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The Best Productivity Hack Is Accepting You Can’t Do Everything

by | Apr 3, 2023 | Life Hacks

Modern productivity makes us crazy.

We think that with more help or some new productivity app like Notion, we’ll magically be able to get it all done.

But becoming a box-ticker productivity worshiper is the fast lane to an average life surrounded by boring business.

The title of this article comes from Justin Welsh. He quotes Parkinson’s Law as proof that work expands to fill whatever time we allocate to it.

So there’s no way to be everything to everyone and get it all done.

The birthplace of overachievement

The traditional employer trains us to have a dangerous relationship with time.

Hard work is idolized in the corporate world. Work is a kind of performance you do to create the illusion that you’re busy … so you must be creating enormous value, right?

But time spent doesn’t equal value.

Our association with busy at work is an important one. If you say you’re not busy people think you either need more work or should get fired.

So we make it a habit to always be busy and to overuse the word. Then when it comes to our personal life we can’t stop saying “busy.”

The deeper question to chase to the ends of the earth

A customer said to me the other day “sorry, I’ve been too busy to reply. Us business owners are so busy.”

I couldn’t take it anymore. I fired back.

“Tell me a time in your life when you’ve not been busy?”

They couldn’t think of one. There’s always more to do than there is time. That’s what it means to be human. None of us live forever so we need to use our time wisely.

Being busy is such a lame game. When one of my direct reports at a former job used busy as an excuse, I wanted to shake them. Instead I said “wake up man. What the hell are you doing with your life?” I snapped.

The real question we all should become obsessed with is “why do I do what I do?”

Living a busy life is what we do when we’re living unconsciously. When you ask this big question you start to tap into higher states of consciousness.

Underneath it all there’s a reason we exist. There’s a purpose behind it. Once you discover what that is you’ll stop trying to do it all and trying to live a busy life full of deathbed regrets.

Most of the things you have to do are meaningless from 10,000 feet

That’s what it all comes down to.

The lens I find most helpful is my 2015 near-miss with cancer one. The week I found out this life-changing news nothing else mattered.

  • Buy a car? Who cares I’ll be dead soon.
  • Pick up the shopping? Who cares I can eat what’s in the cupboard.
  • Go to work today? Who cares my boss will hire someone else when I’m dead. And everyone knows he won’t come to the funeral.

My productive schedule collapsed.

I spent an unusual amount of time with family and leaving behind glimpses of my life. I even considered getting a woman pregnant as quickly as possible to have a kid I’d never get to meet.

Once you attach meaning as the criteria for doing anything in life, there’s not that much left to do. Productivity turns into a minimalist sport.

Justin Welsh says “don’t live to work.” That’s what many of us do. Sh*t, eat, work, sleep, repeat.

Our job becomes our identity, so productivity becomes the hidden goal.

We try to do everything so we can be a “somebody.” The tribal nature of labels and titles is far too addictive. And the outcome is meaningless. It’s this empty feeling you can’t describe to your therapist.


A transformative way to think about productivity

Let’s transcend productivity and find hidden flow states with these ideas.

Doing nothing is more productive than working

This one bites productivity gurus in the face.

They hate hearing it. Doing nothing is when you’re physically unproductive but your mind is hyperproductive. Empty space gives the mind time to decompress and join the dots of all the inputs together.

What follows are breakthroughs that help identify what to do more of and what tasks to eliminate.

Less meetings boost your creativity

Think of your brain like a cup of tea.

If you aim a firehose at the cup and blast it all day, what’s going to happen? Tea will go everywhere and stain your favorite shirt.

That’s what meetings do. They create so many open loops that it’s hard to focus. Most meetings could have been an email. Meetings are the reason we have to stay back at night to do the real work.

Say no to more meetings.

Imagination works best without rules

Society and institutions have flooded us with rules.

They want to pander and coddle us to death like we’re 3 month old babies that need to be told when to feed, piss, play, and poop. It’s exhausting.

I’ve found my imagination increased when I quit my job and started to live with fewer rules.

Without all the constraints I stopped self-censoring. Censoring at work happens because we don’t want to risk our food or shelter by saying something bad that could get us fired.

So we follow the rules and even say nice things about them — even if we think they’re BS. Unshackle your mind.

Try to live with fewer rules. And pivot your career towards work that happens around as fewer rules as possible. Maybe you can’t transition right away, but at least make it a plan to.

As the rules disappear you’ll find a new sense of mental freedom. That’ll lead to some of the most productive years of your life.

Going slow through life is 10x better than driving in the fast lane

The problem I have with trying to do everything and productivity culture is it forces us to live in the fast lane.

  • Nothing is done with care.
  • Everything is a race.
  • It’s all about trying to get from A to B as fast as possible.

I’ve lived the fast life and it led to deep mental health issues. I still live the fast life some of the time, but I do my best to slow down much more.

On the slow days I find myself more aware of the details. It’s as if the physical world goes from 1950s black and white tv to 2023 4K.

My mind starts to notice more small details too. This is helpful as a writer because it lets me craft stories that have nuance and are full of emotion.

Slow down to speed up.

The 80/20 rule works wonders

You’ll never finish 80% of what gets thrown at you.

Don’t try. Focus on prioritizing and working on the 20% that matters. Everything else will sort itself out. And if doesn’t then in the grand scheme of things it probably doesn’t matter.

  • If your job disappears there’s always another one.
  • If money disappears you can always connect to the internet and make more wifi money from billions of internet users.
  • If someone gets angry at you they’ll get over it — or they won’t and reveal their true colors, thus helping you remove them from life.

True productivity is letting things fall over, turn into fires, and burn themselves to the ground the way nature intended.

Final Thought

The truth is you can only really manage one big priority at a time.

Once you realize that you’ll stop trying to do everything and focus on the power of only doing one thing.

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