One of the most important values in life is the difference between action and motion. One of my favorite books, Atomic Habits by James Clear talks about that a lot.
First of all, we have to debunk one of the most common myths about productivity. It’s not about doing more in a lesser amount of time, but about doing the right things. To be honest, this asks more questions than it answers. Yes, maximizing your efficiency is not a simple task, but doing the right things can be even harder.
What is right?
This is the most obvious question. For people without a sturdy moral life compass this question looks almost unanswerable. Building a true moral compass is something we should teach at school by the way. Okay, back to the right things.
What is right? How can I be 100% that what I’m doing is right? How can I predict the future? Plan and project every single possibility? Truly know that I’m not making a mistake?
These questions arose during my first confrontation with the thesis. It’s obviously almost impossible to answer all of them, yet it seems necessary to reach the goal of doing the right things. I think that the answer is much simpler than that.
Non-activity vs activity
What are you doing right now? Why? What are the benefits of it? Are you enjoying it? Is it helping others?
Doing the right things is as simple as defining activity. Because every activity is right.
1. Engages your brain fully (or almost fully)
2. Makes you enjoy it and life overall (doesn’t have to be immediate)
3. Gives you an opportunity to fail
4. Gives you an opportunity to succeed
5. Includes challenges that will expand your abilities
6. Directly or indirectly helps someone (might be you)
7. Moves you (no matter in which direction)
Activity is always good. Even if you fail, it’ll give you an opportunity to learn. Thus, if you’re able to define what is an activity, you know what is right.
Is the exact opposite of activity.
1. Doesn’t engage your brain
2. Doesn’t spark any true joy
3. Doesn’t give you an opportunity to fail
4. Doesn’t give you an opportunity to succeed
5. Doesn’t challenge you
6. Isn’t helping anyone
7. Leaves you in the same place you were in before
Non-activities are not right. Always. But we like them. We crave them. And that’s the hardest thing about productivity.
How they interchange
I’ll go over a few examples: (from my point of view)
– Checking email twice a day is an activity. I usually learn about something new or interesting through the various newsletters I’m a subscriber of, or I receive the opportunity to do another activity (requests, questions etc).
– Checking email more than twice a day is a non-activity, because I spend too much time mindlessly reading through non-important emails instead of dumping them. I work with Inbox Zero for that matter.
– Reading a scientific book/paper for an hour a day is an activity. By breaking it up into two 25min sessions, I can easily focus and take notes while reading.
– Reading a scientific book/paper for more than an hour a day is a non-activity. It’s just harder to focus and I loose context much more easily. Reading starts becoming a chore instead of a challenge.
– Exercising for less than 15 minutes a day is a non-activity. I don’t get to the point where I’m pushing my body to it’s limits. I don’t get as active as I should be to really benefit from the workout.
– Exercising for more than 15 minutes a day is an activity.
And so on, and so forth.
Dump your non-activities
The point I’m trying to make is:
To truly reach ultimate productivity, you have to do two things: define what is activity and non-activity, and then dump all your non-activities. It’s that simple.
But please, don’t be mad when some non-activities sneak into your life, it’s included in the human condition.