It starts with a personal position you take on the matter. Productive people see waste for what it is – and never give it a nobler name. They actively pursue more effective ways of achieving the things that make a real difference; not as a bonus, but as a non-negotiable quest to make their lives more valuable.
Many people, institutions and cultures still regard productivity as ‘working harder’. They subtly profess that there is economic honour in taking on a lot, putting in extra time, having a packed schedule, sinking under a long to-do list, juggling between tasks, and sleeping less ‘to get it done’.
This type of busy-ness has its origin in the labourer-mentality in which many societies rear their offspring – by which brute effort is glorified and distress held up as the guarantee to a better future. Under this formula, many highly occupied, hard-working people live very unproductive lives.
You are productive when you achieve more of an intended output without an equivalent additional expense. Or when you achieve the same output at a lower cost – whether in the form of time, labour, capital, energy, processing power or attention.
To achieve this, you will also have to learn to discriminate against unvaluable tasks and/or suboptimal employment of your resources. Stop accepting wastefulness – in any area of your life. Do less of what doesn’t make much of a difference and focus more on what does. Outlaw needless, ill-directed motion.
Empower yourself with a few practical rules of thumb, to act as guiding stars in shaping a more effective life. You may choose to add some of the following pointers to the list you decide upon:
• Plan and prepare; it will amplify your impact and limit do-overs.
• Never do something twice if it can be done once.
• Don’t guess what you can know; measure for accuracy.
• Don’t pay for something you should not have at all.
• Standardise simple, repetitive tasks.
• Don’t do the work of a ‘machine’; automate what you should.
• Work on the right thing; replace activity with priority.
• Schedule revitalisation; tiredness causes sloppiness.
• Put end points to tasks; regard completion above perfection.
• Ration – and tidy up meetings.
• Single task; minimise interruptions and distractions.