Drawing on academic research and real-world experience, we will delve into the nuances of productivity and offer concrete steps to achieve your goals. So, whether you’re a student, professional, or just looking to improve your own workflow, join us on this journey of discovery and mastery of productivity.
Preparation and execution: two important phases of productivity
Part of the productivity is hidden. It doesn’t appear before our eyes because it happens behind the scenes. It’s the 20 minutes spent sharpening the saw to make the lumberjack’s job incredibly efficient, it’s the long mental preparation sessions with a mental coach for top athletes, it’s those full nights of sleep at the expense of going out with friends or what have you?
Productivity must be thought of in two primary ways: preparation and execution.
One without the other equals a wobbly table. In order to understand this idea, I will give you the image of a lever: the force you can move using a lever is a function of the leverage (the preparation) and the force you apply (the execution). Many times you will find that the preparation is far more important than the execution itself.
The coefficient or leverage effect
All you have to do to solve a problem often comes down to applying the right strategy in the right place or applying the right force at the right time. Easier said than done. The difference between a champion and an ordinary practitioner is that they have mastered the concept of leverage in their discipline. He knows how to apply the right knowledge in the right place and most often he does it unconsciously. There are various ways to increase the leverage you have on a subject. You can read, train and practice because that will allow you to gather direct knowledge from your field experience.
Learning is inevitably a matter of practice
For knowledge to have value, it must pass through the filter of the subject, i.e. the human. Knowledge is only valuable when conscious practice has become unconscious. This means that you must practice the notion of deliberate practice and confront yourself with a field long enough for your knowledge to become unconscious. Practice allows you to accumulate iterations. Essentially, what makes you good at something is not so much how long you’ve been at it, but rather how much trial and error you’ve been able to experience. Every failure is a potential stepping stone to the next level, but you have to learn from it.
Preparation needs execution
Execution needs preparation, we all know that, but what is less intuitive is that preparation itself needs execution. A rally car needs a co-driver with a map to get to the right place. The co-driver himself needs to see the landscape scrolling in front of him in order to know exactly where he is, he needs feedback. There is a feedback loop that exists between preparation and execution.
Cultivate two antagonistic values: patience in results, impatience in action
If you are going to be productive, you will have to change your relationship to work and the results of your actions. You can’t totally control the outcome of your actions so there’s no point in worrying about the results you get. It is much better to devote this impatience to your actions. These will put all the chances on your side.
“Do what seems like a game to you, but seems like work to others.” Naval Ravikant
If you want to be better than 99% of your peers in a field, you have to choose an activity that makes you feel like you’re playing when for others it’s a job. It’s hard to beat someone who feels like they are playing because they can work all the time. Playing allows you to become a child again. When a child plays, he loses track of time, he doesn’t even want to eat, it’s only sleep that can catch up with him.
Don’t try to have a balanced life
To achieve meaningful results, you must accept a polarization in your life. Polarization involves the ability to make choices. Perfect balance in some ways is the mark of a lack of discernment. To be among the elite in your field, you must be obsessive because it is obsession that pushes you to the limits of what is possible. If you feel that you will not be able to be obsessive for whatever reason, it is best to refrain from committing yourself and continue to search for the job or field that will allow you to become so. Obsession creates an intensity, an urgency that you can use to your advantage.
Hang out with black belts
You need to be challenged from time to time to create some form of urgency. If you surround yourself with people who are at your level or slightly below or above, you will not be able to stimulate your potential. Getting close to people who have achieved extraordinary results will inspire you to raise your standards.
Mistakes like quick decisions
Much of the misery we experience is the result of bad decisions we may have made. These decisions are often made under the influence of emotion or haste. When you are in a hurry, you put all the risks on your side to make a bad decision. It is better to refrain from making a decision under the influence of emotion most of the time and to come back to it with a calm head so as to decide in a rational way.
Leave yourself a margin of error, do not aim for perfection but for continuous improvement
There are some things we can learn by reflection, there are some things we can learn from the mistakes of others, and unfortunately there are some lessons we must learn by our mistakes alone. The problem with striving for perfection is that it prevents you from making certain mistakes that will allow you to move forward. In some cases, you only have to go through the filter of experience to learn. The perfectionist can lead us to wait and see and therefore potentially slow down our progress. When it comes to productivity, it’s the same thing, you have to give yourself some leeway to try a strategy (more or less long) before deciding if it’s right for you or not.
Create a supportive environment
You are more a product of your environment than your genetics. If you want to achieve a particular goal, you have to put all the chances on your side and that means knowing what makes people in your field successful. Environment is made up of a variety of things. It can be the people you hang out with, the podcasts you listen to, your habits, the way your room is set up and an infinite number of other things. Take inspiration from people who are in the same line of work as you and who excel in their discipline. Study them to find out what their work habits are and how they organize their days. Understand the details that can make a difference and adopt the same habits to see if you achieve the same results.
The surface goals are there to help you become aware of the deeper goals once they are achieved
When it comes to productivity, we tend to want to direct it to reach a particular goal without realizing sometimes that this goal is not worth it. Our mental and moral progress is achieved by reaching vain and illusory goals. It is only when one has measured the futility of a quest by achieving it, that one can desire to reach something more noble. So if your goal is to have a sports car, maybe getting it will help you understand that there are other more important things in life. So it’s not necessarily bad to pursue superficial goals, they are stepping stones to better desires.
Don’t look for shortcuts
Life is good in that it most often rewards those who work hard. This doesn’t mean that you always have to work hard, but it does mean that you have to do a significant amount of work before you can start working smarter: there is no optimization without preliminary work. The search for shortcuts is tempting for two main reasons: our brains are programmed to optimize our efforts and all advertisements are designed to play on this powerful psychological lever. Shortcuts can be interesting when you have already accumulated a necessary base and you understand better what you are doing, otherwise it is at best procrastination in disguise
Learn how to eliminate
The brain likes chaos (cf. entropy), that’s why it tends to accumulate rather than eliminate. You have to be proactive to “clean up” your head. It is a bit like a garden, if you do nothing, weeds will grow easily whereas if you want to have a beautiful garden you will have to proactively maintain it regularly. To eliminate means to clear your mind, that is to say to have daily habits that allow you to reach a certain mental peace like walking in nature, meditation, yoga, writing. When you can achieve a certain serenity, you are able to make better decisions
Use the two-minute rule
David Allen, in his book “Get Things Done” tells us about the two-minute rule, which is quite simple: Do something right away if it takes you less than two minutes. By doing so, you will free up mental space that you can then redirect to more important tasks.
Do one thing at a time
Your attention does not like multitasking. By wanting to do two things at once, you think you are going to go twice as fast when in fact you are going to lower your concentration, exhaust your ego (cf. ego depletion) because you will not be able to enter a state of flow.
Try to reach the “flow” every day
Achieving “flow” every day is a fascinating and rewarding challenge. The concept of “flow” was developed by the Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, describing a mental state where we are fully absorbed and engaged in an activity, losing track of time and space. It is an experience of intense concentration and deep satisfaction.
To achieve “flow” each day, it is essential to find activities that match our interests and skills. When we are immersed in a task that challenges us just right, we are more likely to enter this optimal state. This can be anything from creative work, sports, music, reading or even household chores.
To promote flow, it’s important to create an environment conducive to concentration by eliminating distractions and finding a quiet space. Regular mindfulness practice can also help develop our ability to focus and engage fully in the present moment.
It is crucial to note that “flow” should not be viewed as a never-ending quest. It is normal to have days when it is difficult to reach this state. The important thing is to cultivate an attitude of openness, curiosity and perseverance in our daily activities, seeking to find a balance between challenges and our skills.
Keep a calm mind
Calmness is related to a level of consciousness. If you are calm, your mind is clear and you get to the point. Your cognitive resources are best used when you are calm. You easily avoid distractions and you can enter the psychic state of “flow”. This is why it is important to prioritize the quality of your morale to be most effective. If you are upset or feel uncomfortable, go meditate, take a break, go for a walk or any other activity. Return to your work when you feel better.
Pay attention to the temperature of your workspace
Studies (https://indoor.lbl.gov/publications/room-temperature-and-productivity) show that there is an optimal working temperature for productivity. If you want to work in the best conditions, you need to keep an ambient temperature around 22°C. The temperature range you can tolerate is between 21 and 24°C. Above or below these values, you can considerably decrease your productivity due to the cumulative effect. For example, working at a temperature of 30°C is equivalent to a loss of about 9% of your productivity.
Help yourself to Newton
Newton’s first law states that, “every body will maintain its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line in which it is, unless a force is applied to it.” In other words, if you get into the habit of procrastinating or not being active, you yourself will create the conditions for not achieving your goals. So you need to maintain a certain level of energy and activity (even on unrelated areas like sports, studying, cleaning etc.) so that the inertia you will create can then be directed towards your goals or any productive work. This also applies to the time you get up, if you have trouble getting up early, “do yourself a favor” and you will see that things will go more smoothly afterwards.
Take into account the Swoboda-Fliess-Teltscher law
The Swoboda-Fliess-Teltscher law states that our biological rhythms, such as seasons, sun exposure, diet and time of day, have a direct impact on our productivity. In a way, productivity is like the Tour de France, there are highs and lows, mountains and plains to race down. It is illusory to want to achieve the same productivity throughout the day or the year.
Alternate between focus and diffuse mode
There are two ways to make your brain work, so to speak. One is conscious (focus), the other is unconscious (diffuse mode). The two modes are complementary and self-sustaining. The focus mode can be simply your usual work in full concentration, i.e. everything you can imagine in the post-industrial era. The diffuse mode can be a break or any activity that involves the mobility of your body (dancing, showering, swimming, walking in the forest etc.). By doing so, you will be able to stimulate other areas of your brain and that is why you have new ideas during these moments.
Get enough sleep
Depending on your age, you need more or less sleep. Sleep and its quality directly influence your memory, your ability to process information. If we can make a comparison, sleep is like water for a long distance runner, if he lacks it, it will directly impact his endurance and his resistance. The trick is to know how many hours you need and above all to recreate the conditions for your sleep to be ideal (regular hours, quiet place etc.).
Know your chronotype
Each individual has his own circadian rhythm. Some people are early risers, others are late risers or even nocturnal. Don’t go against your nature, do as the surfer does, use the elements (i.e. your internal clock and its preferences) to surf the wave of your productivity. To find out what your chronotype is, you can take this test proposed by the magazine Cerveau & Psycho (in French: https://medias.cerveauetpsycho.fr/api/v1/files/5a82ac028fe56f032f5babbe?alt=file).
Things to avoid:
Eating junk food for lunch
What you eat has a direct impact on your energy level. Studies show that eating fatty or sugary foods at lunchtime increases your sleepiness in the afternoon, which really takes a toll on your productivity.
Sitting around all day
If you don’t exercise at all or do even minimal exercise during the day, you are potentially limiting your exposure to the sun and your well-being. Both of these play an important role in your productivity. You work better if you are more relaxed. You have fewer distracting thoughts and your body is more vigorous, which affects the quality of your ideas.
Too much planning
Planning is necessary to optimally manage your day, but too much planning has undesirable effects. You can increase your stress (that of not following your schedule to the letter) and you consume cognitive resources that could be devoted to execution. It is better to define 3 important tasks to accomplish each day and then leave yourself some margin to achieve these goals. That said, you can occasionally audit the way you use your time in order to know what you can improve, using for example the toggl tool (https://toggl.com/)
– Productivity includes a preparation phase and an execution phase, and both are essential.
– Leverage plays a crucial role in productivity, combining preparation and execution in an effective way.
– Learning comes through practice, experience, and the accumulation of iterations.
– Preparation and execution are interdependent, creating a feedback loop.
– Cultivate a paradoxical value by being patient in results and impatient in action.
– Surround yourself with people who challenge you and inspire you to raise your own standards.
– Avoid making hasty or emotional decisions, take a rational approach.
– Aim for continuous improvement rather than perfection and give yourself room to try different strategies.
– Recreate a supportive environment by modeling yourself after successful people in your field.
– Superficial goals can serve as stepping stones to discover more meaningful goals.
– Avoid looking for shortcuts and understand that preliminary work is necessary before optimizing intelligently.
– Learn to eliminate chaos and maintain mental peace by adopting positive habits.
– Use the two-minute rule to quickly complete time-sensitive tasks.
– Do one thing at a time to improve focus and enter a state of flow.
– Consider the temperature of your workspace to maintain optimal productivity.
– Maintain a consistent level of energy and activity to avoid procrastination and achieve your goals.
– Biological rhythms have an impact on productivity, it is important to take them into account.