Throttling Productivity

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After trying dozens of full-on productivity systems and hundreds (thousands?) of little productivity hacks over the last decade or two, almost none of them worked for me very long. I noticed when coaching others some time ago that almost none of them work permanently for most people. Hmm.

It took me a little while to figure out why. Now, after years of helping other others implement systems (and being vigilant of my own patterns), here’s what I’ve learned:

You are not in control of what you accomplish, only what you take on.

Let that sink in for a moment.

…Feel the stirrings of your inner rebellion? Excellent!

Consider how:
  • You never seem to accomplish all that you think you can/should/want/etc. This is your true output.
  • Any system by which you manage your productivity/tasks/project/next-actions requires your action to be productive at all. That’s the combustion.
  • Any resources (hours/efforts/money/people) are fuel that can be added to move projects along. But this only helps to a point, after that it simply creates more confusion and waste.

You are the only one in control of what you think you should do. Your hand is on the intake throttle.

When overwhelmed by the number of things to do, or disheartened by actual output, the only thing we can ever do is less: renegotiate existing agreements while placing a temporary moratorium on new ones. Nothing else will ever generate more output, only more waste. Giving more of ourselves only spills more fuel and depletes us. We need to adjust the throttle to decrease output before we flood it and kill combustion altogether.

And before getting worked up about when we get blown off course (i.e. circumstances change), remember that whatever we attempt to accomplish is never within our complete control.

Sure, we can influence the world around us, but the world has better things to do than what we want.

Competition evolves, people leave, priorities shift, things change, and shit happens. No matter your particular industry or workflow, we all have to deal with this. It is a grand equalizer. So while obstacles to your output might reflect on you personally, they could also very likely have absolutely nothing to do with you.

Sometimes the wind just blows. Before you add more fuel to power through, take in some of that air and notice where it is blowing from and to.

Working smarter means doing less and having more space to do it in. It means leaving room for unexpected things to arise and letting go swiftly whenever the expected — oops! — misses its cue.

Those we make promises to (friends, family, coworkers, etc.), they are depending on us. So let us be very careful about what we say we will do for/with others, and quick to renegotiate those commitments as things change. This is the throttle of our productivity and directly influences how people trust us.

And let us be even more careful about what we say we will do for/with ourselves! This is the insidious and invisible throttle of your productivity, and it directly influences your self-worth and sense of satisfaction with your life.

For me, this discovery makes it even more important that we all crusade for what truly matters to us. At whatever level you feel called to contribute, be it in business or in pleasure, please do that! But take care to do it well. Ultimately, it’s not about the project or task or the system that manages them, it’s not about your resources, it’s not about being judged by your boss or by the “shoulds” playing in your head when comparing your output to someone else’s…it’s about you. You get to say what you are doing, and — more importantly — not doing.

Yes, that is your hand on the throttle.

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