Productivity: Do’s vs Dont’s

Productivity is the elusive golden snitch in today’s world. J. K. Rowling describes a seeker’s job in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as follows.

This… is the Golden Snitch, and it’s the most important ball of the lot. It’s very hard to catch because it’s so fast and difficult to see. It’s the Seeker’s job to catch it. You’ve got to weave in and out of the Chasers, Beaters, Bludgers, and Quaffle to get it before the other team’s Seeker, because whichever Seeker catches the Snitch wins his team an extra hundred and fifty points, so they nearly always win.

A nice strategy to overcoming procrastination and increasing productivity is usually described as reducing the inessential. James Clear recently recommended the power of less to eliminate any distractions in our lives.

While this route is surely useful, there is only one little problem that should particularly be known to the new entrants in the world of self improvement. This works with the people who are already doing some kind of meaningful work. If you have nothing to aim for, it is much better to sit down and devise a plan first than reducing the inessential and then wondering what to do next until the temptation pulls you back in. It becomes even more difficult to bounce back from this situation.

As an example, spending less and saving more is one of the foremost recommendations from the financial advisers. However, for it to work, the person must be earning a significant amount of money in the first place. Someone earning $45k/year must look to increase his income (do more) than saving money (do less). Above a certain threshold, they can then turn towards reducing the inessential.

Long ago, I once decided to cut back on my sleep to have more `useful’ hours. I was too young to know that the quality of our day depends on the quality of our sleep in the previous night. Nevertheless, I reduced my sleep time and what did I do for so many hours when I was awake? Exactly nothing. Without a plan and roadmap, no project had even started and nothing was rolling for me towards which I could devote my time. Years later, I started focusing on optimizing everything during the day.

Even some governments get caught in this trap, particularly in the developing world. They focus so much on reducing corruption and catching tax evaders that they forget to pay attention to encouraging new business ventures and moving the economy. The result is a stalled economy and dying hopes. In the hindsight, it seems better to aim for doing more first and later reducing the leakage in this context.

In summary, always look for the best strategy. There is a time for doing more of useful stuff only after which doing less of useless stuff becomes a permanent habit.

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