Jul 29, 2023
Do you need to work 16 hours a day to achieve success? Are we being "productive," or keeping ourselves busy?
While exploring platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn, I encounter an assortment of profiles.
Their self-proclaimed title goes from Productivity, System or work-life balance "Experts".
This worries me.
Should we strive for boundless productivity? Should we strive to work the way we want without what we bring to society because we want to feel heard?
Previous generations fought for improved working conditions. Yet, we seem to be running in a circle. People, not business, advocate for the productivity culture.
Work had always had its place. People found honour and purpose in their work through their contributions.
This obsession on both sides has become toxic in how it's propagated.
It's polarising, asking you to choose a faction and shaming people for defending it.
Upon closer inspection, 'productivity' loses its significance.
Here are three truths:
Productivity is not a black-or-white situation. It varies on a spectrum.
It is not a permanent state.
It's not a collection of tasks and tools.
Productivity is both a state of mind and a result.
To be productive, you must focus on the right tasks in the right way.
It's not stacking hours after hours as you compete.
There is a bragging contest on who wakes up the earliest or works the most extended time nonstop.
And don't make me start on the endless morning routine.
It's the same for the work-life balance narrative. It's opposing work to life when work is part of life.
Blue Zones Research on people living the longest, healthiest life has a purpose. Through work and communities.
Opposing work and life is part of another toxic narrative.
The narrative and the advice from self-proclaimed "experts" reduce productivity to a process.
There is a complete disregard for the outcome.
I'm not your guy if you expect 10 productivity tools or a complex process.
You will not find a motivational speech on hustle culture or work-life balance.
Why? Because that's all BS.
It's part of the stale narrative the "experts" myth machine perpetuated. It contributes to the problem rather than offering a solution.
It's being pragmatic.
It's looking at what works and avoiding manipulation.
True productivity isn't about:
chasing the latest productivity app
chasing trendy "hacks."
complicated systems of to-do lists and schedules
working yourself to exhaustion in the name of 'hustle.'
having a list of demands from other people or jobs
waiting to see what happens
My aim is to simplify, not complicate.
To demystify, not perpetuate, myths.
Productivity is a spectrum
I grew up in the 80s, when 'productivity' was the buzzword for every company.
Due to decentralisation, many factory-based cities in France faced a decline. The focus was on supply chain management and systems like Toyota's.
I learned about Six Sigma and Total Productivity Management. I gained certification in Lean, Agile and ITIL.
The goal was productivity at any cost. Even disregarding the human at the centre of everything.
I couldn't believe it was the only way to work. There must be another way to be productive.
There are a lot of myths that come face to face within the productivity field.
We must understand the issue around this obsession with productivity.
Productivity, as I mentioned, is on a spectrum. You're at the extreme when the mindset is either to work as you please or obsessed over it.
It results in a toxic environment. Both ends of the spectrum are harmful.
I know firsthand that I've experienced both cultures, and neither was enjoyable.
We're all familiar with the extreme Toxic Productivity on the right side of the spectrum.
Toxic productivity is the misguided belief that you must be productive at all times, at any cost.
It is a "doing bias" or "action bias" mindset.
You feel compelled to produce or do something to feel valuable or that you belong.
This belief results in working long hours, sacrificing breaks, sleep, and personal time. There is little concern for mental and physical health.
It equates value with productivity. It leads to an unhealthy cycle of overwork and burnout.
Another form of toxicity exists on the other side of the spectrum.
The "Laissez-faire" Zone, or Toxic Idleness.
No one wants to work. We are lazy by nature.
Our brain wants to conserve energy. That's a fact.
Although 2% of the body's weight, the human brain consumes 20% of our energy. It has evolved to be efficient and conserve energy. A world of scarcity where the next meal was uncertain.
Lack of structure or letting people decide can lead to unproductive time. It is a situation to avoid.
I've experienced both extreme sides, and culture plays a significant role.
Your environment often dictates your course.
As a consultant, I was often encouraged to work long hours. It was the culture.
I don't regret it, as it shaped who I am. While working hard, I improved my work, enabling me to do more than my peers.
On the flip side, I was part of a company where people could miss work because they had a headache or didn't feel well.
It's normal to miss work if you cannot work and do your task. But people abuse the perks without control. There is a total disregard for their teammates and business.
This led to abuse and a culture where people prioritised their lifestyle over work.
Unproductivity can exist on both sides of the spectrum.
Whether you are an entrepreneur or a manager, finding balance is your responsibility.
As it was mine.
What and how to be truly productive?
True Productivity = Efficiency + Effectiveness.
It's about being smart with your work, not pouring in more hours.
True productivity involves prioritisation, focus, and balance.
It's about knowing when to buckle down and when to rest, when to push harder, and when to take a step back.
It's about aligning your tasks with your energy levels and working rhythms.
There's no universal solution. What works best for you may fall flat for someone else.
And guess what? That's fine. The trick is to comprehend your work style and tweak your habits.
Productivity is not a steady state. It oscillates. Life, after all, is a marathon.
It's not about working more; it's about working smart.
Comprehending the productivity spectrum is only the starting point.
Let's explore how to foster a healthier relationship with productivity.
The crux lies in striking a balance.
We must aim for "sustainable productivity". We have to maintain steady productivity levels without jeopardising our well-being.
There are three realms we need to address for genuine productivity:
Our bodies operate on natural rhythms, and everyone's circadian rhythm varies.
Identify and analyse your peak productive and energy times to optimise your work schedule.
My workout regime is a good illustration. To perform my best, I need to exercise around noon.
The first thing I do in the morning is work on my book.
As I mentioned, the brain plays a significant role in productivity.
Understanding the link between sleep, energy level, and the brain is essential.
Studies show that the brain enters a "clean-up" mode during sleep. It rids itself with the toxins accumulated throughout the day.
Research in Science from Xie underscores the significance of sleep for the brain. It emphasises how crucial rest is for the brain's energy management and performance.
It's not about sleep; it's about rest and downtime.
Taking genuine breaks during the day is vital.
Breaks can invigorate us and refuel our energy.
One of my favourite activities is doing mini-workouts.
I use the 5-10 minutes breaks to do pushups or squats. It stimulates my body and rejuvenates my entire system.
Three elements feed the spirit: purpose, autonomy, and mastery.
We are not mere productivity machines. Realising that the nature of our work matters more than the volume. It matters more than the number of tasks accomplished.
This means focusing on our interests, emotions and needs as humans are essential.
Productivity should simplify life, not complicate it.
Discovering what drives us is a significant step towards becoming more productive.
This doesn't imply working on something you're passionate about.
My experience showed it's about incorporating your passion into your work.
Most industries and products I've worked in didn't resonate with me.
Yet, injecting my personal flair into my work is what inspired me. Striving to make the team happier and ensuring the work is fun motivates me.
We all care about certain things.
As humans, we can dream and be creative.
This is where the spirit and the body intersect. Rest can foster innovation.
Mozart described how he came up with new melodies. It arrived when eating in a restaurant, walking after a meal or getting ready for sleep at night.
"It seems to me impossible to say whence they come to me and how they arrive; what is certain is that I cannot make them come when I wish."
All this, in turn, feeds the mind.
Productivity is custom to us.
It might mean crafting a custom-fit productivity plan. It depends on your skills, strengths, and lifestyle. It's not about working harder but about working smarter.
You must establish clear goals and manage your time.
Set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals to direct your efforts.
Time management techniques can help carve out periods for work and rest.
The productivity of the mind goes beyond task completion and tools.
Use the techniques only sometimes. Change habits.
It's also about mental resilience and adaptability.
Adjusting and shifting gears is a crucial productivity skill in an ever-changing world.
Embrace a growth mindset and view challenges as opportunities for learning and growth.
Embracing Balance and Minimalism
The path to True Productivity involves something other than relentless work. It is not doing the minimum, either.
In my pursuit of optimal productivity, I've explored many tools to manage my time and tasks. I've tried everything from Notion templates and Excel spreadsheets to Trello boards and other to-do list apps.
But, I always gravitate back towards minimalism.
I've found that my productivity thrives on constraints. I become most productive and creative within these limitations.
I find myself most productive when on a plane without internet access. Or when facing a tight deadline and having to deliver something.
Our brains operate when they're put in survival mode.
So, ask yourself: What could you produce of value if you only had 30 minutes?
Author Neil Gaiman gives perfect advice on this matter. He encourages us to "Get Bored." He states:
"Ideas come from daydreaming, from drifting, that moment when you're just sitting there...The trouble with these days is that it's really hard to get bored... I'm much better at putting my phone away, going for boring walks, actually trying to find the space to get bored in."
I have built my productivity system around a single tool. The constraint is conducting all meaningful tasks within this tool.
Less is more.
You can access an introduction to my productivity system here.
Remember, productivity is not about the quantity of work. It's about the quality and impact of your work.
Toxic productivity and toxic idleness are two ends of the spectrum. Neither is beneficial.
True productivity lies in balance.
Let's ditch the extremes and embrace a healthier, more balanced approach to productivity.