Why You Should Ignore 99% of Productivity Advice You Read Online (Part 1)

Are you tired of being overworked and distracted? Do you ever feel busy but not productive? Are you always active but never getting anywhere?

Do you ever finish the day stressed and overwhelmed, yet feeling like you didn’t accomplish anything significant?

Do you wonder how some people get so much more done in the same 24 hours, while you're still falling further behind?

Does this sound like you?

If you answered 'Yes' to any of these, know that you’re not alone.

Just look at these haunting comments I found online:

​​“I’m busier now than I’ve ever been in my whole career. My life is hectic! I’m running all day – meetings, phone calls, paper-work, appointments. In between I try to cram in email.

I don’t feel like I’m making enough progress, even though I’m ticking off one thing after another. I’m just not as effective as I want to be, or everyone needs me to be.

It’s not that I don’t like what I’m doing. It’s just that I think there must be a better way. A better way than killing myself working this hard to get what feels like nowhere.

​“I’ve worked around the clock for what seems like forever. I’m putting in the hours, but I’m not advancing as fast as I thought I would. I push myself to the limit, fall into bed exhausted, and get up early the next morning to do it all over again.

My output is tremendous; I’m getting a lot done. But I get this feeling inside sometimes, “So what? What are you doing that really counts? I have to admit, I don’t know.

​“I always feel like I’m pushing and pushing, but no matter what I do, my big projects seem to move too slow and I’m afraid I won’t get them accomplished.

What’s important to me is getting swept away in the current of what’s important to everybody else, by the demands placed on me, and by the many responsibilities I have.”

​“Everyone tells me I’m highly successful. I’ve worked hard and sacrificed, and made it to the top. But I’m not happy. Way down inside I have this empty feeling of, “Is that all there is?”

Frankly, most of the time, I just don’t enjoy life. For every one thing I do, I can think of ten things I don’t do, and it makes me feel guilty. No matter what I do, it’s just never… enough!

What's Going On Here?

​Can you relate to any of this?

I know I can.

You see, one of the worst feelings in the world is to be incredibly busy, work hard, but feel that you’re not making any progress.

You’re doing it for the right reasons. You’re fighting the good fight. But no matter how hard you try, you don’t seem to move the needle of progress towards the things that actually matter.

Why is that? Why do we live in the most privileged time in history, yet find it so difficult to pursue the right things and build the life we really want?

I've found that it comes down to a few simple reasons:

#1: Achievement is not the problem. Alignment is.

Let me say that again. Achievement is not the problem. Alignment is.

It’s because what we do is not aligned with who we are, what we value most, what we really want to accomplish and what we’re actually capable of.

Sure, we might be doing a lot, but that doesn't mean that we're making progress towards the things that really matter.

Which leads me to the second reason...

​#2: We mistake activity for productivity. Busyness for progress. Movement for achievement.

We think that by doing more we become more productive.

But that's not true.

Just because you're doing a lot doesn't mean that you're getting a lot more done. You can be running places all the time and never get anywhere.

Let's face it:

We've all had the experience of being crazy busy all day, hustling, crushing it, working hard... only to get to the end of the day having nothing to show for it.

We might be going, going, going, but the real question is... doing what?

So here's what I want you to understand:

The problem is ​NOT your productivity system, your to-do list or your fancy personal planner. The problem stems from the way you THINK about productivity to begin with.

​In the 19th century, the British philosopher James Allen said: “The within is ceaselessly becoming the without. [...] You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.”

Here’s why he said that:

Your external world is merely a mirror. It reflects back in absolute and complete accuracy what's going on inside.

Put simply, if you want to change anything on the outside, you have to change things on the inside FIRST.

The inside in this context is represented by your mindset.

Remember: Your beliefs, your thinking, your paradigms determine your behavior, and your behavior determines your results in life.

So if you want to significantly change the results you get, you can't just change your behavior, your methods or techniques. You have to change the thinking patterns out of which those actions grow, makes sense?

In other words, changing your productivity system, getting a better planning tool, searching for the perfect productivity app, hack, or morning routine WILL NOT create the change in the results you get ​– although that's what the world wants you to believe.

All these techniques, tactics and hacks address the symptoms while neglecting the problems. They solve a part of the effect, but they don't treat the cause.

It's NOT about trying to do more, faster, better. It's about questioning the whole assumption in the first place.

As Albert Einstein said: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created them.” So if we keep doing what we're doing, we'll keep getting what we're getting.

Therefore, in order to get different results, we have to do something different.

. . .

Rethinking Productivity to Focus on What Actually Matters

​If you’re still thinking to yourself, “Daniel, just tell me how do I get more done?” then I think you’ll learn something very interesting and counter-intuitive that we’ve discovered from the latest high performance studies.

As it turns out, top performers don’t necessarily get more done than the average person. It’s that they get more of what matters done than other people.

You see, productivity is NOT about being busy all day or trying to cram more tasks into your daily schedule.

Sure, you can knock off your to do list on a daily basis, but that doesn’t mean that you’re making any progress towards the things that actually matter, you follow?

So productivity is not about getting more done. It’s not about accomplishing the greatest number of tasks.

High performance productivity is about being strategic and purposeful​.

​It's about accomplishing the most important tasks in your primary field of interest. It’s about becoming prolific at the few outputs that matter the most in your chosen field of endeavor.

So my question to you is: What are the few outputs that matter the most in your primary field of interest?

  • For a writer, it might be the number of published papers or books.
  • For a blogger, it might be producing more frequent and better content (whether that’s through blog posts, articles, podcasts, videos, etc.).
  • For a sales person it might be increasing the number of meetings with qualified prospects.
  • For a parent, it might be increasing the time spent with the kids and the quality of those experiences.
  • For a professional speaker it might mean the number of speaking gigs at a certain fee.

So if you’re taking notes, this is a good one to write down:​​​

The highest achieving people don’t try to get it ALL done. They just focus on getting the right things done.

​You’ve heard the saying: It's not the hours you put in but what you put in the hours. That’s so true, but here’s the challenge:

The challenge in today’s world is that we’re growing in a system that praises busyness. People expect us to be busy and overworked. It’s become a status symbol in our society – if we’re busy, we’re important; if we’re not busy, we’re almost embarrassed to admit it, right?

In fact, we've got to a point where we feel anxious and guilty when we aren’t either working or doing something to promote our work.

Frankly speaking, it’s easy to see why we enjoy this complaint: it makes us feel important, sought-after and put-upon. As Wayne Muller, the author of Sabbath put it:​​​

​“The busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others. To be unavailable to our friends and family, to be unable to find time for the sunset (or even to know the sun has set at all), to whiz through our obligations without time for a mindful breath, this has become the model of a successful life.”

​Wayne Muller

Author of ​Sabbath

​I get it. Busyness can be a sweet seducer. It can lead you to believe that life is not valuable if it’s not loaded with a hectic schedule.

But please understand that this is the job of busyness: to keep you busy all day long at the price of distracting you from accomplishing the things that really matter.

Being busy is not enough. We should really ask ourselves: “What am I busy about?”

. . .

Manage yourself, not your time. Manage your life, not your list.

​​​​One of the tools that helps us be so busy is the one we’ve been taught for ages: the good-old ​“to-do list.​” And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a great tool.

BUT…

The biggest problem with usual to-do lists is that focusing only on what you need to get done doesn’t guarantee that you’re making any real progress.

To-do lists can keep you busy, of course, and there’s certainly a sense of satisfaction you get from checking off a series of tasks.

But how many times have you crossed off everything on your list and still felt like you haven’t really accomplished anything? Has that ever happened to you?

As Stephen Covey said, “The noise of the urgent creates the illusion of importance.”

Think about it:

Every day you make a big list of items – little things, big things – that you need to accomplish. During the day, you look at the list and usually, you make a quick scan of your list just to choose the one that will take the least time to accomplish. Isn’t that true?

You see, research suggests that when your list contains some tasks that are 5 minutes long and some that are 50 minutes, you’ll invariably focus on the shorter one for the psychological payoff and dopamine release that comes from crossing an item off your list.

In other words, most of us aren’t getting anything meaningful done because we’ve fallen into the trap of believing that ​EVERYTHING is important.

​​​​Sounds familiar?

​If you find yourself in this trap too, then I’m here to tell you that this is NOT your fault.

Here's why:

What you and I have been taught about time management and productivity is now outdated and obsolete. Sure, it might have worked a few years ago but today, it’s actually slowing you down significantly.

Time management gurus have tried for ages to teach you how to get it ALL done; that you’re supposed to get it ALL done.

They’ll tell you to touch everything. They’ll tell you to use the latest shiny “app,” secret hack or trick that’s out there. But that’s all wrong and attempting to do so is a huge mistake.

This is killing your productivity and it also causes more stress, anxiety and lots of frustration. You’ve probably experienced that already, didn’t you?

That’s because we’ve been conditioned for ages to think so. We treat every single activity equally, having no sense of importance and no sense of priority.

That’s why one of the worst excuses you hear every single day is, “I don’t have time.”

That’s nonsense.

Remember that lack of time is almost always a lack of priorities.

As Garr Reynolds said, “If everything is important, then nothing is important. If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.”

Another common excuse you may hear is, “But you don’t understand. I’m spread too thin.”

Really? Well, let me tell you this: You’re never spread too thin. You have a problem with setting boundaries and scheduling your priorities.

I'll say that again: You’re never spread too thin. You have a problem with setting boundaries and scheduling your priorities. Period.

​. . .

Conclusion

​Understand: This striving to get everything done will eventually lead to burnout and to your inability to finish the most important tasks. It will only distract you from producing that high-quality output that matters most in your field of interest.

So here’s the takeaway:

Just because you do a lot doesn’t mean you’re spending your time in the most effective way. Don’t mistake movement for achievement; busyness for progress; activity for productivity.​​​

Read part 2 of this productivity series here.


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Daniel Cerescu

I'm Daniel Cerescu, and I'm the guy behind this blog. Even though most of the material on this website is free, I aim to make this free content better than anyone else’s paid stuff. My mission is to inspire and empower those who refuse to settle for anything less than an extraordinary life to live with passion, lead with purpose, and make their mark on the world.