Will increasing your productivity give you what you want?
Let’s back up.
What do you want?
We’re taught that we should always be improving ourselves, our work, our ambition. There’s a cultural mindset that we can always be better or do better. It’s become a moral imperative that we must at least try to be ever “more” something.
The problem is that we believe in continual improvement without ever defining it. What will be improved? By how much will we improve it? How will we measure it?
You Can Never Be Too Rich or Too Thin
There’s an old joke attributed to Wallis Simpson: “You can never be too rich or too thin.”
(Wallis Simpson was better known as Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, the American woman who married King Edward VIII of England. That marriage led to his abdicating the throne the same year he claimed it.)
Nothing ruins a joke like explaining it, but to be clear, a person certainly can be too thin! My interpretation of the joke is that it pokes fun at how people get caught up in what they think they want. When you reach the end of the statement and realize of course it’s possible to be too thin, it makes you question whether it’s also possible to be too rich.
We human beings are very bad at stepping outside of our emotions and thinking through problems logically.
How Much Does an Aston Martin DB9 Cost?
In Tim Ferriss’ book The 4-Hour Work Week, he asks readers to question what they want in life and then literally calculate the cost. He talks about “costing” on his blog, too. Based on the cost of what you want, you’re supposed to ask how much money you need. What is the dollar amount, and how much do you need to earn per day or per week to get it? Ferriss dreams of buying an Aston Martin DB9, so he finds one on eBay for $136,000 and decides he it can be his if he comes up with $2003.10 per month for it.
At that rate, it would take him more than five years to pay it off, and that’s without any interest. More realistically, we’re talking about a seven- to ten-year car loan. In other words, he doesn’t need $2,003.10 per month. He needs $2,003.10 per month for the next ten years. He needs to make sure that he can commit to not only the payments but also the time frame.
I have a lot of gripes about Ferriss’ book. In this particular instance, he doesn’t take into consideration the idea of emergency funds or the fact that the majority of American struggle to pay for their basic needs and can’t afford a minor emergency. That was no different in 2007 when Ferriss first published his book. He also seems to have no clue that someone who had an emotionally unstable childhood in regards to money and security can so easily rationalize an expense that seems unnecessary, even if it’s something the person wants.
In any event, Ferriss’ larger principle still stands. The world is much more manageable when we define what we want and then break down what we need to achieve it into well defined steps. It doesn’t matter if it’s an Aston Martin or a project that needs to be finished. First we define the goal, then we break down the necessary steps to achieve it.
You Can Never Be Too Productive
If you can never be too rich or too thin, can you be too productive?
When we talk about increasing personal productivity, we have to keep in mind that we’re looking at a comparative measure. More productive than when? More productive how? More productive by how much?
If you were able to increase your productivity on daily work by, say, 12 percent, how would you know? What does 12 percent more productive mean? What does it look like? Most importantly of all: Does it get you what you want?
If you don’t know what you want, it doesn’t matter how much more productive you are. So stop reading about productivity tips and start defining what you want.
Image by Carbon Tippy Toes, CC.