If you are anything like me, you are very busy.
And it's natural, when one is very busy, to want to get more done in a day. That's why I often find myself reading books -- and listening to podcasts -- about productivity, about ways to become more efficient and focused.
After all, if you now produce, say, "100" units of effort every day, wouldn't it be amazing if you could, through some weird trick, produce "110" units of effort, or even "120"?
However, the trouble seems to be that "productivity," as people generally understand it, is basically nonsense. There is no secret, because there is nothing to discover.
Yes, I can easily imagine situations where help with "productivity" would genuinely help a person: if that person was struggling with poverty, or with depression, or with raising a child alone. In those situations, yes, I can imagine interventions that would boost a person's ability to do more creative, artistic, entreprenuerial work.
However, if you are a vaguely professional person, or a more or less functioning grad student -- a person with a relatively normal capacity to produce -- you are probably already at your limit.
In K. Anders Ericsson's seminal study, The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance, his team found that the "star" students of Berlin Music Academy practised the violin for basically the same number of hours each day as the "pretty good" students. There was no extra supply of practice hours that the stars had through their genius unlocked.
There was no augmented, leveled-up willpower that allowed the best musicians to stay in the practice room longer.
Similarly: Anthony Trollope is one of the most prolific novelists who ever lived. Over his life, in addition to working full-time at the Post Office, he wrote 47 novels (as well as several travel books, an artistic memoir, and collections of short stories). But despite this absurdly high output, Trollope stated very clearly that neither he, nor any other author in Victorian London, was able to write new fiction for more than a three-hour stretch each day. After this stretch of hard work, the creative mind was spent until the next morning.
Let's just accept that this is true: you are already at your maximum.
I still have some advice for you, however.
From all my reading, it seems like the key to getting more done is to do fewer things overall.
It really seems that key to getting more done lies in what you do not do, not what you do.
The reason why you aren't producing as much as that annoyingly "productive" person in your field is that you are likely filling your day, and your mind, with stuff you shouldn't be doing.
Here, I mean work that you have decided you have to do, seemingly important work that takes you away from your most crucial vocation.
I think that all of us creative people somehow accumulate a vast array of responsibilities and onerous side-projects. We may consider these tasks to be vital, even virtuous, but often, the people around us have no idea we are doing them.
Can you practise a little shamelessness for the next week or two? Try to see how many "important" aspects of your job you can simply not do, or do only when directly asked.
Try to see how many non-delightful social events you can simply skip. Don't be pompous about it: simply don't show up.
Of course, you shouldn't be reckless. If you try to back out of a work responsibility, and the rest of the office screams at you, well, don't persist.
But I think such moments will be rarer than you think. In past jobs, I have actually seen the very colleague who never did *that one allegedly crucial thing* actually get awards and commendations for their performance of that one thing.
Here's my other tip. Outside of your must-do responsibilities, I suggest you focus on one thing, and one thing alone, to make progress on.
Decide on that one thing. And then go one more step.
Now focus on one aspect of that one thing.
This rule is simply called: "one thing of one thing."
It's about setting singular objectives.
Because it's not enough to say, "I will finish my novel this year," or "I will become a professional blogger in fifteen months." Both those goals are potentially infinite.
You could go mad trying to write the perfect novel chapter, or the most ideally conversion-optimised blog post.
Instead, choose a goal, a focus, and then choose one singular standard or metric to guide you.
Nothing limitless, like "Finish my novel this year." That's impossible.
Rather set yourself a goal like "Write 1,000 words of my novel every day."
Trying to meet that one goal will clarify all your other life decisions.
"Build a professional blog by adding 12 new email subscribers every day." If you pick this goal, then everything else -- traffic numbers, likes and comments, the "respect" of your peers -- has to be essentially irrelevant. Just get those twelve each day.
It's only by settling on a clear, definite, singular target that you can get good feedback on your progress. The target tells you when to try something new, and when to stay on track.
It also tells you what not to worry about.
"Is my novel any good? Well, I don't know yet, but I'm writing 1,000 words of it every single day until this draft is over. Then I'll worry about quality."
If I come across other interesting work he shares with me I will share with you all :-)
Until next blog...