The Productivity Equation
Productivity = Output / Time
There is no point in being productive if it isn't about the right things. Therefore Output has to be Useful Output. There also has to be a fun factor represented by "f". Hence the complete Productivity equation now looks like
Productivity = (Useful Output / Time) * f
The mental model to understanding productivity equation is 3 pronged:
The Pilot (10% of the time) - Sets the course and figure out the direction. Represents our ability to set out our tasks and goals. It refers to the useful component of the output.
The Plane (80%) - Follow the course and not deviate. Follows the instructions of the pilot and represents the output component of the productivity equation.
The Engineer (10%) - Makes sure the plane is efficient, fuel efficient and organized. This feeds into the job of the pilot. This represents the time component of the productivity equation.
Myth of Time:
"Time is what we want most but use the worst"
It is not that you do not have time to do certain things, it is just that you value or priorities other aspects of your life than doing this task. We are not limited by the availability of time itself, but my the limited number of choices of what we do with that time.
Try to scrub this phrase from your vocabulary.
Think of time as a muscle; the more you squeeze out of it or the more you work on it, the more you realize your ability to accomplish larger number of things.
Myth of Motivation:
We have the thought of doing something and then we have the action of doing it. The aim productivity is to reduce the time and effort it takes to go from one to the other.
Motivation is the middleman. It is the feeling of doing the action initiated by the thought. But that is all it is, motivation is fundamentally just a feeling and it can be fleeting and basing our life around this is a recipe for disaster. In an ideal world we would directly jump from the thought of doing something to actually doing it. This is accomplished by discipline. We have an erroneous concept that we have to feel like doing something before actually doing the thing.
Here is where fun factor of the equation comes in. We generally need motivation to do things that have short term struggle and long term gain.
In order to target this problem we can have a look at the Action and the Outcome
We can make the action more pleasurable. Conversely we can make the consequences of inaction more painful.
We can shorten the feedback loop of the outcome. Make the outcome more salient or measurable.
All these tips are to hack motivation. If we are ideally speaking, we don't need these tips if we are able to ignore motivation.
Myth of Multitasking:
Focusing on one thing at a time is infinitely better than multi-tasking as there is always a residual attention from our previous task to our current task when we do task switching.
We ideally want to reach the Flow State; an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform at our best.
We have to just stretch ourselves enough to where we keep things interesting at the same time not stretching ourselves beyond our ability. This basically talks about the difficulty of a task and the enjoyability of it.
When aspiring to be in the flow state, avoid all distractions as much as possible. Flow state depends on our full undivided attention. If you struggle with distraction, simply choose not to get distracted by things that are in your control.
The 3 Laws of Productivity:
Parkinson's Law - Work expands to fill the time that we allocate to it.
Think of your long term plans and analyze if you can do it in the next 6 months. Simply put, give yourself artificial deadlines for things you have plenty of time to do. This forces you to priorities the most important stuff and ignore the minutia.
Because your brain realizes that this is a artificial deadline, one way you could trick or force it to get the job done is by putting a penalty on inaction similar to the one we have seen in motivation as a myth.
Pareto Principle - 80% of the output/result stems from just 20% of the inputs/efforts
Make your pilot choose the correct things that will result in the majority of you outcome.
Newton's First Law of Motion - An object is at rest or a state of constant motion unless it is acted upon by an external imbalanced force.
If we are still an external force is needed to start moving, but once we do start our motion, as per the Law we no longer need to be moved by this external force to maintain our state of motion. Once you get started it is so much easier to just keep going.
In order to induce this motion there are certain techniques -
The 2-minute Rule - If something is going to take less than or just 2 minutes of your time then you should just do it now rather than delaying it.
The 5-minute Rule - If you are struggling to start or do a task, then just convince yourself to do 5 minutes of it.
The No-Name Rule - You can go through the motions of getting ready to do the task, to get you in the zone of actually doing it.
The 3 Powers of Productivity:
The Power of Habit or Consistency -
Habits are small fundamental units that contribute towards productivity. The entire thesis of this power is derived from James Clear's Atomic Habits. Once something becomes a habit we do not need the willpower or motivation to do it. Social contracts are a very powerful tool to make you do the task more promptly. They ensure that not doing the task is almost not an option.
Once you identify yourself as an unproductive person, all actions you take or do not take and all your thoughts work to reinforce this idea. It is essentially an identity change.
The Power of Productive Downtime -
Try to be productive in the downtime. This could be your commute or your waiting time while working. But try to identify only those tasks for this downtime that do no drain energy from you main job at hand. These should or could inherently be smaller more mundane tasks. Practically this could be done by To-do lists or creating Highlight of the day that is the one thing you want to get done for that day.
The Power of Productive Procrastination -
It is exactly what it sounds like. Your procrastination from doing your main task could itself be something useful to you.
The Fun Factor:
Probably the most important factor in the productivity theory. If you are doing something that you do not like then you are doing a disservice to yourself. Your actively choosing to make yourself feel miserable in hopes of a better more fun future. And this may and most probably will not pan out that way. It is not that you have to stop doing this thing that makes you miserable but you can try to make it more fun. Identify areas that you can change to make this task fun.
ALL THE PROMPTS SEQUENTIALLY
Class Prompt 1:
Which do I struggle with most of all? The Pilot, the Plane or the Engineer? In what specific way/s?
This prompt has forced me to think about my efforts, actions and techniques and upon analysis I am certain that I struggle the most with the Plane aspect of the productivity model. Although recommended to be in this mode for about 80% of the time, I rarely am able to maintain workflows in this phase. I feel most of my time say about 30-40% is spent either being the Pilot or the Engineer. A false feeling of being productive is derived when I work in either of these two phases. I do recognize the value of process and am able to put my head down and be the Plane in certain specific situations like work, were it is demanded of me to be at a particular level of productivity. However, when it comes to personal tasks, I fail to maintain this ability to work without deviation.
Class Prompt 2:
What am I avoiding with the phrase "I don't have time"?
I think for me this phrase represents less of what I am trying to avoid and more of the state or condition I am choosing to ignore rather than accept. That state is procrastination. For me this entails watching countless mindless videos on Instagram or YouTube or even watching brain-numbing and borderline wasteful movies. Now I am not saying watching movies is bad but if I do choose to spend my time doing that, at the very least I should be watching something worthwhile rather than all the garbage I consume. In short I guess you could say I am trying to avoid the reality of my situation when I say that I do not have time.
Class Prompt 3:
What's a goal I want to achieve?
Become a regular runner, ideally running for a minimum of 30 min or 5 kms. Although I have put a number to this goal, it is just contextualize the short term target. In the long run I just want to become a runner rather than running for a specified amount of time.
Can I increase my odds of hitting the goal by putting money on the line?
I do really want this goal and would be willing to put money on the line but am worried based on my track record that I would probably loose it within the first week.
How can I make the outcomes more tangible and desirable?
Well the desirability of my outcome is derived from my inspiration to begin running, watching and following Casey Neistat religiously for years. Although I may not be able to synthesize this desirability into words, I have it as a feeling in my head. As to making outcomes more tangible, I have done that for the small period of a few weeks that I was running regularly. My distance or my pace were parameters that I tried to improve upon each week and was quite successful for the few days I did do.
Class Prompt 4:
What's one (or more) situations when I was in my "Flow State"?
The one recent situation I can recall is when I was studying for my GRE exams during lockdown in 2020. I was able dedicate hours at a time to studying but was not bogged down by it mundanity as it was always just tricky or difficult enough to keep me engaged.
What circumstances and mindsets led to that?
When I had started preparing for this exam, I had no clue of when I wanted to give it. That kind of hindered me initially. What allowed me to stretch myself to the flow state was having a set date for the examination. Harkening back to the previous myth on motivation and the question of putting money on the line for ensuring an outcome, that was one of the circumstances of this exam. It was quite an expensive one, especially since I would be loosing my job in the coming months and couldn't afford to retake the exam.
Can I manufacture those conditions for other stuff I need/want to do?
Maybe not specifically the monetary aspect, but I think I can recreate the hard and fast timeline for other stuff I wish to do. Another aspect of my flow state, was that my phone was completely unusable for a preset time, enabled by a feature called the Zen Mode. Unless there was an emergency, I couldn't use my phone till the timer ran out. This freed up my mental capacity to focus on studying.
Class Prompt 5:
Make a list of 3-4 long-term tasks you want to do.
What would you do if you only had half as long to do them?
What about if you had to do them in the next 24 hours?
I would immediately go for an hour long run, come back spend 2 hours in blitzing through my unlearned or new vocabulary cards on Anki and intersperse this with sessions of working through the course for programming, which in all honestly should take only about 3 hours of focused effort. I would rinse and repeat these same tasks till I hit the deadline of 24 hours.
Class Prompt 6:
What 20% of my work is driving 80% of my useful output? And what's taking 80% of my time but not actually contributing much to my outcomes?
One example that pops right into my mind is the use of flashcards and Anki for learning new vocabulary in German. I spend hardly 20-30 mins a day on reviews of about 500-600 cards but I am able to understand (with increasing accuracy) about 80% of any new text or article I come across written in German, which should be my ideal goal. I do not need to learn the minutia of the language as I do not ever intend to major in or write a thesis on the German language. My goal is to be fluent enough on most general topics that I may encounter at university or work. For that I just need to understand the context and interpret the meaning of a statement or question intuitively rather than knowing the exact definition of each word.
On the opposite side of the spectrum (this isn't that serious of a task but applies to this principle and prompt nonetheless), I spend about 80% of my free time watching videos or films for entertainment. However it only drives 20% of of what I actually desire to watch.
Class Prompt 7:
Turn off this class and go do something you've been putting off.
I literally have been delaying having lunch for almost an hour now. So I am going to turn off this class, grab some lunch and watch a nice relaxing but desired to be watched and not garbage movie.
Class Prompt 8:
What 3 things would boost my productivity if I made them a habit? How can I help make those habits stick?
Keeping the phone away is just the simple task of turning on the Focus mode on it or DND and placing it in the same room but out of reach of my hand.
Re-identifying myself as not solely a content watcher as main focus, but only doing so as a source of pleasure and entertainment could be achieved by limiting or allotting myself very specific time-bound or number bound titles that I am allowed to watch in the week. Exceeding this limit will end my quota and I could successively spend more time doing other tasks that are useful.
Starting and not finishing is sort of becoming an identity and I could break this by reducing my target. Instead of starting reading with a goal of finishing the book and never being able to do so, I could just set myself a smaller target of maybe 1 chapter or a few pages each day. This way I could slowly make something like reading a habit. I think the same technique of redefining my goals will help me with other tasks and habits too.
Class Prompt 9:
What are some chunks of the day in which I find myself wasting time in way I'd rather not?
Once I get up, if I do not have a class to go to then I tend to scroll through my phone for at least an hour or till I get hungry and have to get up for breakfast. I also spend way too much time pre and post lunch and dinner just continuing to watch a movie or a show and taking a supposed respite even though I do not need one.
What useful (small) things could I do with that time instead?
If I am to be scrolling through my phone then I might as well be reading a book. If after lunch or dinner I do indeed need a respite then why not listen to an audiobook or a podcast.
Class Prompt 10:
What items on my bucket/task list can I procrastinate my way to progress on? How so?
I really want to improve my typing ability. I think I can start typing on my laptop when I am not feeling like studying or working. Another fortuitous benefit from doing this is reducing the friction of a writing process. I want to start writing more in the future and one hinderance towards that goal is my slow typing speed. By the time I jot down a couple of ideas enough time passes to where I start feeling overtaxed or bored.
One specific period of time I could improve my typing while essentially procrastinating is when I feel like watching random videos on the internet. I can tend to this urge by playing them either on the background or on the side and practicing typing on another window.
Class Prompt 11:
What do I have to do in my days that I'm currently not enjoying? If I had to how would I make this stuff more fun?
One of my biggest goals as well as a issue is wanting to write more. If I force myself to write just anything, I have thoughts and ideas for a maximum of two days after which this task becomes hell to me. What I could do to change this and make it more fun is take notes during classes like these that I enjoy attending and also get much out of while also being able to add my own thoughts into these notes as I take them down.
Today alone with this class, I enjoyed it so much that I was able to write prolifically, for my standard, by taking down important notes from the class and re-describing them in my own words while additionally writing sufficiently wordy answers to these prompts that are basically my thoughts manifested into words.
I think that with time this activity will automatically improve my ability as well as patience to write and I hope to be able to write unprompted someday soon in the future.