I write a lot about productivity. While I like to tackle other subjects, how to get things done is a main one. After two years of writing here, I’ve noticed that there seems to be two different types of people who become interested in productivity.
The first category is for people who are trying to survive. They have way to much to do, and too little time to do it all. These people are looking for answers for how to motivate themselves, combat procrastination and cut out more time for relaxation and fun.
The other group fits the people who are trying to do more. They have so many interesting projects they want to work on, that it’s a struggle to fit everything in. Productivity interests these people because it allows them to do more of the work they enjoy.
While both of these groups may become interested in productivity, I’ve noticed completely different results.
Survivors Versus Achievers
I’ll admit this is a broad generalization. I’m sure most people get involved in productivity, Getting Things Done and reading websites like this for a mix of reasons. You might have interesting projects, but you might also have boring work you want to streamline.
The point I’m trying to make is that when you approach productivity from the perspective of a survivor, you get different results. Unfortunately, most of the resources on productivity assume that these two perspectives are the same.
The Downside of Just Trying to Survive
If your only motivation is cutting back, you aren’t going to become incredibly productive. You might make headway in becoming more organized and reducing procrastination. But I think it is unlikely that you’ll reach the same level of effectiveness as someone driven by achievement. A survivor motivation can only get you halfway.
The reason for this is simple. When reducing stress is your goal, you’ll stop improving as soon as the stress is gone. Once you become somewhat more productive, your level of control will go up and you’ll stop. The effort needed to go from 75% to 95% isn’t worth the time you save.
This is why I feel books like The 4-Hour Workweek  are somewhat ironic. Clearly, someone who only wants to work four hours a week is coming from a survivor perspective. They are stressed with their current, 48-hour workweek and dream of living a life that pays the bills at less than an hour a day.
Unfortunately, these are exactly the kind of people who couldn’t implement all the productivity measures that the author, Tim Ferriss, suggests. If they managed to cut back to 35 hours, there stress would go down considerably and they would stop. The pressure to be productive would be gone.
This isn’t an attack on an otherwise great book, just an observation.
Motivation from Achievement
If you look at productivity from another perspective, this situation changes. If your goal for productivity is to do more of the work you enjoy, you will be able to reap the full benefits. The time and energy you save from being productive will pour back into the projects you’re interested in. As a result there is no stopping point when reaching a certain level of productivity is “good enough.”
While I don’t rigidly adhere to all of this today, I have at different points in time:
- Stopped watching television
- Switched to a vegetarian diet to get more energy
- Started my day 5:30 am each morning
- Added daily exercise
- Cut back my internet/email usage to less than 30 minutes a day
All with the goal of trying to be more productive. I still follow most of these things today for the same reasons.
Taking on these actions seems extreme if your goal is simply to get work finished so you can relax. Why would you bother giving up television, something you enjoy, for productivity? Isn’t that backwards?
But it makes more sense if you approach productivity from the other perspective. If your goal is to add more interesting projects to your life (or just focus more on the ones you already have), these actions make sense. Productivity isn’t a way of eliminating work. It’s a way of getting more out of the work you have.
What’s Your Reason to Be Productive?
If your only goal for productivity is to eliminate work, that’s fine. I come from a different perspective, but it doesn’t make your motivation wrong. But it’s important to keep your motivations in mind when you look at productivity advice. Working four hours a week is probably unattainable if your drive comes from reducing work to only four hours.