Wednesday, February 7, 2007

My Views on Productivity

Let me start of by declaring this outright: my goal in personal productivity is not to minimize the amount of time I spend “goofing-off” it’s to maximize the amount of time I spend in the focused, imaginative, stress-free “flow state”. I spent some time walking the first path and it just made me tired, bitter, and sick. But, now, changing the way I view productivity has made life absolutely splendid.

The Now Habit

In the introduction to Niel Fiore’s book The Now Habit, he mentions the various professional achievements he was able to attain while working no more than 20 “quality” hours a week. A full time practice coaching clients and organizations and writing articles for various journals in twenty hours a week? For the vast majority of knowledge workers, it sounds impossible, but special attention should be placed on his italicized use of the word quality. He then dedicates entire chapter on entering the flow state when you’re working on your projects, essentially defining “quality hours”.

And of course, any grad student that has read that book can’t forget Fiore’s study on procrastinating PhD students versus producing PhD students. The first group took anywhere from 3-19 years to complete their dissertation (I want to meet the 19-year one and shake their hand, maybe give them a hug). The producers on the other hand took less than 3 years. The characteristic differences between the two groups were:

  • Producers “were dedicated and committed to their leisure time.”
  • Producers “had to swim, run, or dance almost every day.”
  • Producers “had to be with friends for dinner several nights a week.”
  • Producers “didn’t see their work as depriving them of anything… working intensely and playing intensely went hand in hand.”
  • Producers “were living now – not waiting to begin living when their work was completed.”
Dr. Fiore emphasizes the importance of these extracurricular activities because they take your mind off of your work. Then, when you’re working, you’re more relaxed, you’re not burned out, and you're more easily able to enter the flow state.

Being a Rockstar

My view of increasing productivity is not about finding a way to do “useful” work all the time, it’s not about cutting all “useless” or “unproductive” tasks from your schedule, it’s about maximizing concentration and focus when you are working. Why? Well for one, it makes work stress-free. But more importantly the outputs of knowledge-work, academic work, and creative work are not linearly related to the time put in. As knowledge-workers, it’s not the loads and loads of work you output that count, it’s the few genius ideas that arrive unexpectedly but make a grand entrance when they get there that make you feel like an absolute rockstar. In my experience, and from my reading of others’ experiences, the best ideas, the genius ideas, the artistic ideas, don’t happen from just cranking widgets for long hours, they happen when your mind is clear. This is how I read Getting Things Done and The Now Habit, and this is the productivity that I strive for.

1 comment:

DK said...

Nicely put, I totally agree.