Friday 26 November 2010

CREATE: Better productivity by doing less

A great deal is talked about productivity. There are literally thousands of blogs, books, techniques, videos etc.. around on how to improve it. I've just installed a Pomodoro timer onto my Mac and am going to use the Pomodoro technique to write this post. But is productivity really important? Do we need to be more productive? Should we be focusing on this?

There are things we need to do in life. We need to make sure our dependents are healthy, nurtured and loved. We need to make sure we eat and sleep occasionally and look after our own bodies. Beyond that everything else is all gravy, it's a bonus. We really don't need to do much more.

Last weekend I watched a bunch of grey seals with their pups on the coast of Norfolk. If I was a productivity coach I'd say these guys really needed a LOT of help. They didn't have any todo lists, schedules, pomodero timers, in fact they spent most of their time just lying around on the beach. Totally useless really.

But guess what, they looked pretty happy! They were doing exactly what they wanted to be doing. To be honest they made all the humans who had driven for miles to see them in expensive and technically advanced cars (and got stressed out in traffic jams) look a little silly. Why didn't we just laze around in bed all day!?

The only 'work' they were doing was occasionally plopping into the sea to catch some fish. And that looked more like play than 'work'.

Now I'm not saying that we should all just laze around in bed and occasionally go to the back garden to catch a squirrel for lunch! Humans are too curious and restless for that and there is little point in fighting our genetic programming. But when we do make the effort to do more than the minimum required, we should think about why we are making that decision.

Do we really need to do the dreaded commute? Do we really need to work late to get that job out of the door? Do we really need to answer that email? Do we really need to check Twitter for the 10th time today? Do we really need to go to work at the job we don't like to pay the mortgage on the big house that we don't need? Do we really need to get that pay rise to buy the flashy car that will make all our friends jealous? Do we really need to do more? Maybe, when you think about it though, maybe not?

Do I really need to write this post? No, but I'm doing it anyway. Why? Well my motivation is connection. I want to connect with like-minded people because I enjoy connecting and working with like-minded people. That excites me. Hopefully the blog posts attract people who are heading in the same direction and maybe also show people it's possible to change direction too if they want to improve the quality of life.

And there is a reason why I can do this blog post on a Tuesday afternoon in London. It's because I removed many of the things I didn't need to do in my life. Previously I'd always tried to squeeze more and more into a finite amount of time. I'd used advanced productivity techniques to optimise every second. But I'd forgot the whole point of why I was doing this. In fact I didn't even know why I was doing it! Being hyper productive didn't make me even slightly happy. It just made other people money and I'm not sure even they were happy.

So for a while I became a metaphorical seal, I rolled on the beach, I ate fish, I did very little. It was great! And I think we should all do this more, it's really good for us to step off the wheel of productivity. But you know what, I am human, I'm not a seal. I need to get off the beach, do things, meet people. But now I'm thinking about it more. I'm thinking why? I'm thinking quality not volume.

For me being productive is not about doing more. It's about doing things that excite you. Taking it further it's about doing less of the things that don't excite you then filling that space with things that do excite you.

By all means use the techniques if they help, we are all easily distracted and they can help keep us focused and moving in the right direction, I'm at the end of my Pomodoro right now! But if it's not absolute necessary (and always question that) or it's not exciting then it's not going to be my version of productive. So learn to say no, learn to stop doing things and become really productive.

OK that's my Pomodoro up, do share what your version of productivity is and what works well for you.

All the best everyone,


  1. Hi Michael and thanks for this. I totally agree.

    I am guilty of going at 100 miles an hour and doing a million things, but never really enjoying anything.

    I think you need to relax more, do less. Just and read a book. Be mindful and enjoy what you're doing. Don't always feel you SHOULD do something, only do it if you want to.

    Thanks again - great post. Sasha @ The Happiness Project London

  2. Thanks Sasha,
    I used to feel incredibly guilty about doing nothing, I think I'm getting over that now! :) But slowing down sometimes still feels a bit wrong. The thing is often doing nothing feels absolutely fantastic and can actually be really productive (if that makes sense?). I wonder why we always feel that we need to be doing things?