The productivity industry is full of bullsh*t. When it’s not outright crap, it’s shallow content regurgitated in hundreds of ways. An app for this, a recurring subscription for that. Oh, and before you leave, pick up a copy of my latest book at Amazon. I have 196,000 people on my newsletter – can you afford not to join? 

I’ve spent close to a decade looking for the perfect productivity system. I’ve tried dozens of task list apps and project management systems, and I’ve read more books and articles than I can remember.

I hate to say it but the vast majority of that time was wasted, misguided at best. Like so many others before me, I became obsessed with the system instead of the results. 

When I wasn’t busy being productive, I loved reading about productivity. I subscribed to almost a dozen blogs and newsletters, each pumping content directly into my inbox. My proverbial cup (and Instapaper account) runneth over. I spent an enormous amount of time reading about productivity. I hope that I’m not the only one that can see the irony here. 

The good news is that nobody has a monopoly on truth within the productivity niche. There aren’t any secrets that’ll transform you from procrastinator to overnight success. The bad news is that the hard work is yours and yours alone. For some reason that doesn’t drive pageviews the way the other stuff does. 

Productive doesn’t mean successful

The truth is that practicing productivity doesn’t always correlate to success. Success doesn’t care about your grind, nor does it care about your productivity system. Success is a result of doing the right things over a sustained period mixed with a little bit of luck. 

Is the goal to have prodigious output? Or is the goal to make meaningful progress on things that matter? Becoming really good at productivity means becoming really good at completing large numbers of tasks.  I’d rather be really good at doing the right things than become really good at doing lots of things (most of which don’t matter). 

Humans respond to incentive very well. Implied incentives are among the most devious because we’re not always aware of them. Be aware of the incentives you create for yourself. If you don’t have any specific goals, the default becomes more – more tasks created, more tasks completed and more productivity

Productivity is really about how to do things we don’t want to do

“Few things are sadder than encountering a person who knows exactly what he should do, yet cannot muster enough energy to do it. ”

― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Most of us don’t need a list or a calendar to tell us how to spend our free time. We know what we want to do. Certain hobbies or people become more important to us than others. We don’t need a system to help us spend time on them. 

The reason we feel like we need a productivity system is that we’re doing work that doesn’t matter to us or we’re overcommitted. 

If this is you, there’s no productivity system in the world that’ll solve your problems. A career change might - or being ruthless about culling your commitments and responsibilities. 

An example: Several productivity systems focus on doing the hardest thing first, or “Eating that frog.” Completing a difficult task first thing in the morning makes the rest of the tasks you complete during the day seem easier by comparison. 

This works, but it’s a truism. There’s no wisdom here. It’s just a parlor trick to get you to work on the things that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Said another way, wake up and do the thing that you have the most resistance to in order to free up your time for things that are easier to work on. 

At the end of the day, the only thing that will help you tackle difficult tasks is grit, and a fair amount of discipline. No system can replace or obviate these requirements. My best advice is to stop looking and start doing. That’s the only way progress is made.