Productivity. The eternal quest to do more without increasing the available resources. Whether it is through new apps, off site leadership training programs, cold showers, intermittent fasting or a combination of the above, people seem to be obsessed with living better, leaner, faster, more effective and more efficient. And, in all honesty, I think I am among them.

Why all the Productivity Fuzz?

So what’s all the fun? Or fuzz? What is that glimmering pot at the end of the rainbow that all productivity-avid-people seem to know about? To me, there are multiple reasons to research productivity:

  • Some people want to retain control
  • While others just want to move ahead of the pack
  • And there is a group of people that is truly committed to achieving stuff

There are obviously other reasons for people to go head first into everything that has a productivity label smacked on it but for now, let’s focus on those three.

Retaining control

The world changes. Continuously. Whether small or big, the world is different today when compared to yesterday and will be different tomorrow. And changes, whether big or small, are not especially the things that we like most as human beings. Oh yes, you might be that person that loves change. The person that is always on the lookout for the next adventure. But believe me… most guys and girls next in line are not. They prefer stability. Change therefore is a disruptor. One that needs to be controlled. People want control, whether it is a matter of regaining or retaining, nobody likes when he is being played with. So, the moment people don’t fee like they are in control, they will start to look for tools and actions to gain back to that “in-control” state.

Moving ahead of the pack

There’s those that are satisfied when they gain and retain control. And then there’s those that are not satisfied at all by that. The ones that prefer to go faster and further. To go bigger and bolder. Compared to colleagues, to friends, even to relatives. The ones that feel they are behind if they are on par. This is probably the most frantic category of productivity chasers and I am not sure this is the right motivation for productivity in the long run. To me, it sounds like a rather finite game. A pretty exhausting run if you ask me.

Committed to goals and long term development

And then, there’s the the final category. The third group are the people that are committed to strategic goals and long term developments. Simon Sinek would probably refer to them as the ones playing the infinite game. The people in this group know where they are right now. And, more important, they know where they are heading next, approximately. Nobody knows what life will bring but having a high level indication of where you want to go helps!

Productivity at its core

Productivity is a big topic. Takes a lifetime to master, which is probably the reason why so many people consider it so difficult to become and stay productive. However, like with all big things in life, we can actually make it smaller and therefore easier to get hold off. To me, that’s done through three different words, three different levels if you like: Systems, Processes and Organisation. I will briefly touch on all three topics below.

Systems

Systems. Software. Apps. Bullet Journals. Email clients. Notebooks. And everything else. Tangible (well, not really in the digital world) tools that you can use to put stuff in and get stuff out in order to be more productive. For years, most of my energy was spent into this category, especially with the rise of app-economy. I really don’t remember the different number of apps I have downloaded over the years to improve my productivity.

Those apps are really useful. However, they are also, just apps. Compare it to a jet fighter. Something extremely powerful, if put in the right hands. But nothing more than an expensive piece of metal if you don’t know how to fly it. So, yes, apps are useful. Apps or tools are necessary and you need to figure out what works best for you. However, if you stop there, you’re coming short.

Over the years, I have used a large number of tools including (but definitely not limited to) Evernote, OneNote, 2Do, TickTick, Things 3, Todoist and most recently Roam Research. And frankly, mostly all of them are fit for purpose. As your life changes, your processes change, and your systems-needs are likely expected to change accordingly. So Evernote did the trick for many years. So did Todoist. But as I thought about ways to improve my approach to productivity, I realised at points they did not work for me anymore. So, it switched, and ditched. Sorry guys.

Processes

Processes are the next level in optimizing your personal productivity. They are bigger then systems. Even better, they connect systems. Stop here for a moment. Sit back. Think about the processes that you have geared up, on purpose, to get stuff done and move data from one system to another. Now think again. Think about all processes that aren’t there on purpose but just exist. Because you need them. How many are there? Ten? Fifteen? Hundred? Exactly. There loads of them. We are habit seekers. Pattern seekers. Whenever we do something and conclude it worked, our mind will naturally bend towards that same process the next time we face a similar situation. Something that grows every time it happens.

The key here is to move your key processes from the unaware state to the well-aware state. Stop living on autopilot is the first step in better-aware considerations and making better decisions. Only if we get to a stage of conscious (in)competency, will we be able to make adjustments and improvements to our everyday processes.

Changing processes is not such a nice thing as changing systems. One reason for it is its increased complexity. That means you can’t just change a process. You will have to consider the consequences of modifying processes. Second, processes typically turn into habits after being successfully carried out for some time. And being people, we like habits.

If you think it through, everybody has dozens of processes in place. Whether it is taking the garbage bings to the street, clearing out the dishwasher, taking your kids to school or your preferred steps upon entering an airport for your next flight.

Organisation

Which brings us to organisation. People. Since once we have systems and processes in place, the whole thing comes down to us. Organisation is a big word and probably a bit out of place over here. Upon reading the old latin, we find that organization comes from “to organize”. That, in return, means to equip something (or somebody) with organs or tools.

You don’t need a full team to become productive. Save that for organisations. However, you do need to organize yourself to become more productive. In the end, it comes down to personal commitment. To the extreme. Extreme ownership.

At the very basic level, you can’t really escape yourself, can you? Let’s assume you have some systems, some tools. Let’s assume there is some kind of process, doesn’t matter how small or fragile it is. That means it comes down to one thing, and one thing only:

If it is to be, it is up to me.

So?

There is a reason why organisation came last. Organising it is typically the hardest part. You have the shoes, know the 5km route you want to run but what is standing between you and a successful run? It is your will. Your ability to organize it. To get yourself together and make it happen. If you really want to become more productive though and take your life to the next level, this should be your starting point. Because systems and processes are no good at all if they are not put to practice.

However…

One can’t go without the other

While writing this piece, especially the last part about having the systems and processes but not the organisations, I started mixing the other two of the triangle. And concluded all three elements are elementary. Think with me here.

As discussed earlier, systems and processes are nowhere without organization or the ability to organize.

Second though, processes and organization are nowhere without systems.

And last, an organization with only systems in place. Although such organisation will probably find great joy in selecting systems, it will never get to a working rythm. It will never make it to the ‘flow’ state.

Compare this to a rockband. Where would the Red Hot Chili Peppers be without their gear? Right, nowhere. Now where would they be if they, for whatever reason, would not be able to stick to their rythm of their riffs. Nowhere. And well, finally, who are the folks that make all the instruments go off? That make people dance. Exactly. The organisation. Now why are they so good? Because they fully committed, to the extreme, to make this happen. They took ownership, big time.

These are just some preliminary thoughts on productivity and my stance in the whole game. It is far from complete and I might update this page accordingly. If you want to discuss matters, don’t hesitate to reach out.