Productivity: Doing the Right Thing and Doing Things Right

There’s a common saying that goes, “If you want something done, ask a really busy person.” Why is that? Productivity author Laura Vanderkam answers this way: “A good juggler can juggle more.”. Being busy forces a person to figure out how to be more productive by developing better processes for managing tasks, time, and output. Throughout my professional career, I’ve handled constant onslaught of increased responsibilities and growing commitments by honing my own approaches to productivity. I’ve been fortunate to come across great books on the subject and to read the works of people like Merlin Mann, whose blog 43Folders was a tremendous resource for me, and David Sparks, a lawyer whose carefully crafted ebooks on productivity have been a helpful resource.

Over the years, I’ve developed a systems approach to my own productivity that has enabled me to tackle a lot of projects and responsibilities. Over the next several weeks, I’ll share what’s worked for me, including concepts like:

  • The Hedgehog principle for evaluating opportunities
  • How good goal setting starts with facing your brutal reality
  • Why goal setting may not be in your best interest
  • Different approaches to keeping track of tasks
  • Why I carry a notebook everywhere
  • And more….

Effectiveness vs. Efficiency

The first concept—a foundational one—is that productivity alone is not enough. Strictly speaking, productivity is defined as increasing output. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if I get 30% more done unless what I did helped move me towards my goals.

Similarly, having great aspirations is not enough. I can go through vision quests and goal setting exercises, define my mission, state my SMART goals, and make plans—and accomplish nothing if I am not productive.

My real objective—in life—is to glorify God by working hard and helping people. That looks like adding value to others through the gifts, talents, opportunities, and resources God has given me. Knowing how to do that well requires both productivity and planning.

Take a look at this diagram:

Accomplishment requires both planning/effectiveness and productivity/efficiency.

This illustrates the balance needed to maximize my lifetime accomplishment. On the one side, the value of planning is emphasized. Without a careful process of evaluating opportunities, understanding my strengths, and setting future goals, I will not be effective, I will not be able to get the right things done. On the other side, the value of productivity is included. Good plans require good execution, and thus knowing how to get things done right—efficiency is key.

Both sides are important and over the next several weeks, I’ll explain my approach to understanding and improving each of them.

Application for Today

Productivity advice is useless if it can’t help today or this week. Accomplishment requires both big-picture planning—“where are we going?”—and a focus on greater efficiency—“how should we go there?”. Take some time today and consider how the tasks and projects you are working on are moving you towards your longer term desires. And at the end of the week, review what you did and ponder how you could be more efficient in what you did.

Leave a Reply