I’m lazy. And I love life.
I also sincerely believe that productivity is the key skill that leads to a successful career and happy life. Why? When you’re productive, you know how to get the right things done so you never have to worry about the outcome of your career. You’ll always find work to do.
Plus, you get to enjoy life because you can get more work done in less time. That way, you’ll have more time to do things that you love. Who doesn’t want that?
Ray Dalio, a well-known investor and philanthropist, emphasized the importance of productivity in his explainer video How The Economic Machine Works.
In the 30-minute video (which I highly recommend watching), he explains how the economy works and gives advice on how you can increase your wealth. His most important piece of advice? Here it is:
“Do all that you can to raise your productivity, because in the long run, that’s what matters most.”
But I have to confess something: Living a productive life is damned hard.
But it’s also worth it because of the positive impact it has on your life.
And in this article, I want to share one of the most important strategies I’ve learned for improving your life.
It goes like this: Don’t try to copy what other successful people do. Instead, avoid what unsuccessful people do.
I learned this from one of my mentors. He has two businesses, owns two dozen properties, is an art dealer, and sits on the board of another organization. He is productive and yet has a lot of free time to go on long walks with his wife and dog or take out his boat on a sunny day.
He explained his strategy to me like this:
“I don’t know what makes people productive. However, I DO know what makes people unproductive. Stop doing those unproductive things and you’ll automatically be more productive.”
Give the above method a try. It works. I guarantee.
And to give you a few ideas, I’ll share what I’ve quit.
1. Working too much
Some days I can work 12 or 13 hours straight. I just take a break for exercising and eating. And I can keep that up for a few days.
But after a few days, there always comes a crash. Big time. I struggle. I can’t get stuff done. I don’ even want to get stuff done.
It’s not good. So I learned to be more calculated with how much I work. Ernest Hemingway tried to stop at the height of his day so he always had something to look forward to.
That’s also my new goal. But that’s hard because we always want things fast, fast, quick, quick, now, now.
Just know yourself, your work, and your deadlines. Don’t have a deadline? Take it easy because you need that juice for stressful times.
And most importantly: Have patience.
2. Worrying too much
What if I go broke? What if I lose my job? What if she doesn’t love me? What if I get cancer? What if this plane crashes? What if I lose my sight? What if I…?
You got your head so far in the sand like an ostrich that you can’t see how self-absorbed that way of thinking is. It’s always about me, me, me.
I know all about it. The above examples are all from my personal life. I used to be the king of the ‘what if’ game. But here’s the thing:
YOU’RE NOT GOING TO DIE RIGHT THIS SECOND.
Get over yourself. Stop worrying. And do something useful.
3. Being hard on yourself
No, you don’t.
You got out of bed this morning, right?
Congratulations. You survived this hard thing called LIFE. Be proud of yourself. Everything you do after getting out of bed is a win.
4. Neglecting your personal education
“Woohoo! I finished college. Goodbye lame old books!”
If that was you, no matter how long ago, you do suck. Who learns one thing and stops forever? I don’t even know why we have that idea planted in our brain.
I always thought that learning stops when you get out of school. But the truth is: Your life stops when learning stops.
Invest in yourself. Learn something. Read books. Get courses. Watch videos. Do it from home or go places. It doesn’t matter. Just learn new things. You’ll be more productive and get more excited about life.
5. Hating rules
I saved the best for last. Most people hate rules, right? It starts when we’re kids.
“Why do I have to do this? Why do I have to do that?” Says the annoying kid.
“Because it’s better for you! That’s why!” Answers the wise mentor.
When we’re adults, we don’t have to follow rules (other than actual rules set by the government, but you get what I’m talking about.)
“Rules are dumb!”
That’s what I always believed. I thought I was a maverick. But I was an idiot.
Rules are actually THE BEST thing about life. Without rules, we would be watching Netflix and eating cookies all day long.
And when it comes to productivity, the first rule is: Have rules.
If you want to live without rules, go ahead. But life is not Fight Club. Rules actually help us to solve problems and get the most out of life.
Josh Weltman, an advertising creative director for 25+ years, and the co-producer of Mad Men, put it well in his book Seducing Strangers:
“Solving a problem requires a weird combination of freedom and constraint. Whenever I hear “Just have fun with it” or “Think outside the box,” I know from experience that things are about to turn into a colossal waste of time.”
Good news: you make up the rules.
For example, one of my personal rules is this: Never complain. Another one is: Read and exercise every day. And: Close the day every evening by setting your next day’s priorities.
When you combine all your productivity rules, you have a system. Voila!
I rely on my system to work smarter, better, happier, and effectively. It took me years to figure out that a system is a good thing, and a few more years to develop one, but it was worth it.