To Master the Art of Productivity, Focus on What is Meaningful to You


If your Twitter and LinkedIn news feeds are anything like mine, I bet you're exposed to umpteen gazillion articles about productivity hacking every day. You know, the kind of articles with titles like these:

* This author gets bonus points for the listicle title

** This one gets triple bonus points for the Steve Jobs reference

I read articles like these quite frequently. I enjoy them. I even share links to them on my social media accounts. But I very, VERY rarely implement their reputedly mind-blowing, life-altering advice. The few life-hacking things I do to manage my time are pretty dull and time-tested, like keeping and checking a to-do list or focusing on one task at a time for a predetermined period of time. Can you imagine the productivity hacking article I would write about that? These Two Very Boring Laws of Productivity Will Revolutionize Your Time Management! Yeah, nobody in their right mind would retweet that headline, no matter how click-baity you make it sound.

Most productivity tips and tricks rub me the wrong way after awhile. I used to try out new getting-things-done strategies every few weeks. Without fail, the rigid rules would cause more friction, not less, for my previously productive habits. I would find myself frustrated with the layers of bureaucracy that the hacks seemed to add to my life. Instead of thinking, "Wow, this makes my life easier," I'd think, "Good grief, why don't I just get it done and quit overthinking the process?" Today, when I read this article by Jonathan Mead, the founder of Paid to Exist, I realized why the tips that work for so many other people just don't seem to work for me:

All of this advice is great, but it doesn’t work for the ADD stricken, creative misfit, right-brained tribe.

AHA. That's me!

In this article (with the pleasantly clickbaity title of Seven Counterintuitive Ways to Be Insanely Productive), Jonathan refers several times to an element of productivity that many life-hackers overlook: the relevance and meaning of the work at hand.

  • "Relax your expectations of constant, never-ceasing production. Instead, focus your energies on how you want to feel and what you need to operate with greatness. Maybe that means more self-care, more breaks, or more doing shit you actually care about."

  • "A good rule of thumb: The more productivity tricks you need to get it done, the less likely it is that it’s meaningful to you."

  • "Focus on doing two minutes of important work on whatever it is you want to do."

  • "Misfits are plagued by procrastination because we have no tolerance for doing things we don’t want to do."

  • "What is important is getting things accomplished that really matter to you."

  • "The whole point of being productive should be to do things that are interesting and meaningful to you so that you feel good."

When you focus on accomplishing things that are meaningful, the roadblocks to productive work crumble away. The secret of productivity can be summed up quite simply:

  1. Decide on what is important.

  2. Determine the steps necessary to accomplish it.

  3. Eliminate anything that is keeping you from accomplishing those steps.

  4. Do what you have to do to complete those steps.

  5. Reassess your situation and repeat, if necessary.

Maybe you think this seems like an oversimplification. But isn't life deceptively simple? And aren't most tasks -- even the biggest, scariest, most impactful problems -- deceptively simple as well? 

Do what is important. Do not do what is not important.