One question I get asked from friends a lot is how I manage to be so productive: “how do you do all the things you do?” or “you are working on all these projects… do you even sleep?" I think I get these questions about once a week.
And while I don’t think that my level of productivity is always a healthy one (more on that later), I do want to share with you some tips on how to be more productive.
Attitude & Perspective
Let me start by saying that a lot of what allows me to be productive really roots in the way how I look at the world. I have written a lot of pieces about how ephemeral our presence on earth is. Yet for me, this is a realization that drives a lot of my thinking and acting. There is so much I want to achieve, but so little time. There are so many people I want to stay in touch with, so many ideas I have that i want to take into the real world, so much to see and learn in this world. Every day counts, and I don’t want a single day to go by without having the feeling that I was actually productive. This is my underlying motivation to constantly be doing something.
Wasters – these are activities that take time, but that I don’t consider "adding value” (which is partly my definition of my own productivity). Playing a game on my phone for an hour, waster. Smoking cigarettes, waster. Watching television, waster. These are all things that don’t contribute to my goals. Admittedly a harsh way of judging such activities, but with time being my most scarce resource, time allocation ends up being my most important decision.
Finding “joyful distractions”
Now after reading how I eliminate these so called “wasters,” you might cry foul and say “but aren’t these activities that are positive, rewarding, enjoyable distractions?” Guess what, I don’t necessarily disagree with you. A friend of mine is a CEO of few-hundred person company. Is he busy af? You bet he is, but he still finds the time to play games on his phone which ends up being the ideal distraction for him. But I personally try to find my “joyful distraction” in activities that are also aligned with my actual goals: working out (goal: staying fit), reading articles in foreign languages (goal: become fluent in many languages), or listen to an audio book (goal: consume more books).
Using “dead time”
Dead time. That’s time in between activities that is unused. Sitting in a cab often ends up being dead time. So does waiting at the gate. You could say even the time a guy stands at a urinal is dead time. Now dead time isn’t necessarily bad. These are good moments for reflection, even to disconnect for a moment. But they are also opportunities to be productive. My time in an Uber is the time I use for podcasts. My time at the gate is the time I use to whatsapp friends I haven’t heard from in a while. And yes, I remember putting a learning card with Italian vocabulary into my employee badge and then review those words every time I went to the urinal. Sorry for the TMI, but you should get the gist here.
I think there is also a psychological aspect to productivity. Quick wins are very important. That goes hand in hand with the understanding that big tasks can be achieved through small activities. When someone asks me about how to tackle a big task, I generally like to ask how they would eat an elephant. Well, the would cut it into pieces. I have that very feeling every time I want to read a new book. I feel intimidated by the idea of reading all those (f.ex.) 300 pages, but once I see the individual chapters, I realize that it’s actually doable. Each chapter becomes a small win. Motivating myself through small wins is something that helps me going. That’s why I really really enjoy writing down to do lists and then ticking off items. Every time I take something off the list, I propel myself with the feeling of being productive and making progress.
Now these are just 5 thoughts around how I think about getting shit done. I could write another list of more tips, but I’m gonna leave that for later. That all said, I think a productive lifestyle also has its downsides.
When you are constantly doing something, time goes by really fast. Sure, you made good use of that time, but there is something saddening about time running through your hands like sand.
The other thing I noticed is that it can alienate others. The mindset of “wanting to be doing something" all the time can really be stressful to others. It generally takes me 2-3 days of “acclimatization” every time I go back home to my parent’s home. Their pace of life is much slower which leads to a little clash every time I get back home.
Last but not least, as much as I talked about cutting dead time and wasters, after all, these are moments of reflection and distraction – down time if you want. I have to admit that I myself am not capable of keeping up that way of living 100% of the time. There are the days where I think myself “screw this” and then end up doing almost nothing: the system overheats and shuts off. That’s why it’s important to find a healthy balance between "productivity time" and "down time."