Most people, myself included, think that productivity is doing more things in less time. It is about organizing tasks in an app, tidying up the workspace, and learning keyboard shortcuts.
15 years ago, I started my productivity quest. I learned hundreds of keyboard shortcuts to speed up my workflow. Meanwhile, I read David Allen’s classic book, Getting Things Done, and applied it step by step to my life.
I became a “productivity hacks” addict, things were working out. But, some time later, I was feeling tired, my back was in pain, I stressed out, I was unhappy.
The truth is that I neglected important concepts before applying these productivity tips to my life.
First of all, we need to understand what productivity really means. In fact, to understand it, we need to understand the true meaning of the words: efficiency, efficacy, and effectiveness.
Are you efficient?
Efficiency is the ratio between “Outcome and Effort”, it is associated with the operational level. To be efficient is to accomplish the same task faster, with minimal effort and resource consumption.
An example of efficiency in graphic design is to approve a logo within less time, consuming less paper, and making fewer meetings.
Do you reach your goals?
Efficacy is the relationship between “Outcome and Goal”. It is linked to the managerial level; it pays no attention to how we do things, but only on accomplishment. We are efficacious when we can reach our goals.
An example of efficaciousness is to hit 100% of revenue goals.
How are you reaching your goals?
Effectiveness is doing the right thing to transform an existing situation. It is the relationship between “Efficiency and Efficacy.” Thus, effective people make the best use of the resources at their disposal to achieve their goals.
For example, it is hitting 100% of the revenue goals, working less, consuming fewer resources, and attending to fewer meetings.
And finally, Are you really being productive?
Productivity is nothing more than a mechanism for performance measurement. Therefore, to be productive, you need to establish goals, know precisely the resources you use, and have a transparent working process.
A person or company with high productivity is highly effective; they achieve their goals (efficacy) with the least possible use of resources (efficiency). But they don’t forget to establish and analyze performance measurement metrics.
For example, you are a talented graphic designer, you are hired to design a package for a new soap. Your project helps the company reduce 50% of packaging costs compare to its other lines. Your project is very efficient!
With all this efficiency, the company achieves the sales goals set for launch. Your project is efficacious!
However, three months later, 60% of customers had some type of allergy to the product. After some analysis, experts have concluded that the soap has undergone a chemical change due to contact with the packaging you designed. The project was ineffective! Your design optimized resources well (efficiency), helped the company to achieve sales goals (efficacious), but did not do the right thing (effectiveness).
Therefore, the apparent success of the project soon proved to be a failure. Causing colossal damage to the company and to your design business.
We all want to do the right thing! And what is doing the right thing? It is to analyze each task carefully. Is to identify the ones that are aligned with our goals. To reflect if they will bring positive results. And then executing them quickly, consuming the least amount of resources.
We must avoid activities that do not generate immediate or future returns for ourselves or for everyone involved.
Beware of Toxic Productivity
I’m sure a lot of people think that to be more productive, you have to work harder. And they work hard! But after a busy day, they look back and aren’t sure which activities have brought them the most results. And as it happened to me, they burnout.
Getting work done without measuring the consequences for our mental and physical health for the people around us and, consequently, for the world we live in is what I call “Toxic Productivity.”
To avoid it, we must study, think, and act strategically.
The simple productivity rule: Pareto Principle
The one thing that really helped me to overcome toxic productivity was the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. This principle basically says:
20% of causes lead to 80% of effects.
It is natural to expect that everything we put more effort, the better the result we get. But in 1892, Vilfredo Pareto noticed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Soon, he observed the 80/20 rule in many natural phenomena.
Of course, the relationship between cause and effect is not precisely 80/20. But it’s close to that. What is surprising is that this relationship can be observed in many of the everyday things.
- More than 80% of scientific discoveries are made by 20% of scientists.
- Wherever you are, less than 20% of clouds cause 80% of rainfall.
- Software companies know that, in general, 80% of users only use 20% of available features.
- 80% of the time we wear only 20% of our clothes.
- 20% of customers account for 80% of most business profits. The Royal Bank of Canada identified that 17% of its clients generated 93% of profits.
We can say that not only in design but in life “Less is More.”
Therefore, not being able to identify the 20% of activities that bring you 80% of positive results is one of the biggest impediments to being productive.
Real productivity is determined by how we are managing our energy, time, and focus.
We need to dissociate reward from the effort. We need to focus on what brings us exceptional results without extraordinary effort.
How to apply the Pareto Principle to your productivity?
Grab a pen and a piece of paper, breath deep, and answer the following questions thoughtfully:
- What is your goal?
- Why do you have this goal? Stop here. Think of the reason you have this goal. Is it worth the effort? What are the benefits it will bring to your life? If you are sure about it, move on.
- List all the tasks you perform on a regular day, don’t forget anything, write down even how often you go to the bathroom.
- Select the activities that you perform well that are aligned to your goal. Remember that 80% of your success comes from only 20% of your skills and knowledge.
- Also, select the most essential tasks you performed yesterday.
- Compare these tasks you performed yesterday with those you chose as things you perform well. What are they? These are the 20% of activities that bring you 80% of the results. Focus on them, put 80% of your time and energy on them.
- Look at the other tasks and reflect: what can I delegate? Accomplish in my spare time? Or even eliminate from my life. Include here sporadic things that aren’t on your list, like going to bars, parties, restaurants.
Productivity is an important issue, don’t neglect it! Many people research software and techniques to be more productive, end up working more, committing to more tasks. This kind of productivity is not healthy. If we do things reactively, we do not prioritize the problems that really need solutions. As a result, we get overwhelmed, frustrated.
Productive people have specific goals. They get the job done where they can have exceptional results, they know how to set priorities using the Pareto Principle. They make decisions effectively. And only then, they implement a system that leads step by step the correct sequence of action using productivity hacks.