The biggest productivity mistake people make

Takeaway: I think the biggest mistake people make when they try to become more productive is they try to do more things, instead of the right things. The solution to this: find tasks that are aligned with what you care about, so you know why you want to accomplish the things you’re doing.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 39s.

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I read quite a few books for AYOP, and one of the best ones I’ve read recently is Start With Why, by Simon Sinek.

The idea behind Start With Why is simple, which I think is why the book is so powerful. The crux of the book is that customers don’t buy what a business makes, they buy why a business makes it (yeah, it’s a business book, but stick with me for a second). Just as your friends spend time with you because of who you are rather than what you do, people form deeper connections with companies that have a clear sense of “why” (a purpose). According to Sinek’s research, companies that focus on their purpose (an actual purpose, not the corny purpose on their mission statement) are a lot more successful than other companies in the long-run.

Take Apple as an example. As Sinek put it in his fantastic TEDx talk (which at the time of writing has about 16.5M views):

If Apple were like everyone else, their marketing message would be: “We make great computers. They are beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. Want to buy one?”

However, this is how Apple actually communicates: “In everything we do we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

Apple communicates and focuses on why they make what they do before thinking about what they should actually make–they think about their “why” before they think about their “what”–and Sinek argues that this one of the main reasons they’re so successful.

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This idea is a powerful one, and I think it also applies to becoming more productive.

When you focus on simply doing more things (“what”), as opposed to doing things that are aligned to your values and what you believe in (your “why”), you may be able to push yourself to be productive in the short-run, but in the long-run you’re going to be a lot less satisfied and productive. The key is to, like Apple, start from the inside of the circle and work outward; first determining what you value and what motivates you the most, and then taking on tasks and responsibilities that fit with who you are.

Unless you make widgets on a factory floor, simply producing more won’t make you more productive. Productivity isn’t about doing more things, it’s about doing the right things; things that mean something after you accomplish them because they are aligned to your values and who you are. I’d argue that if you’re trying to get stuff done without a clear outcome or purpose in mind, you aren’t being that productive at all, because in the context of your life you aren’t accomplishing all that much.

Intention behind action is like wood behind an arrow, and by figuring out what truly motivates you, you’re going to become a lot more productive at the end of the day. The key is to “start with why”, and find tasks that are aligned with your values and who you really are.

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