Concept: Focus on results, not being “productive”
“Focus on being productive, not being busy” – Tim Ferriss
In the Four-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss says that, for most of us, being “busy” instead of actually productive is our default. I have considered myself a productivity nut for a long time, but, Tim’s idea still came as a revelation for me. Tim is 100% correct.
We who pride ourselves on being “productive” are usually focused on crossing off as many tasks on our todo list as possible. It feels good to cross each task off. Sometimes, we add an already completed item to the list just so that we can cross it off. At the end of the day, we can say “wow, I knocked out 12 items today” as we contort to pat ourselves on the back.
But, this method of productivity is a trick we play on ourselves.
Here’s the root problem: once all our todos are on a list together, it’s easy to fall into thinking that they are all at least somewhat equivalent in importance. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The most important thing you could do today is probably 100X to 1,000X times more impactful than the least-important task that you could do.
One is Greater Than Ten
You should ask yourself, “If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will be I happy?” – Tim Ferriss
What really matters is not “how many boxes did I check today?”, but, “what impact did I have today?”
You could do just one important task today and accomplish something very impactful. By the same token, you can check off 10+ low-impact tasks today and not make a bit of real difference.
The group that is doing just 1 truly important task per day will outperform the group doing 10+ low-impact tasks per day by thousands of miles over a lifetime.
This sounds obvious, but if it is, why do so many of us waste so much time on obviously unimportant and trivial things?
How do we separate the important from the unimportant? Tim suggests asking yourself about each of your tasks, “What will happen if I don’t do this?”
I think that’s a great place to start… if nothing will happen if you don’t do something, there is no reason to do it all. If nothing will happen for a while, then there is, at least, no reason to do the task right now. Not when there are better ways to spend today’s hours.
An important question for today is “What could I do today that would create some meaningful impact on my life? Or the life of my loved ones?”
If you ask these questions of your todo list items, you will find that some tasks are highly impactful while others should probably not even be on your list. Some items represent a possible 8, 9, or 10 positive impact. Others represent a 1, 2, or even a zero.
Identifying Your Most Important Task
“If you don’t identify the critical tasks and set aggressive deadlines, the unimportant becomes the important.” – Tim Ferriss
Often, the most important thing you can do is the task that you are most uncomfortable with. If in doubt of what is most important on your list, start by focusing there.
This is the task that you have told yourself is too time-consuming, too hard. Or the one you don’t want to even think about. It’s the one that you have put off for weeks while you are ticking off all those low-impact, easy tasks and putting out unimportant fires. Even if the uncomfortable task is not the absolute most important, getting it done will give you some great mental and emotional momentum to carry forward.
Past that, you should look for a task that has high upside. Look for a task that can be a “lead domino” that, by achieving this one task, you make your other tasks easier or less important.
For example, instead of focusing on that paperwork in front of you, ask what you work on that would make you enough money that you can hire someone to do the paperwork for you in the future? Or could you hire someone today and focus your efforts on something more rewarding immediately?
Are you just keeping the trains running on time? Or are you making an impact and moving forward?
The Most Important Task May Not be on Your List at All
Do you ever feel like you are doing lots of things, but, nothing is changing? No progress is being made? This is happening because the actual most important thing that you could be doing isn’t on your list at all. “Missed opportunities” quietly slip by instead of being loud squeaky wheels that demand your attention.
I can’t stress this enough – many lives have been wasted toiling away in a reactive cycle of dealing with unimportant tasks.
Get proactive. Make things happen. Come up with new tasks that will make tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year better than today. Open your mind up to what is possible and stop just reacting.
What could you do or what do you want to do? What is possible for you to achieve if you devote and energy to it? There is some path out there that can offer you enormous impact & upside… what is it? Put that thing on your list. You are the only person in existence who can do this for yourself. Everyone else will gladly add their priorities to your todo list, only you will add yours.
Give that important thing the kind of attention and energy that you gave all those less important tasks that you put on a todo list. Stop letting your todo list be a list of other people’s priorities and unimportant fires that you are putting out.
Get some clarity on what is important, remove the clutter, and free up some mental cycles to get on offense.
Toss the Efficient Clutter, Focus on the Impact
“A task will swell in perceived importance & complexity in relation to the time allotted to it” – Parkinson’s Law
Once you’ve made sure that your most important tasks are actually on your todo list, now you can get to work.
Remove the low-to-no impact items from your list entirely. Yes, that’s right, get rid of of them. Find a way to eliminate/automate those low-priority tasks, delegate them, or just let them go undone (if the impact of doing so is low or nonexistent) and remove from them from your list. These items are clutter that distracts from what is important.
That leaves only the high-impact, important items. You should now ruthlessly focus your time and energy on executing these high-impact items. You will check off less boxes on your todo list each day, but, more things will happen.
If you want to have a fulfilling life you need to work on developing a proactive mindset about your life. Then, focus your limited time & energy on executing on what is important and achieving high-impact goals.
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I highly recommend Tim Ferriss’ Four-Hour Workweek (click here to check it out on Amazon), it’s on my list of 8 Books with the Highest ROI (click here to read the list).