Productivity is a Mess

Productivity is a privileged subject to discuss.

Before we talk about productivity, let’s take a minute to be grateful that we’re able to have these conversations.

There are people in the world with no food and no prospects that are worked to the bone to survive (yes, survive). Productivity in the context we’re about to discuss is privileged, and we’re lucky that we’re not slaves to systems which would have us die for their corruption.

Before you read this, take 5 minutes to count yourself lucky that you have the opportunity to do so.


Productivity is the most subjective skill that we all deal with on a daily basis.

Depending on who you are and what your goals are, you can define productivity as almost anything. Unfortunately for most of us, productivity has begun to translate into quantity and ‘hustle’.

What’s wrong with quantity and hustle? Everything.

Imagine you’re a car (yes, a car) and to get from A to C, you need to take a B path.

If the B path is the hustle, then your mission is to run your engine for as long possible and as fast possible without stopping. When will you get there? Who the fuck knows, all you need to do is keep on trucking

If the B path is quantity, then your mission is to follow as many roads, routes or detours as possible to get to C. When will you arrive at your destination? Again, who knows.

This is the current state of modern productivity and the outcomes most of us arrive at when we use productivity tools or applications.

We’re time poor, and we serve our todo-lists when in reality, it should be the other way round.

Now, I hear what you’re saying…

Cassius, stop being ridiculous. The car analogy doesn’t work,  that’s not how people drive. We take the most efficient route to our destinations and we don’t piss around wasting fuel.

I completely agree, that’s how most of us drive, so why do we treat and manage productivity in a way which is the complete opposite?

Despite our goal focusing on getting from A to C, we aren’t taking the paths which will get us there effectively (or in one piece). At least, not without putting a strain on the car, emptying the fuel tank and preventing the driver from taking time to care for themselves, the car and their families.

With most modern productivity methods, we define destinations and goals where we’re entirely unaware of the location, or the cost to get there.

Sticking with the car analogy, that’s like saying you’ll drive from London to Moscow, without realising the cost and challenges along the way (like crossing seas, mountains and borders).

And this is the problem with the current state of productivity—we define goals we don’t understand, led by the expectations of hustleheads.

Let’s be real, modern productivity is a survival play, not a life of living.

What we need to do, is stop focusing on a false sense of completion we use to mask our lack of progress. We need to stop wearing merit badges on our chests which say ‘I sleep 3 hours a night, and I survived’.

Quantity is not productive (unless what you’re doing is time sensitive and linked to a larger, more prominent goal).

Focusing on quantity treats your energy like a credit card.

Pulling all-nighters will leave you operating at 50% for the next three days, which is horrifically counter-intuitive to the mantra of productivity. Even if you’re in a situation where there are immovable deadlines, ask yourself, how did you get to this stage?

There is a simple fix for this mess, and it’s one which has been spoken about in books and lectures, yet the message keeps getting lost in translation.

Modern productivity focuses on more, when the reality is, it should focus on less.

Instead of asking ourselves how much are we able to do in a day, we should be asking ourselves, how much impact are we able to make in a day?

How do you define impact? With a simple question.

What’s the one thing that I’m able to do today which will get me closer towards my goals?

This question will help you start turning your time into impact, and will act as a nice qualifier for the decisions you’ll be making going forward.

Want to focus on designing that new snazzy website for yourself?

Well, if your goal is to pay your rent in 30 days, will that make a difference? Odds are (that unless you’re being paid to do so) the answer is no.

Simple questions give the mind focus. Here’s another example of a simple question worth asking in these scenarios.

Will focusing on this task or objective get me one step closer to my goals?

This question is foolproof as long as you’re honest with yourself.

Humans are great at rationalising decisions with broscience explanations for why we do things. Let’s be real, I’m not rational and neither are you.

The only thing which is rational is results, and if you’re not getting them then you know you’re not making an impact.

We won’t go into defining goals right now, as that is (in itself) an entirely different and complex beast. However what we will go into, is the impact equation.

Focus + Persistence + Reflection = Impact

This equation is what modern productivity should focus on, forget tools which allow you to work in silos, build todo-lists and cultivate shopping lists — that won’t make an ounce of difference to your life.

Instead of asking yourself how much you’re able to remove from your day and how you’re able to ‘make time’, ask yourself how you’re able to make more impact, as that will allow you to do more with less.

With impact, you’re able to do more with your time for one simple reason.

If you work on a simple focus every day which contributes to your goals, then (provided your goal doesn’t move) you’ll reach your objective.

Pretend you’re busy as all sin and you’re busy for reasons beyond your immediate control. You have kids, your family needs you and your job is demanding — how do you create an impact?

By focusing on the single task which will get you closer to your goals, regardless of how big or small that is.

Gratification in society is ridiculous, we all expect to be omnipotent millionaires with perfect lives in 12 months flat — what the hell is wrong with us?

You wouldn’t walk into a gym for the first time and expect to squat 250kg as your body would shatter. So, why do we expect our lives and minds to work in the same way?

Progressive overload (similar to the weight-lifting analogy) is the best way to move forward. Single incremental steps over time (with a focus on impact), will lead to consistent results and success.

The Japanese call this approach kaizen, for me, this feels-like common sense.

And this is where the Byozo method comes in. It’s a method focused solely on impact, nothing more and nothing less.

Focus comes first

Focus

Focus refers to your ability to concentrate.

It’s not a new concept, and it shouldn’t be alien to any of us. It’s been a popular talking point of authors and researchers in the space for the last few years — and for good reason.

If you can’t focus, you can’t complete.

Whether it’s a marathon, or writing an email to your clients, without focus you can’t complete. Distraction is a productivity killer and multi-tasking leads to shallow, weak work.

You’re better off working for an hour uninterrupted than you are working for three with constant interruptions.

There’s a lot of studies I can bore you with on context switching, but instead, here’s an analogy. Pretend you’re cooking a delicate soup and your priority is to serve the soup (e.g. make an impact). For now, your responsibility is to stir the soup and ensure the temperature is constant.

Your smartphone rings, you answer it, and 5 minutes later you come back to the soup. But wait, the temperature is now off and you’ve almost ruined the taste and texture, luckily you can salvage the soup, but it’ll add another 15 minutes of cooking time.

This is how your brain works.

Interruptions and constant context switching destroy your ability to create and complete, but worst than that, there’s a cost to getting back on track. And it’s this cost which steals impact from your time and forces you to use more of it unnecessarily.

Pick a single focus, remove distraction and work on it until it’s completed.

But, be realistic with your focus, don’t attempt to sandwich a task which will take 3 hours into 30 minutes — you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Equally, don’t boycott an important task simply because time is a limitation.

Instead, break it into smaller chunks which fit within the time you’re able to allocate.

And finally (worst of all) don’t take a 30-minute task and turn it into a 3-hour task. Not only does this kill the impact you’re able to make with your time, it directly contradicts the principle of focus.

Yes, sometimes it’s easier to create environments where focus is prominent, but for the times when you’re in a noisy coffee shop (and struggling to keep your head clear) here’s some sage advice.

Growth is grateful to persistence.

Persistance brings results

Persistence

What happens when despite your best intentions, you fail to take steps which will lead to impact, and you underestimate the effort it’ll take to achieve your goals?

You go again.

Persistence is the cornerstone of the Byozo system, and the pinnacle of the progressive overload concept mentioned earlier.

Again, you wouldn’t go to the gym and expect to lift heavy overnight, but with continuous, persistent steps in the right direction, you’ll get there.

Not only is persistence useful for persevering towards your goals, over time persistence is absolutely necessary for the recovery of setbacks and failures.

Impact cannot exist without persistence.

It doesn’t matter how many great days you have, you will always have setbacks, and you will always have failures. Humans are far from perfect.

I don’t care if you’re Alan Sugar or Elon Musk, no matter how much you preach about productivity, you 100% make the same errors and mistakes ordinary people do.

You oversleep, you fail to complete tasks and you miss deadlines — so what’s the main difference between mediocrity and them? Persistence.

Persistence pays off.

This is true for anyone that’s had any ‘success’. When someone is ten-times more successful than you, they’re not ten-times more intelligent (that’s impossible) and they certainly don’t have ten-times more time.

However, they can be ten-time more persistence and it’s that persistence which creates results.

NB — notice the focus is on persistence, not on time. Also, notice that ‘success’ is in inverted commas. Success doesn’t mean wealth, success means purpose.

If you live a life of purpose with balance and meaning which is quantifiable to you (and you alone) then you’re successful. Wealth doesn’t make anyone happy or successful, and the wealthy often have the most expensive therapy bills.

All wealth does, is creates more opportunities.

When you want to create impact, start with a focus and then be unapologetically persistent towards your goals.

Reflection keeps you on track

Reflection

This isn’t looking in the mirror, as much as it’s looking back on your performance and understanding your motivation against your progress.

Reflection has many benefits, which is why we include it in the impact triangle.

Imagine you’ve accomplished what you ‘believe’  has made an impact for a consistent 30 days, but you’ve failed to see any progress.

Unless you’re able to reflect on what you’ve been doing (and why) you’ll never know if you were honestly taking the appropriate action to see said impact. With the Byozo method, you’d never wait 30 days before you analyse your results, instead, you reflect at the end of each day.

Reflection is also a great tool to fight hedonic adaptation.

As time goes by (provided we’re making impact) we’re likely improving our skill sets and becoming better, more valuable versions of ourselves.

In short, as our baseline increases, we’re wired to adapt. This leads to several problems, with the worst being the belief that nothing has changed (when in reality, everything has changed).

Reflection allows you to turn around and ask simple questions to identify how your life has changed, and the progress you've made. Here’s a simple question to get you started...

Where was I this time last year?

This allows you to see how your life has changed in a small space of time. Reflection is a positive tool for change, understanding, and learning to be grateful for what you have (including who you are and the life you’ve led).

Even if your circumstances have changed negatively,(or you’ve fallen from grace) in the last 12 months, rather than focusing on how great things used to be, instead, ask the question...

What have I gained since?

Pretend things are going badly, your business is failing and you’ve run out of freelance clients (or you’ve been fired.) These are all negative events until you use reflection to focus on gain. When you focus on gain, you ask yourself what has beneficially changed for me?

Yes, you’ve lost your job, but now you’re free to start a business, pursue new career opportunities or find work closer to home.

Reflection helps you frame your actions and your life.

And this allows you to continue making impact.

If you're looking to read more on hedonic adaptation, TimeZillionaire has a great article around this.

The World’s Simplest Process for Impact

No matter who you are, what you’re doing or where you are, I want you to follow a simple process which will lead to impact.

You don’t need any tools for this small experiment, all you need is a pen and piece of paper, or if you're feeling adventurous, the Byozo app.

Either way, for the next 7 days, I want you to follow these simple steps.

  1. Ask yourself what you’d like to accomplish this week

    No matter what you want to do, first identify how much time you’re able to commit (e.g. 20 hours) and ask yourself if you believe it’s possible to accomplish your goals within that time.

    Don’t be overzealous, don’t be horrifically ambitious, be real.

  2. Identity why that’s important to you

    Will completing this allow you to spend time with your significant other, or will it allow you to go nuts on your favourite JRPG? It doesn’t matter what the reason is, as long as it’s important to you.

    If the reason isn’t important to you, then pick a goal that is.

  3. Break your goal into chunks that fit within your schedule.

    Again, be realistic with your time.

    If you have 20 hours and you’re breaking the task into 5 x 4-hour slots, make sure you have those 4-hour slots available daily.

    On some days you may be able to do 8 hours, on others you may only be able to do 3, that’s fine, as long as you break the workload up accordingly.

  4. Get going and be persistent.

    Each day, make that one task your core focus and don’t do anything else until it’s done. Of course, you should eat, travel, see the doctor and live your life, but don’t do any other ‘task’ until your core focus is done.

    Want to go shopping? Finish your focus unless you’re completely out of food.Want to answer emails? Unless your focus is inbox zero (again, another article in itself) then ignore it.

  5. At the end of every day, reflect on whether or not you achieved your goal (and made impact) adjusting your schedule accordingly.

    If you didn’t reach your goal because you underestimated the time it’d take (or because life happened) then readjust your schedule accordingly.

    Resize the tasks, change your focus for the next day and keep moving towards your weekly goal.

    Alternatively, if you smashed your task way before you thought you would’ve, you have two choices — rest or work on tomorrow’s focus (although 9/10 times, I’d focus on rest).

At the end of the week, take a final look at your goal and ask yourself how you feel.

If you have or haven’t accomplished your goal, then take a look at what’s blocked your progress or enabled your success and ask yourself how you feel about this.

  • Do you feel good now, or do you feel indifferent?
  • Did that goal have an impact, or did it mask what was important?

Once you’ve completed a week Byozo style, ask yourself:

  • What was different between a Byozo week and a normal week?
  • Did you feel more in control of your week and your focus?
  • Do you feel you were more persistent than usual?
  • How did you feel switching from time to impact?
  • What will you do differently next week?

No-one said making impact would be easy,  with Byozo, we’re fixing that.