The bad news is that being productive is hard. Focusing on the hard tasks it's also hard. It’s pretty damn hard. It took me a decade to train myself to be really productive and eliminate all the distractions and low‑value activities.
Imagine improving your productivity like exercising. Beginnings are hard, but at some point, you just can’t stop exercising, especially after seeing all the benefits and improvements.
It’s the same with productivity. You need to build yourself a proper system, push yourself out of the comfort zone a few times, and soon you will see the first improvements and results.
That will get you motivated to improve further and become even more productive. The hard road becomes easy with time, while your productivity muscles grow.
Why is so hard to focus on the hard tasks and stay productive?
Let me share with you the three main reasons why it’s so hard to be ultra-productive today:
1. There are distractions everywhere
There are so many distractions out there. All the technology, information overload, endless options, places to travel, things to do. It’s overwhelming. You are being tyrannized with choices and options. So, if you want to be productive you have to learn how to say no.
You have to learn how to shrink down the options and minimize choices. But saying no and minimizing is hard.
2. Our brains love to rest
Your body loves to save energy. In the jungle, there was a shortage of food and humans had to preserve energy at all costs.
That’s why we would all like to eat sugar in abundance and rest all the time. In order to be really productive, you have to go against primal human nature. That sounds pretty damn hard.
3. Our brains got used to doing things that need a short attention span
There are so many social networks, people, information, things to do and so on, that our brains completely forgot how to do deep work. Instead of creating in the flow for hours, we are training ourselves to consume things as quickly as possible.
Skimming articles, checking newsfeeds, clearing notifications, and so on. Only consuming and running from one thing to another, without doing any real work. Well, you need to tame your human nature and learn how to do deep work.
That’s hard. Pretty damn hard.
Outsmart yourself with a system
So, if you want to be productive, you have to outsmart yourself and the society we live in today. But we are still not at the main reason why it’s so hard to be productive.
The main reason why it’s so damn hard to be productive is that focusing on all the high value-added activities takes courage, creativity and intellectual effort.
It takes a lot of effort and struggle to do meaningful work. High‑value activities are those that average people hate to do and successful people somehow learn to love with time. Let’s me put it this way:
If you’re doing things during the day that anybody can do, you’re not being really productive, rather the opposite. But if you focus on hard activities that other people can’t or won't do, you’re bringing real value to the table.
So let's explore the difference between the low-value and high-value activities.
The low‑value activities
The low‑value activities, the easy activities might give you a feeling of progress, but this feeling of progress is fake. They get you nowhere, because anybody can do them.
If you do things that all average people can do, well, then you’ll get what average people get: average results.
Examples of these kind of low‑value activities that anyone can do are:
- answering emails,
- going to meetings,
- skimming articles on the web,
- checking social networks,
- doing administrative work,
- gossiping in the office, and so on.
We can add multitasking and procrastinating to the list. Not to be unfair, email and meetings can be real work as we’ll see, but usually they’re not.
The high-value activities
Doing these low‑value things won’t make you productive. The hard things, the high‑value activities will push you forward. But what are high‑value activities?
Well, these are the activities that lead to real progress, activities that lead to success in life. Surprisingly, there are actually only two types of hard tasks that lead to fast progress – creating value and delivering value.
Okay, what does that even mean?
1. Creating value
Creating value means doing all the activities that the market rewards with a big paycheck. Usually it’s putting domain knowledge or skills to use, innovating, improving or building new products, bringing ideas to the table, improving systems and processes, helping to create a positive culture in a company, building relationships, saving money, improving quality, and so on.
These are all activities that companies and markets and customers are willing to pay for.
2. Delivering value
Delivering value, on the other hand, means marketing yourself or your products and services. It means getting as many people as possible to know what you can do and what you can deliver.
Marketing, sales, networking with new people, improving personal presentation, online CVs, elevator pitches, improving your communication skills, public speaking skills and so on. All these things fall under delivering value. Letting people know what you can do for them.
So, when you’re creating or delivering value, you’re being productive. When you’re not creating and delivering value, you’re not being really productive.
This formula applies no matter the setting or arrangement you work in for markets. You can create or deliver value as an employee to the business you work for, as a freelancer, as a sole proprietor or owner of your own business. It doesn’t matter.
In any case, you want to develop skills that are in high demand and in short supply, then focus solely on creating and delivering value. If you manage to do that, you will become super productive.
The business model canvas can help you to clarify what your real “hard tasks” are
Now it’s time for you to do a couple of exercises:
- Download and prepare a Business Model You. The Business Model You is the best framework to clarify how you create and deliver value in your business life. There’s a template along with instructions available on how to fill in the canvas.
- After you prepared your own Business Canvas You, analyze your tasks, meetings and all the other activities that were on your to-do list for the past month. Analyze how much of your time you spent on the highest value activities – the hard tasks, and how much time you spent doing activities that someone else could have executed – you know the fake work?