This post is part of a 6 article series about productivity.
If you’re confused right now about reading this in the blog of a VFX artist, I’d recommend that you start from the introduction. Otherwise, here’s all the articles in order, in case you’d like to jump to any specific part once they’re all available. I hope you enjoy!
"Oh, isn’t it a hard word to define."
We’ve now established (myself through the hard way) that productivity isn’t just about doing more… instead, it’s really about doing more of what matters, and this is the most important realisation I always try to remember.
From the trillions of ways there might be to define what productivity means, these two are the closest to what comes up when I now think about it now:
Distilling the central takeaway from from all this (or if I could only send one quick message to my younger self…), it would be:
These two really distinct processes are what some people refer to as Blue work and Red work, or planning and executing, and I’ve found that allocating specific time to each of the two processes has been the strongest catalyst for my sense of productive fulfilment.
Tips for setting up a Productivity System
Here’s some random thoughts I would love to have interiorised as foundations long ago, before starting to fiddle around with my own tools and systems:
1. The Best System is the One You Use. And stick to. And enjoy.
In the same way that the best workout program or the best diet are the ones you manage to stick to, the only way that any system will be useful to you is if you trust it and add it into your habits (and muscle memory).
That way it will serve you and not work against you by adding complexity or draining your focus or willpower (spoiler: it’s finite). It should get to feel like an extension of yourself, in the same way that our smartphones are and give us superpowers.
My main recommendation:
Reduce friction to the bare minimum.
Make sure the tools and processes you use resonate with you and that you enjoy using them consistently. In my case, for example: attracted to tools and processes that are simple, automated, smart, beautiful, and functional (for me these last two should never work against each other). This is for instance why I tend to love Apple products. Also why I only feel attracted to sports and activities that have a self-challenging component (with potential for long term improvement), and many other things! It’s a nice self-reflection that I’d recommend anyone to do.
2. Fall in love with the process.
You just can’t beat someone who is having fun doing what they do. They’ll have the energy and motivation to keep doing it and getting better in a positive feedback loop, and it will require no willpower investment at all from their side. By being aware of this fact we can also use it to our advantage. So let’s try to find processes that we enjoy! As they’ll make it worth it just by itself, without the need for any constant and effort-driven motivation.
Embrace an infinite game mindset, where you’re not just trying to patch something but actually establish a lasting practice.
“When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running. And a system can be successful in many different forms, not just the one you first envision.”
– James Clear, October 16, 2018 (Atomic Habits)
3. Simple is better than complex… But it’s OK to start complex.
It’s normal to overcomplicate things while you’re learning and only later simplify.
Most organised thought happens in this way actually. Diverge converge. While we’re learning we really need to explore the terrain and understand what’s the landscape of options, software, tools and possibilities we have for our system. And try different things. Only once we’ve gone though that we’ll start being able to find what helps us and what pulls us back.
So just enjoy the journey, even if it gets complicated sometimes. And be prepared to…
4. ...push through the Valley of Despair!
As I covered in my post about the challenges of learning a new subject, the process usually involves a brief first stage in which you think you know everything, and then you start realising all the holes in your knowledge and the infinite possibilities you were not contemplating, and it becomes pretty tough… and starts to feel overwhelming and impossible to achieve. This is what’s called the Valley of Despair. But from experience in having pushed through it in different topics, I can pretty much guarantee that there’s a pleasant and sustainable phase afterwards.
So don’t worry too much, just start small and simple and then keep pushing. And most importantly:
5. Don’t stress. Chill! 🧘🏻
The only goal of these stupid tools is to help you, not the other way around. Should make you more calm and focused and happy. Not more stressed about added complexity in your life. So these should turn into simple rules that work for you.
It’s normal if the process of changing your habits needs a bit of effort and consciously getting out of the comfort zone – same as learning to drive, it’s too many variables at first – but you still do it because you know it’ll become an automated process for your mind-body and you’ll eventually stop being overwhelmed and be able to focus on “where you want to go” and enjoy.
Any tools you use for productivity (or anything else really, hence their deserving to be called tools!) serve the exact same purpose. And if you ever mess up? Well, it’s easy to start over from a clean slate at any time.
Too many files? Just archive.
Too many tasks? Well, process them, clarify them and let’s make sense and see which ones are not relevant anymore.
Thoughts for being productive
Here’s some insights I arrived to inside the maze and would also love to share because they have been instrumental in my personal journey:
1. Kaizen. 1% better every day.
Kaizen is a Japanese concept that stands for continuous improvement. It emphasises making small and consistent changes to improve over time, and keeping this concept in mind (in ways I’ll briefly describe) has helped me tremendously.
Basically, instead of trying to improve anything drastically in a short time, the Kaizen approach suggests aiming for a 1% improvement every day sustained over time. You just focus on making one small and completely achievable change at a time to what you already have, instead of aiming directly for anything big.
And while this might seem insignificant, if we imagine the example of improving by 1% each day, the compound effect means that by the end of a year you will have improved by 3678%, or 37 times.
I’ve learned to appreciate the power of compound interest in every single area, and not only finances. The more I think about it the more I see every aspect of life has an inertia: A push you make in a direction changes your speed (and not only your position), so it’s really an acceleration. I strive to always remember this. That’s, I believe, why progress can be really slow sometimes – because your consecutive pushes increase the speed. Maybe 0.01% each time but it’s actually speed that you’re changing, so it gets geometrically easier. And the opposite is also true when you allow it to stop. Speed decreases.
2. Being a sniper vs handgun.
This is another notion that helps me adopt a more efficient mindset for the tasks at hand. What does it mean to be a sniper?
- Sniper = strong detailed focus, which makes it perfect for hitting your target, once you’ve setup the ideal conditions.
- A Handgun on the other hand is more reactive, fast and good for close or unexpected targets, but it doesn’t let you see and focus from afar.
Picking a handgun would let you cover much more area (so it’s great for blue work or divergent thinking/planning) but at the same time it’s a lot worse for deep focused work, where a sniper would let you hit the targets one by one and more efficiently. Especially if we consider that…
3. We are single core processors!!!
That is a harsh truth that most of us keep trying to defy.
I might be completely wrong (and partly hoping so), but every piece of evidence I’ve seen and experimented points to the skill of multitasking simply being a combination of muscle memory (so purely automated processes) + quickly switching our single processor (or “our consciousness”) for the most meaningful and complex task at hand.
Let me give you some examples of what I mean:
- Don’t know how to drive? All your energy (aka single core processor) goes to learning which pedal to push and gears to turn.
- Just learned how to drive? All your energy (aka single core processor) goes to looking at the street and signals and how not to kill people or crash against other cars.
- Been driving for a long time? Your auto-pilot (literally 😃) can do the whole job while your precious single core processor can maybe dedicate most of its power to having a conversation with your copilot!
So what about the cases where we have many little tasks and we really believe to be multitasking? Well, my current impression is that it’s probably either that we can do some of them in a completely automated way while only focusing on one of them, or that we can do all of them in a mostly-automated way, and our single core processing power is quickly (and potentially inefficiently) shifting from one to the other where it’s needed.
I’m sure this is a super distorted simplification of reality, but still that doesn’t exclude it from being practical for us! Classic Physics style.
4. “The One Thing”
Prioritising one thing necessarily means de-prioritising others. You can’t have it both ways, and… if what you want to optimise for is success on one thing, then it’ll basically need to take priority.
It sounds obvious, right? But we both know how hard it is to de-prioritise things that are “almost” a high priority!
So, what’s your One Thing?
This is a core concept of productivity and takes many forms so you’ll read variations of it over and over. One of such versions that clicked with me and inspired this section was this book called The One Thing. Nice read.
This was my take on productivity as a concept, the importance of giving it your own perspective and how personal it gets, as well as the compilation of some of my favourite thoughts and inspirations surrounding the topic.
In the next part I’ll discuss the processes (methods and rituals) I use for productivity. I hope it’s useful!
If you’d like to know when the other parts are up, read some random thoughts or stay updated on my posts, tools or courses, you can join my (still-upcoming) newsletter. I won’t write often, but when I do I’ll make sure it is condensed and interesting. You can join the newsletter here.