Stop Wasting Time on Productivity Hacks

Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash

Productivity — and efficiency by extension — are popular terms. I used Google Ads to find out how often these terms are searched per month in North America. Productivity is searched on average 10K — 100K times per month and efficiency is searched a whopping 100K — 1M times per month.

Clearly, people are interested in productivity and efficiency — I included. But lately, I’ve taken issue with productivity hacks. I end up spending more time looking for productivity hacks than I spend producing. As if there’s a secret productivity hack out there that will take away all the burden of work for me.

I’ve seen this same phenomenon in health as well. Whenever I tell anyone how I overcame IBS, they lock on to the supplements I took. The supplements played a minimal role in my recovery, and yet that’s what people want to know about.

People are drawn to ‘snake oil’ and ‘this one weird trick’ because of simple psychological desires that marketers love to exploit.

Referencing an article by Jon Brosio, who references a book titled “Copywriting Secrets” by Jim Edwards, the following desires are noted in the purchasing process:

  • Make money
  • Save money
  • Save time
  • Avoid effort
  • Escape mental or physical pain
  • Get more comfort
  • Achieve greater cleanliness or hygiene to attain better health
  • Gain praise
  • Feel more loved
  • Increase their popularity or social status

You can see then why productivity and efficiency are such desirable traits. They imply that you will make more money, save time, avoid effort, and gain more comfort. This is fine and good, but there is no replacement for work — you can dig up all the productivity and efficiency hacks you want, but if the search for productivity is taking away from your productivity then it’s a problem.

Do this instead

There is a time for productivity/efficiency hacks, but not before you work your ass off. Productivity and efficiency are tools to refine a process. If you don’t begin with a process, then no hack in the world will help you. That’s why you need to forget about productivity hacks, and put your reps in.

Forming solid work habits comes before productivity hacks. It can be your health, your job, spending time with family — anything. Most successful writers had some sort of writing routine; they treated their craft as a profession. They put in their reps and reaped the fruits of success. But it takes effort.

In my first month on Medium, I made less than a dollar. The next month I made just under 8 dollars. Half-way through this month, I’ve made over 10 dollars. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s still solid progress. What do I owe that progress to? Writing my ass off. Publishing 4 articles a week. I didn’t see any progress until I decided to put my head down and just write.

Read, Write, and then write some more — this is the most common advice for writers starting. The advice is boring and lacklustre, and it works.

What do Tom Kuegler, Tim Denning, Thomas Oppong, and so many other hugely popular writers on Medium have in common? They produce a crazy amount of content! Consider Tim Denning’s imperfect morning routine.

The gist of it is that Denning gets good sleep, wakes up early, and writes his ass off. Do you think Tim Denning is browsing the internet looking for productivity hacks? Maybe, but I doubt it because Tim knows there is no substitute for hard work.

The right time for productivity hacks

Productivity and efficiency are tools to refine a process.

You can’t refine something that doesn’t exist.

…anything you do can be fixed. What you cannot fix is the perfection of a blank page. What you cannot fix is that pristine, unsullied whiteness of a screen or a page with nothing on it — because there’s nothing there to fix. — Neil Gaiman.

Gaiman uses the word fixed, but efficiency could be used just as well. Anything could be made more efficient or productive, but you can’t make nothing more efficient. It’s sad, funny, and ironic that we would prioritize finding more efficient/productive methods for our work rather than put in the actual work.

If you’re pouring hours of concentrated effort into production (whether that be writing or otherwise) then productivity hacks become useful. It’s only when you’ve experienced the hurdles of your craft first-hand can you know where improvement is needed. Productivity hacks are used to enhance the process. Don’t fall into the trap I and so many others fell into — searching for tricks to boost your productivity before simply working harder.

Final words

This article is a gentle reminder that although short cuts and hacks seem attractive, there is no substitute for hard work. If you look at the top performers on Medium, in sports, business, etc. you’ll find that they worked like demons. Eventually, it makes sense to systematize, refine, and tweak the process — but not before putting in the sweat, blood, and tears that ultimately instill the characteristics of a noteworthy individual.

If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all. — Michelangelo.

Canadian born writer with a drive to share his research and experience. Check out my blog:

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