Have you ever searched the term “how to be more productive” on YouTube? If so, did you notice how you can scroll and scroll and scroll and never get to the bottom?
People (including myself) are constantly looking for solutions to the problem of having too much to do and not enough time.
“There must be a good productivity hack out there!” That was my thought as I searched on YouTube and Google, seeing what the experts suggested.
But I discovered a problem.
Four Thousand Weeks
A typical day for me consists of feeding the animals, taking the one that’s a dog for walks, checking emails, writing articles, practicing writing headlines, following up with people on X, doing the laundry, exercising, making dinner, and 5,987 other tasks that need to be done around the house.
“If I could just find a way to be more productive. Then I can get more done and have more time for the things that really matter.”
“Finally! I’ll figure out how to manage my time — approximately 4,000 weeks of it if I live until 80 — properly.”
But right at the beginning of the book, Oliver knocks me over the head with logic and has me thinking differently. In fact, he’s convinced me that productivity is nothing but a trap.
Ironically, being productive can lead to getting less done, and I’ll show you three reasons why in the next section.
Clearing the Decks Makes Them Fill Up Faster
It all started with this line on p. 13 of the book:
Becoming more efficient just makes you more rushed, and trying to clear the decks simply makes them fill up again faster.
Being productive and getting more done in a day is enticing.
“I just need to figure out how to get these 50 little things off my plate, then I’ll have time to work on some of the bigger things, then I can relax!”
The problem is, as the line I quoted above mentions, once you get the first 50 things off your plate, your plate fills up with 50 more things.
And that’s why it’s a trap.
In fact, here are 3 ways this trap will suck you in and make you think you’re being productive.
- You’re never focusing on the things that matter. For instance, let’s say you have a bunch of emails in your inbox. You go through them, answer the ones that need answering, then clear them out. But uh oh! Now people are responding back to your responses and your inbox is full again. It’s an endless cycle.
- You tell yourself you’ll start the big tasks once the little ones are done. This is where the biggest trap is set. “I’ll get to that big project once I get all of these little things done. That way I’ll make enough time for it.” You’ll never be done with the little tasks. See problem #1.
- You feel productive, but you’re not. What’s even worse about this process is you feel productive because you’re doing something. It feels good to get those little tasks done. You get to check them off the to-do list and it feels satisfying. But the only thing you’re really doing is procrastinating.
So then how the heck do we become more productive? I’ll tell you the answer Oliver mentions in a little bit, but first, let me tell you about a productivity hack I saw that led to severe disappointment.
Take More Breaks to Be Productive?
In my search for answers on how to be more productive, I came across a YouTube video with almost 1.5 million views.
“Yes! This guy must have the answer! Look at all the views he’s got!”
Well, his answer is to take more breaks.
Generally speaking, it’s a good idea. You need to take breaks throughout the day, otherwise, you will burn out. Your brain will turn to mush, and then you’ll be really unproductive.
However, the disappointing part of the video was the suggestion to take at least four days every month and to go somewhere remote to get away from everything.
If you have kids, pets, or other responsibilities (like I assume most of the population does), this isn’t going to work. And if you work a 9–5, I’m pretty sure your boss won’t be happy with this idea.
“Hey, Mr. Boss! Did you know taking four days off every month will help me be more productive?’
You can try it, but I don’t think it’s going to fly.
But, there’s a better, more practical idea Oliver suggests.
Face the Way Things Truly Are
But I think the advice Oliver gives early on is the only advice you need:
But I’m aware of no other time management technique that’s half as effective as just facing the way things truly are.
There will always be more emails to respond to, more experiences to have, more places to go, and more work to be done.
Accept that you’ll never be able to do everything that you need or want to do.
I heaved a big sigh of relief after reading that line. It’s OK to not fit everything into this lifetime.
Instead, I tell myself this:
You can only do what you can do.
Get the tasks done that need to be done. But don’t stress over finding ways to get more done. Because the more you do, the more there is to do.
Time to get out of the productivity trap.
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