Every once in a while I find a few tricks that make me more productive. I post them right here on the blog. Productivity is relative however. What is a productive day? Sometimes I go to work and spend the whole day working without checking YouTube, reading blogs or news, and I feel productive. But when I get home, I am tired and I sleep until the next day. Then I feel like I have not been productive toward something else.
I have less guilt when I work on my own side projects. But then again, there are weekends that I spend working on my projects all day long without doing anything else. Then I feel like I have not been productive in life.
Aiming for a productive life can almost be harmful because it is too generic. It's like saying "I want to live a simple life." Life is simply complicated. We all want to be productive every day simply because it is the status quo.
The dictionary definition says being productive means achieving or producing a significant amount or result. Let's say you do not feel bad about not doing what you were supposed to do today. How does missing the goal affect you? In what way does it make you better if you had accomplished it? Will checking your work email at 10 pm make you more productive? Maybe it will. But if you checked the email the next day while you are at work, will you accomplish less?
Because working is now synonymous to productivity, let's take a closer look at it. In the US, we have an 8 hours work day. Do you feel like you are productive for this whole time? I know I am not. If I was to add up the time in a day where I produce the most results it will barely reach 3 hours. It is simply impossible to give a person a computer connected to the Internet and expect him to be productive the whole time.
Sometimes it is just an illusion of productivity because we are doing so much yet nothing. We go to long meetings where we
confuse each other discuss for hours only to comeback to our desk and try to get back in the zone. We read 100 articles about technology because if you are in the technology sector you just have to read them. You read about ruby on rails, django, symfony, Haskell, quantum theory, this is all important information, it is bound to make you better. It is productive because you learned a lot. But in doing so, you are not being productive in other areas, like getting your work done.
In these times where entertainment is available at a finger tip, it is much harder to concentrate. Sometimes we even think we are productive while in really we are doing the opposite:
even though you think you are getting better at multitasking, what you are really doing is you are getting better at being distracted.
Because we are addicted to distraction, we are also starting to confuse it for productivity. When I was a kid, I spent long hours on the computer. My parents automatically assumed I was working. The computer still has this connotation today. It is a device used for work. Even though I had my flight simulator open in full screen, my parents couldn't understand that I was playing a game. "He must be doing something important with those airplanes."
Mobile devices have also inherited the same traits. Because they are computers after all and are connected to the Internet, what other things could kids be doing on it other then reading an interesting article about the formation of the universe. It always comes as a shock to parents when they realize kids are "producing no results" even though they live in a computer.
Instead of trying to be productive generically, it is much better to set specific goals. Don't exercise because you heard it is good for you. Do it because you want to be able to run 10 miles without breaking a sweat. Don't learn Chinese because it is complicated. Learn it because you want to go to china, or you want to order in Chinese in your favorite restaurant. Do not learn to code because you heard there is money in it. Code because you want to solve a problem.
Find your reason to be productive.
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