Here’s a seemingly simple question for you: What’s productivity all about?
Most people will answer that getting more done is about straightforward time and energy management—scheduling your tasks more efficiently, optimizing your lifestyle for health and focus, or utilizing the latest tech tools. That’s what productivity is all about.
But what if these sorts of changes are just window dressing—the final decorative touches—and the real work when it comes to becoming highly productive isn’t about what you do, it’s about how you think? That’s the contention of a compelling recent Medium post by Organizational Psychology PhD student Benjamin Hardy.
Like many experts, Hardy believes that simply pursuing productivity is a fool’s errand. What you need to do, if you want to be like the most exceptionally productive people among us, is first get your mindset right. He lays out 15 fundamental principles of those who achieve great things, all of which are worth a read, but here are a handful to get you started.
1. They Know Who They Are
As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, you can’t achieve success if you can’t define it. And coming up with your personal definition of success is work no one can do but you. Therefore, comparing yourself to other people is a waste of time.
“Non-productive people seek security externally. They seek security in a paycheck, or in friends, or in perceived success. Rather than experiencing security, in reality, they are the slaves to these things,” writes Hardy. “However, insanely productive people know that security can only really be experienced internally. They know who they are. So they don’t worry about all these traps that sabotage and slow the masses.”
2. They Know Where They’re Going
If you don’t have a destination in mind, you can run all day and all night and not make any progress toward your goals. Exceptionally productive people don’t waste their energy wandering in circles. They have a road map.
“The truth is, insanely productive people aren’t moving any faster than the rest. More often, they are moving slower. The difference is, unlike the norm, insanely productive people are moving in one direction. Five steps in one direction seems like a lot to the person who has moved one step in five directions,” says Hardy.
3. They Focus on Service
Because insanely productive people know so clearly what they want, you might think they have an internal focus, but according to Hardy, more often they’re intensely aware of being of service to others. “Despite caring very little about what other people think, insanely productive people care fiercely about other people,” he writes. “When they look at another person, they see a person—not an object. They feel. Like, really feel. It’s not a staged act.” Exceptional productivity, he says, is often founded on empathy.
4. They Don’t Ask for Permission
Lots of us are waiting around for other people to say we can do things, to believe in us, and to validate our plans. Or, we’re waiting for our financial situation to improve. “Insanely productive people started last year. They started five years ago, before they even knew what they were doing. They started before they had any money. They started before they had all the answers. They started when no one else believed in them. The only permission they needed was the voice inside them prompting them to move forward,” says Hardy.
5. They Learn by Doing
This is a corollary of the last point—super productive people dive right in, which, not coincidentally, is often the best (if not the most comfortable) way to learn. “Putting yourself out there and falling flat on your face, over and over and over, is how insanely productive people learn. Rather than having meetings and discussions, they go out and practice,” Hardy writes.
6. They Can Laugh at Themselves
Seriousness of purpose and seriousness aren’t the same thing, according to Hardy. “Insanely productive people have an ease about life,” he says. “They allow themselves to laugh and to feel and to love. They don’t overthink themselves. They don’t define themselves by their achievements. They laugh at themselves when they make blunders. They’re OK with the fact that they’re not perfect.”
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