I’ve noticed while working in the digital industry there’s a common trend which fills the blogs we read and our Twitter feeds: entrepreneurship and productivity.
These often well-written pieces offer advice to achieve most in a given day, promising you the ability to compete with fellow entrepreneurs who push their personal limits to achieve your goals.
Over the years, I’ve closely read the same cycle of content, promising better tools and methods to get your work done. I applied as much advice as possible and followed the routines as they motivate you to be better.
Over time my scepticism grew and I wondered whether the authors followed their own advice. Lately, the trend to balance health with productivity makes me wonder this even more. The list to be effective grows longer.
We’re recommended to exercise, throw in some yoga or meditation in our day and make sure to get your 8 hours of sleep. Ideally, you have some hours of deep work every day in the morning and be clever about how you approach email.
If there’s any lesson I’ve learnt is that finding your own way in the waves of advice is the healthiest way to improve yourself. It’s impossible to apply all best practices and be effective at it all.
I’d advice to do the opposite in fact. It sounds counter-productive, but focusing on less instead of more has achieved better results for me personally.
Tools & Principles
I believe in a distinction between tools & principles.
There are many specific tools to try and be more productive (eg. Getting Things Done, Pomodoro Technique, 52/17 Technique). Their results vary person by person depending on your personal preferences.
All these specific recommendations in regards to our work, how we exercise and meditate and everything else we’re supposed to do cause immobility. There are many aspects to keep in account to do all of the above efficiently. I believe our continuous attention in our attempt to be effective in everything simply doesn’t work because of our anxiety to not be effective. The focus on the tools, the techniques and more overtake your attention to just get to it.
My biggest shift in productivity is to focus on principles instead.
Now, techniques are useful in a way that they teach you about principles. For example, the Pomodoro technique teaches you that taking breaks do have a positive effect, some of the rules of Getting Things Done have helped shape my workflow to stay on top of my life.
So, what are some examples of principles?
- Being mindful versus a nagging reminder that it’s time to meditate.
- Knowing that it’s time for a break when you feel your attention is slipping away versus a timer forcing you to drop your work.
- Believing in flow and deep work instead of forcefully avoiding email and scheduling each work session in your calendar.
Instead of focusing on doing everything in an optimised way, put your focus on what was your initial purpose to do something.
Stick to principles, remove the anxiety of efficiency out of your life. It helped me, maybe it can help you as well.
After reading the above piece, you might wonder what some of my principles are. I’ve collected them below.
- Focus on flow: An unburdened mind tends to achieve deep work more easily. Any day with some deep work is a win.
- Sleep: Respect your body when it feels tired.
- Exercise: Move enough, whether it’s walking during the day or breaking a sweat.
- Minimalism: Less is more in all areas of life.
- Kill the routine: Be open-minded, try something new.
- Mindfullness: Be aware of the present and just go with the flow.