Everything we have learnt about productivity in the 20th century is getting precipitously close to out of date.

1. Process work is getting taken over by robots and AI. 

All the available evidence is pointing to the death of the middle class process worker. Just as robotic automation has made the blue-collar assembly line roles of the industrial revolution redundant, so too artificial intelligence is about to make the information process workers that form the bulk of white-collar jobs redundant. So much of the world’s literature on productivity to date is about processing information more efficiently. But it seems the word ‘productivity’ itself may need a new definition sooner than we think.



2. Time is the ultimate non-renewable resource.

Whatever role each individual fills in the modern workforce, our sheer mortality continues to put pressure on time and the meaningful use of it. The bottom line is, if you choose to work in the future you will most definitely need to work smarter, and with an eye on leveraging every minute you spend at work. We should—nay, must!—be obsessed with getting good things done!

3. Value trumps time.

Being at the office, sitting at your desk, simply “clocking on” doesn’t count anymore. The punch card—formerly the sole record of your contribution to the business—is no longer of any relevance in the modern workplace. Too many people engross themselves in “busyness” every day, yet are generating little value for their clients and employers. Productivity today means solving problems, not counting hours.

There’s enormous utility in realising the distinction between time and value. It provides the perspective and motivation to find more efficient, effective and leveraged ways to work.

Everything we have learnt about productivity in the 20th century is getting precipitously close to out of date.

Triaging email as your first daily activity may be the single most counterproductive habit with which to start the day, and yet millions of people around the world make it their ritual. It’s strangely satisfying, and it feels like work, but pretty much every piece of productivity research concludes it’s the worst way to begin your day.

Email feels like work, yet delivers little value.

The most valuable thing you can do at the start of the day is make the progress you need to on your most important project. But so many people find it much more difficult to reach that milestone or finish that report, when deleting email is so addictive. Book after book has been written around how you might get more done. Three of the best include:

Too many people engross themselves in “busyness” every day, yet are generating little value for their clients and employers.

A review of these and other productivity texts points to three areas of focus; the first is how efficient you are being, the second is how effective you are being, and the third is how leveraged you are being.

 

Level 1

Be efficient

At the most basic level, individual productivity is about efficiency. It’s about cranking through your task list and making real progress. Similarly, when you’re passing responsibility to someone else, you need them to be functional. An assistant can only assist when they’re getting things done. Lots of high-performance people actually slow down when someone comes on board to help them, and generating a functional relationship is key to making progress. In a broader team context, you’re aiming for activity. The more people in a team, the more inertia that must be overcome. The first step towards a productive team is a bunch of energised players.

 

The most valuable thing you can do at the start of the day is make the progress you need to on your most important project.

Level 2

Be effective

As your productivity improves (or your time becomes more constrained), you learn how to do only that which matters. Your effectiveness increases when you only do work which has a lasting impact, and learn to say no to the busywork that fills the average person’s day. At this point, you need support that’s truly systemised. All your basic requirements are met without any input from you at all. Delegation becomes something you only have to do once, as your assistant/s have a system to deal with every outcome. Teamwork at this level becomes highly strategic. The energy generated to overcome inertia is focused sharply on activities that move the team directly towards your goals.

 

As your productivity improves … you learn how to do only that which matters.

Level 3

Be leveraged

As you reach the heights of super productivity, you are getting the most out of every piece of work you do. You work almost exclusively in leverage. Everything you do can be magnified, multiplied, repurposed or reused, so that every minute you spend working creates many hours of value. Your top level support staff are highly engaged. In fact, your assistants are so good you suspect they’re better at your job than most of your competitors would be. They’re co-pilots, not ground crew. Top level teams are highly aligned, and operate with a fluidity that fosters enormous creativity.

 

As you reach the heights of super productivity … everything you do can be magnified, multiplied, repurposed or reused.

My seven key takeaways for people who want to get things done:

  1. Use calendars and lists; don’t waste your memory on minutiae
  2. Plan your week at the start of the week, and
  3. Plan your day the day before
  4. Do tough stuff first
  5. Don’t let other people’s stuff dictate your stuff
  6. Make work a game
  7. Work in bursts
 

If you’re fired up, these habits will help. You’ll make progress in your task list and fight the tyranny of overload a little more smartly, but it takes a bit of mojo. You need to ‘lean in’ and expend energy to make it work. The truth is, all the strategies and tactics in the world won’t help you if you don’t have the energy for them. Sometimes it’s more about the capacity you have in your life around your body, your mind and your soul that will dramatically increase your capacity to work. The 9 things in the model below won't help you get to inbox zero but they will allow you to get more done. These 9 things will lift your overall LIFE productivity as opposed to simply making your day more productive

 

All the strategies and tactics in the world won’t help you if you don’t have the energy for them.

The first (bottom) row on this model explore how the body plays a part in helping you get more done. The second explores how you mind is key productivity tool and finally a sense of WHY a connection to something bigger than you, let’s call that soul, will take what you do to a whole new level. Exploring the first column alone is enough to seriously lift your game as a doer.

Fitness

For most of us, productivity is a mental game, which can lead us to neglect the vehicle that carries our brain around and fuels the thoughts it creates. A base level of physical fitness provides you with more mental energy than almost anything else. Without it you will feel fatigue quicker than you should. It is the first way you can lift your capacity to produce.

Focus

The first idea for developing a mental capacity for work is to manage distractions. Get good at deep focussed work and stop multi-tasking. Turns out multi-tasking is a myth and is more accurately called task switching. You can only concentrate on one thing at a time. Make it your most important task for the day, your one thing. This means you don’t waste any precious mental energy and is essentially about getting the most value out of every minute you have to concentrate. 

Purpose

The soul level starts with creating a sense of direction or higher purpose to your work. Even if it’s ‘made up’ by you, find some reason to believe that what you are doing matters as part of bigger picture. This helps you persist and finish things, as you don’t want to let down the bigger than you vision. Without this you wander from idea to idea basically starting and never finishing anything because when the going inevitably gets tough you don’t see the point of putting in or sacrificing.

The other 6 ideas for building your capacity to produce are fairly self-explanatory. Start with the first three ideas and level up your ability to produce.

 

Multi-tasking is a myth and is more accurately called task switching.

Final word:

People who can get things done will be highly valued in the future.

People who simply do things will not. Process, management and status quo supervisors will be out of work.

Working is not an idea for the future, creating is. Go create stuff. Remove the frictions of everyday life and push the edges of what’s possible. You being mega productive is a core future-proof skill.

Actions

  1. Read the summaries of the three recommended books.
  2. Start a learning journal dedicated to being productive.
  3. Pick one of the 9 integrations to work on this month.

Find some reason to believe that what you are doing matters as part of bigger picture.