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7 Truths About Productivity You Need to Know (That Others Won’t Tell You)

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There are a lot of misconceptions, myths and misunderstandings when it comes to productivity. With lots of noise, bad advice and lies out there we want to clarify a couple of them. Here are seven truths about productivity that you need to know that others won’t tell you.

1. Time management is really self management.

What separates the effective from the ineffective people is the way they manage themselves.

Time management is really a misnomer. We all have 24 hours each day and time goes by whether we like it or not. It’s not something you can truly control.

On the other hand, you can control yourself and what you produce. This is one of the main points of Tony Schwartz when he wrote the book The Power of Full Engagement – focus on managing yourself and not on managing your time.

It’s a subtle mindshift but it makes all the difference when you think about it. If you are tired, feel fatigued or you have trouble focusing, there’s no point in managing your time. The clock will keep ticking away as you sit there and do nothing because you’re tired.

When you take good care of yourself, everything else will naturally follow. When you sleep well, exercise regularly, exert boundaries and such then being productive will come easily to you and you don’t have to worry about “time management”.

2. There is no perfect system.

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Ever heard someone say that “GTD is the best system” or “The Pomodoro Technique is the best”? Both of them are wrong and right.

After years of tinkering with different systems, I can say that there is no one-size-fits-all productivity system. What might work for me, might not work for you.

There are good guidelines and high-level principles that are universal, and we try to teach those to you as much as possible. If you’ve been with us for a while now, you know already that we don’t preach a particular method or system. We like to dissect the universal principles, ideas and concepts and tie them to real-world applications so that you can use them right away.

If you try a system and it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean the system is broken. It just doesn’t fit you. Try another (GTD, Agile Results, Personal Kanban, Pomodoro Technique, just to name a few) and see how that goes.

What will happen is that after a couple experiments you’ll learn all the universal principles and you’ll come up with your own system – as you should. Any system you try, you should always add your own flavor to it so it is truly customized to your needs.

We want to help you shortcut that process, so continue reading this blog and don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter.

3. Sex is Important

This is a controversial one: productive people are ones who have sex on a regular basis. We have written a lengthy article series about this which you can find here or if you want a condensed version, grab the AE Primer.

Nobody seems to want to talk about this but we feel like we have to address this. Sex is a primal need, just like sleep and hunger. When you’re sleep deprived, you don’t feel your best and you’ll have trouble focusing at work. When you’re hungry, you don’t finish stuff because all you can think about is that sushi roll melting in your mouth.

If you’re deprived of a primal need, there is just no chance of being productive. When you’re constantly thinking about sex it throws off your focus, your ability to get “in the zone” and get things done.

On the other hand, when sex doesn’t occupy the mind 24/7 and you have it (or learn to channel your drive) on a regular basis, it’ll be much easier to be Asian Efficient.

4. More time doesn’t equal being more productive

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A lot of people seem to think that the person who works 40 hours a week is more productive than someone who only works 20 hours. There is the perception that more time spent equals higher productivity levels.

Well…I hate to burst that bubble, but it’s simply not true.

While time is a good barometer it misses something important: context. Let’s just imagine this scenario. Both John and Michelle need to fix a problem. John fixes the problem in 10 hours. However, Michelle fixes it in 3 hours.

Who is more productive?

That’s a no-brainer – Michelle. Spending more time on something doesn’t make you more productive. It’s the contrary – you’re inefficient.

There is a corollary to this. We define productivity as time spent on your purpose and goals. The more time you devote to that, the more productive you are.

Again, time is a good barometer but it needs context. Just because someone works more hours doesn’t mean the person is more productive. 40 hours spent on an unimportant crisis is a waste of time, whereas 10 hours spent on planning your future career goals and path could be the most productive hours ever spent.

It’s all about context – spend more time on your goals and less time on anything else. The next time you hear someone whining about 60–80 hour weeks, refer them back to this post.

5. You are what you eat

As I mentioned earlier, time management is really self management. When you take good care of your health you’ll simply be more productive than someone else who doesn’t do that.

Food plays an important role here. What we put in our bodies determines how we feel and as a result our productivity. When you put junk food in your body, it might feel good for half an hour but after that you’ll feel bloated and sluggish. How does that help you be productive?

I remember back in the day I would order big lunches at work. Pastas, pizzas and other fast foods were some of my favorite lunches and I knew that between 1pm and 3pm I’d take it easy on work.

Why?

I knew I always felt sluggish from the food I just ate and that my body needed time to process the foods.

Please don’t make the same mistake I did.

This is just terrible for your productivity. When your body needs to digest a lot of (processed) foods it sometimes uses more energy than it gets from the foods. That’s a recipe for unproductive hours. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Fast forward to today, I don’t have this issue anymore. My lunches don’t span 3 hours anymore. I’ll have a healthy smoothie or lots of fruit, and when I’m done I’ll feel great to get back to work. There’s no need to wait around anymore or let my body digest highly processed foods – I just get back to work as if nothing happened.

Let food nourish you – not rob you of energy or focus. A mind shift that helped me a lot is that “food is fuel”. Whenever I feel I’m out of energy or I can’t focus, I know I need some fuel. I’ll grab something to eat and usually within a couple minutes get back at it.

There is not much literature out there on the relationship between foods and productivity, but we want to change that. Check out this post for more info on food and productivity.

6. Technology is a catalyst, not a fix

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There is this popular notion that if you get the right app, all problems will go away and you’ll instantly be more productive. This is why people keep downloading apps, spend hours mindlessly fiddling with settings, never get stuff done only to repeat the cycle by getting another app.

Please stop this madness! Technology is not the primary solution to your productivity issues.

You are.

The way you use technology is the determining factor. Let me draw an analogy here. Let’s say you need to go to the pharmacy that’s three blocks away from your house.

You could walk there and be there in 20 minutes. You could grab a skateboard and be there in 10. Or you just grab the car and be there in 2 minutes.

In all scenarios, you still get to the destination but the difference is the technology you use. Some help you get there faster than others – resting on the assumption that you know where to go and what you’re doing.

Now what if you were intoxicated and it’s 3am in the morning. You could walk there, but you’d probably stumble a couple times, get lost and it might take you an hour to get there. What if you drove a car? Same deal – you might get lost, make a wrong turn somewhere or not even find it.

The technology in both scenarios is the same. The difference is how you “use it”.

Drawing the analogy from above, most of us are “drunk late at night” when we use tech, apps and such. When you have no clear purpose for your tech and you think tech is the solution, you’ll end up in the vicious cycle of switching apps, fiddling with settings and always chasing the bright shiny object. Don’t fall for this trap.

Technology is a catalyst, not a fix.

Your knowledge, skills and insights are far more important than any app.

7. Your psychology and skills need to be addressed first

To elaborate further on the previous point, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to learn more about the psychology, mindsets and skills required to be Asian Efficient.

When you lack those, nothing else will matter.

For example, if you truly believe that you are someone who can never be productive and you always have this negative dialog in your head, it doesn’t matter if you learn the GTD system or Agile Results. You simply won’t use it.

That’s why we always emphasize the inner game aspects of productivity. It’s an often overlooked area that needs more awareness. When you have the right beliefs, mindsets and traits, learning a system or using the right app will just amplify your effectiveness by thousand folds.

We talk about this a lot in our monthly newsletters and you can grab older issues in our Premium Newsletter package.

Conclusion

The ugly truth is out. Do you disagree with any of them?

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2 Comments

Posted by Patrick  | March 31, 2014 at 1:38AM | Reply

Well written, and excellent clear points.

Over the last few years I’ve been focusing on productivity. I think it is also possible to be over-productive. Sounds strange, but think about: we try to be more productive to get things done and do the things we want. But if we focus so much on being productive, are we really getting what we want? For example, eating healthy is absolutely important most of the time. But if you’re so focused on that, think about how much you miss out on. Are the benefits of being so focused greater than all the things you miss out on? We get into routines and focus on things that we begin to forget why we’re actually doing these things in the first place.

While I think productivity and efficiency are important variables, it is important to note that we are all humans and we all want to be happy. And being too focused on one thing certainly makes us miss out on other things that we otherwise may find enjoyable.

Posted by Alexandra  | June 30, 2016 at 6:40AM | Reply

Hey, Thanh!
Great article. Regarding point 6 on your list, I feel that tech has the ability to change a lot about our habits. A couple of years ago, I started using time tracking software. Analyzing my results led to change the way I work. I got better at delegating and trying to find systems to automate unimportant tasks.
I feel like everyone should pay more attention to time tracking. The results can be very eye-opening.

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