Productivity Is About You

by Francisco Saez

This chapter is a free excerpt from The Pursuit of Mastery.

June 10, 2013

There are people who live in an eternal pursuit of productivity. They read books and articles related to the topic to learn new methods and techniques, they try things out, and they keep themselves aware of the most current technological devices available.

And the truth is that all this is fine. I do these things, too. But the key word here is eternal. You should try to improve a system when it is necessary; when it is not, it is simply a waste of time. And when you begin devoting time and effort to things that aren’t really essential, all this obsessive activity becomes counterproductive, which, interestingly, goes against the reason that originally created the interest to begin with.


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June 10, 2013

There are people who live in an eternal pursuit of productivity. They read books and articles related to the topic to learn new methods and techniques, they try things out, and they keep themselves aware of the most current technological devices available.

And the truth is that all this is fine. I do these things, too. But the key word here is eternal. You should try to improve a system when it is necessary; when it is not, it is simply a waste of time. And when you begin devoting time and effort to things that aren’t really essential, all this obsessive activity becomes counterproductive, which, interestingly, goes against the reason that originally created the interest to begin with.

Let’s see if I can explain this differently: To be really productive you have to stop thinking about productivity.

If your working system forces you to be aware of the system itself, you will be continuously wasting energy on it that you should be using on other things. As much as you like, a system that requires a lot of work does not work. Your system should free you, not enslave you. You should be dedicated to thinking, doing, creating, devising, working, not messing around with some productivity-improvement program.

The less you need to think about your personal productivity system, the more effective it is. If you have to worry everyday about copying some data from here to there, to use some gimmicky solution to perform certain processes, to adapt your software to your particular needs, this is simply bad business.

The objective of a personal productivity system—the combination of the methods, techniques, and tools you use to manage your stuff—should be to become a smoothly functioning, beneficial aspect of your life and then disappear from your consciousness right away. It should simply become a part of your everyday life, not something you have to consciously think through all the time. It’s already complicated enough to build the habits necessary to be productive and efficient.

Some systems may work well when you have only a few tasks, or under certain circumstances, but fail miserably when your activity level increases or circumstances change. In this case, yes, you must find new solutions. But before thinking about whether your method or your application is failing, ask yourself honestly, is it me who is failing?

It’s tempting to obsess with new methods and new tools. So much so that you will never be productive. You will only be productive if you become obsessed with what you are supposed to do with those tools. As the people at 37signals say in their book Rework, “you can buy the same guitar, effects pedals, and amplifier that Eddie Van Halen uses, but when you play that rig, it’s still going to sound like you.”

Your gear does not determine your productivity. Neither does your software. Not your boss, your colleagues, or your family. Not even the methodology you use. Although these things undoubtedly can help, only you are capable of achieving true productivity.

To start with, you need a working system with which you are comfortable—one that doesn’t generate extra work—so that building and maintaining habits will be easier. You need a workflow, method, and tools that can all be set on automatic, running quietly, smoothly, and efficiently. And once you find something that works, look no further.

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