you should be working on to reach your goal. (I’m serious: even if something is a high priority for you, if it isn’t scheduled on your calendar, it often doesn’t happen.)
2. DO NOT MULTITASK
Does deep work involve Facebooking? No, it doesn’t, so don’t.
Does coding require that you reply to your WhatsApp-messages? No, it doesn’t, so don’t.
Do you need to check your e-mail to write? No, you do not, so don’t.
It’s that simple.
Every time you check your Facebook, email, WhatsApp, or whatever, you’re wasting brainpower.
The thing is: multitasking doesn’t exist.
‘Multitasking’, namely, requires our brain to store all the relevant information about the main task in our temporary memory, in order to free our working memory for engaging in the distraction of our choosing. And when we’re done and return to the job at hand, the same process occurs.
That doesn’t help.
This study showed that people who multitask while performing cognitive work experienced significant IQ drops. Also, multitasking increases production of cortisol (a stress hormone).
According to neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, multitasking lowers the quality of your attention, makes you tire faster, makes you stressed and unhappy and makes you learn ineffectively.
Yet, it’s incredible how many people do it.
If you don’t, and instead focus on one thing at a time, magic will happen.
Trade FOMO for self-confidence
Let’s take stock.
These strategies won’t make you the most productive person on earth, but do allow you to rest assured and let the productivity hype pass by.
Remember: our new goal is to be productive enough.
By cultivating these two simple habits, you will reap 80% of the productivity benefits with 20% of the effort.
1. Make sure that the thing you’re working on contributes to achieving your goal.
2. Don’t spend any attention on anything else than the one thing you’re working on right now.
Armed with this elementary knowledge, you don’t need to worry about your productivity anymore.
The next time you see someone advertising some productivity-increasing lifehack, you can produce a Buddha-like smile, sit content, and be happy with yourself.